Universities struggle to keep up with storage demands

Students, faculty clamor for space to store fast-growing audio, video, text files

Exploding data growth on college campuses, driven by rich media, virtual classrooms and fast-growing e-mail files, is forcing IT managers to quickly find ways to quickly boost storage capacity.

IT managers at The University of North Texas in Denton were surprised by the rapid growth of e-mail files when the university started replacing Novell Inc.'s Groupwise software with Microsoft's Exchange in February, said Dave Gerlach, computer systems manager for North Texas' Computing and Information Technology Center.

IT managers had initially expected that the 6,500 Exchange e-mail boxes would collectively require 3.5TB of storage capacity, up from 700GB needed for the older system, Gerlach said. "Then we get there and we [need] 7.6TB, which just blew me away," he said.

Factoring in extra capacity needed for fail-over, storage administrators, finally determined that the e-mail system would ultimately require 15.2TB of capacity, Gerlach said. The university began a gradual process of deploying the Exchange e-mail system earlier this month, he added.

Much of the added e-mail storage needs can be traced to ever-larger attachments, which include PowerPoint presentations and video and MP3 files, Gerlach said.

To meet e-mail and non-e-mail storage requirements, the company replaced its Hitachi Data Systems Lightning 9960 and EMC Clariion CX 600 storage systems with four new arrays from Compellent Technologies, he noted.

The new arrays provide a storage capacity of 142TB, including 22.5TB for e-mail, Gerlach said. "Data is exploding, and we're trying to keep up," he remarked.

He estimated the cost of the new storage systems at about US$8,400 per terabyte.

In addition to the e-mail needs, a growing Oracle database and increased use of WebCT Web classroom applications from Washington-based Blackboard are fueling the need for increased storage capacity, he said.

"People want more classrooms available online, and more students are enrolling, so the classroom gets larger," Gerlach noted. At the same time, he noted that most professors want their online classes to be stored indefinitely.

Overall, Gerlach's group manages roughly 300 servers and the university network, he said. The IT operation is responsible for performing schoolwide backup operations through a subscription and chargeback model, he added.

Doug Chandler, an analyst at IDC, said college IT departments are under increasing pressure to spruce up data management and storage capacities as "selling points" to an emerging breed of students who have used high-end technology and expect to have access to the latest technologies at college.

"It's a lot different now than we were talking about six or seven years ago, [with] larger files, videos and graphics-oriented files," said Chandler. He added that the amount of data now stored by students is "astounding."

Jerry Waldron, CIO at Salisbury University in Maryland, said his school is experiencing annual data growth of 15 percent to 20 percent a year. The university storage systems currently hold about 15TB of data, he added.

He agreed that Salisbury must satisfy increasingly technology-savvy students and faculty, who are demanding more storage space for both personal and class-related files.

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