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University simplifies student computing with NAS

When storage enrollment grew too much, the University of Toronto found a new method for storing students' work.

Most of the time, when students lose their homework, they blame it on a hungry mutt. At the University of Toronto, students were more likely to blame the floppy diskettes they used to save and tote their work.

"The problems we saw were the typical problems you might have with floppies," explained Joe Lim, manager of computing services at the university's Mississauga campus. "The floppies were sometimes unreliable or students would lose the diskettes." Students often worked on assignments that simply would not readily fit on diskettes.

The only other option was for the students to store their work on a server at one of the university's nine computing labs. The problem was that they could not access those servers remotely.

Today, the students' work files are centrally housed on an Auspex NS2000 Network-Attached Storage file server with 500G Bytes of storage. That's enough capacity to give each of the university's 6,400 full-time students at least 10M Bytes of storage.

The key benefits of consolidating files on a NAS subsystem are that the students no longer need to carry files on floppy disks or restrict themselves to working at one of the campus's nine computing centers.

"We decided to implement a NAS to provide not just storage space for our students, but also to provide a single storage area that students could access from anywhere, whether they are on campus or at home," Lim said. "At the same time, we also wanted to give our students the ability to mount their own personal Web pages."

Centralizing data once stored on nine servers also has dramatically reduced the IT staff's storage maintenance chores. Backup each night is greatly simplified, for one. The IT team no longer needs to retrieve lost data for students, either.

"We take a snapshot of the data every two hours," Lim said. "We're keeping the snapshot on a partition on the NAS so that if the students lose or accidentally delete a file, they don't have to come back to us and ask us to retrieve it. It is already available to them online and all they need to do is go in and drag and drop to put it back into their directory."

The Auspex was deployed in September 2001 and so far, it's been "working out very well," Lim said. "Students like it. They are more productive now that they are not restricted to using just the campus labs."

Each student is allocated 10M Bytes of personal storage space, but if a course requires the student to have more than the imposed storage quota, the instructor can request additional space. "We have one course in which the students use GIS data, so we doubled the quota for each student so they are to do all of their simulation runs on that one data set rather than splitting up the data sets," Lim said.

The plan is to increase storage capacity to 1T Byte over the next four years to provide storage for faculty and staff and accommodate the university's steadily increasing enrollment. "We are projected to grow 30% over the next two years and we also plan to increase the space allocated to each student," Lim said. The IT team already is in the process of allocating storage space to faculty and staff, he added.

A variety of servers are connected to the Auspex over a private V-LAN. The university "pretty much runs all of the flavors," Lim said, including Solaris, NT, Windows 2000, Novell, and Linux.

In fact, the IT team chose the Auspex because it was able to accommodate the university's many different platforms, Lim said.

"We did an evaluation of Dell, IBM and Auspex and found Auspex was able to give us a single solution for all of our servers," Lim said. "It has a UNIX-based engine, which works quite well with our environment."

For more on Auspex check out their Web site

Learn more about the University of Toronto here

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