University of Alaska Anchorage

University Replaces Arrays and Gains 16x Faster Queries, 66% Less Administration Time and Sustainable Economics in a Budget Shortfall

www.uaa.alaska.edu

INDUSTRY Education
CHALLENGE

In the face of a $50 million loss in state funding, UAA struggled with how to improve performance without increasing cost.

RESULTS

Upgrades in minutes versus hours of IT time

5x faster read I/O

16x faster queries (less than an hour versus 16 hours)

6x data reduction

 

We never expected to improve the user experience while simultaneously getting more capacity for the cost. But Datrium’s open convergence, and corresponding ease of management, allow us to do just that.

– John Zetterman, Lead Server Engineer, Information Technology Services

Company Challenge

Double Bind: Lagging Performance and a $50 Million Shortfall

Alaska, a state heavily dependent on oil for jobs and tax revenue, acutely feels the impact of ups and downs in the industry. And now with a 17 percent drop in state tax revenue, state entities, including the University of Alaska, must make tough choices. In fiscal year 2017, the university struggled to absorb a $50 million loss in state funding, with more cuts expected next fiscal year.

Thus, when the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) experienced lagging performance on its Dell EquaLogic arrays, the IT team was concerned about adding capacity. However latency was having a serious impact on users. In the Office of Institutional Research, for example, reports took 16 hours to run every day – making the department inflexible in responding to ad hoc requests from the administration or other departments.

 
Results

Simplified Management, Upgrades in Minutes

On a peer’s recommendation, the UAA IT team took a look at the Datrium DVX Rackscale platform.  The University IT team found that Datrium substantially reduced the effort of managing its infrastructure, cutting overall management time. As an example, the previous array-based solution required a 3-stage upgrade procedure, demanding several hours of the IT team’s time. With Datrium, the team administered the software upgrade in just five minutes. The entire upgrade was completed in about in 40 minutes of elapsed time.

The team also appreciated centralized management in vSphere without any need to administer LUNs or other storage artifacts. In a single browser window, engineers can observe detailed VM performance analytics, instead of needing to hop back and forth between applications as they did previously. Overall, the team spends just one-third the administration time versus the previous array-based solution.

In addition to simplified management, the UAA team has found Datrium support unlike any other. “When I call, the person who answers is the one who helps me. And if they haven’t encountered the problem before, they are quick about diagnosing and resolving it.”  says, John Zetterman, Lead Server Engineer, Information Technology Services. 

 

16x Faster Queries Transform Service Levels

In testing, the team immediately saw performance gains and the potential for game-changing cost efficiencies.  “We liked several things about Datrium,” says Zetterman. “For one, if you add servers, performance actually increases. We also liked the ability to use any solid-state disk we wanted, which made for great economics given our fiscal situation. And finally, with having the data in flash on the host, performance screams.”

Maintaining a complete copy of user data in flash on the host (“compute node”) is a signature attribute of Datrium’s open convergence. Compute nodes provide local VM and I/O processing resources, and all reads stay in local flash, maximizing speed. For even greater speed, the university runs continuously in Datrium’s Insane Mode, delivering unprecedented performance. “Performance is night and day with Datrium versus our previous environment,” Zetterman says. “Reads are about 3.5X faster.”

University departments likewise have noticed the additional throughput. The Office of Institutional Research crunches numbers daily in a SQL environment, looking at demographics, retention, graduation rates and more. Instead of 16 hour queries, the office now runs reports in under an hour, allowing them to process multiple queries in a day. Now when asked for a report, they can now respond with a same-day service level.

The UAA Consortium Library also noticed gains in processing on its Oracle database, which hosts a catalog searchable by all libraries across the state. Zetterman found a pleasant surprise in his email from the library administrator. “By the way, we really like the Datrium array,” the email read. “Many of our jobs are incredibly faster – especially the disk-intensive ones. It’s great.”

 

We liked several things about Datrium. For one, if you add servers, performance actually increases. We also liked the ability to use any solid-state disk we wanted, which made for great economics given our fiscal situation. And finally, with having the data in flash on the host, performance screams.” 

  -John Zetterman, Lead Server Engineer, Information Technology Services

6X Data Reduction

With always-on deduplication and compression, UAA realized a 6X data reduction. Given that, along with the ability to continue using its existing servers as compute nodes with any type of solid state disks, the university gained a more sustainable, economical approach to its VM infrastructure.  “It’s much more economical to add capacity with Datrium because it scales linearly,” Zetterman says. “And we don’t have to worry about performance degrading as we add capacity.”

Looking ahead, Zetterman sees Datrium as a key part of the IT team’s strategy for maintaining a high level of service to university departments despite budget challenges.

“We never expected to improve the user experience while simultaneously getting more capacity for the cost,” Zetterman says. “But Datrium’s open convergence, and corresponding ease of management, allow us to do just that.”

 

About University of Alaska Anchorage

Surrounded by an environment that is both urban and wild, the University of Alaska Anchorage is a gateway to innovative thinking, learning and exploration. UAA is the state’s largest university, situated at the heart of the state’s largest city. The university is open access with academic programs leading to occupational endorsements; undergraduate and graduate certificates; and associate, baccalaureate and graduate degrees in a rich, diverse and inclusive environment.