Overland Storage Case Study: The Open University Knowledge Media Institute

The Open University's (OU) Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) was set up in 1995 in recognition of the need to be at the forefront of research and development in areas that impacted on the OU's very nature: Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Artificial Intelligence and Semantic Technologies, and Multimedia.

As one would expect, the KMi's researchers, PhD students and staff work on high-level, data-intensive projects involving terabytes of database analysis and semantic processing of web and language content.

Knowledge Media is about the processes of generating, understanding and sharing knowledge using several different media, as well as understanding how the use of different media shape these processes.

The KMi's research is aligned with a number of broad strategic threads, including Future Internet, Knowledge Management, Multimedia and Information Systems, Narrative Hypermedia, New Media Systems, Semantic Web and Knowledge Services and Social Software.

The KMi is home to internationally recognised researchers in semantic technologies, new media systems, collaboration technologies, knowledge management, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and human-computer interaction.

The IT and Systems Manager, Paul Alexander leads the Systems Team, and is responsible for ensuring day-to-day IT support of the lab, management of the SAN, backup and virtualisation infrastructure and planning though to implementing major IT projects within the unit. Paul has worked at the KMi for 10 years now, so has vast experience and expertise in both IT, and more specifically IT within an educational environment, that is constantly changing and incredibly demanding. The KMi now has a team of around 100, made up of research and support staff and PhD students.

Testing times for semantic web storage

Paul explained, "Our researchers are analysing and manipulating giga- and terabytes of data, storing content, accessing, processing and manipulating it. The KMi runs many projects through our servers and we rely on them working each time every time. Any data loss would seriously dent the academic progress of our research staff and PhD students, some have invested years of time into the data we safeguard for them."

Paul continued, "We are based at one site but must make provision for access by external partners, we have many virtual machines running on our SAN to accommodate all the various research projects which must be accessible and reliably hosted with the greatest uptime possible."

When the KMi ran into difficulties with the previous backup software they needed a reliable solution for large amounts of data that the unit's IT budget could afford.

In a previous project the KMi aggregated news content from the BBC, 24 hours a day, turning content into web copy as part of the ongoing semantic web and knowledge management project. "One can quickly comprehend the amount of data that can be added every day to our servers", said Paul. "We constantly analyse very large chunks of data as part of our ongoing semantic web research projects."

Using NEO to escape the Matrix, with ULTAMUS success

"My number one role is to keep this data secure and accessible on an educational establishment's budget. Unfortunately, our previous data backup storage product was just not meeting our needs. When we needed to replace it we looked to Overland Storage for a resolution, having worked with them previously we knew that their solutions had a proven track record."

The KMi went straight to their supplier, NCE Computer Group. John Greenwood, Product Sales Director for NCE was instrumental in establishing a relationship with Overland including making it possible for Paul to meet Overland's CEO in San Diego in September 2008.

Under John and NCE's guidance Paul selected an ULTAMUS SAN data protection appliance to solve the KMi's "massive" need for reliable storage.

Data at the Knowledge Media Institute is stored via a staged disk-to-disk ULTAMUS RAID solution, then secondarily backed up to tape using the NEO 2000E Library.

Paul chose the NEO-E and ULTAMUS appliances for their "hugely reliable backups that just work, full stop", as he puts it.

NEO 2000-E's LiveSwap tape drives and removable power supplies allow removal or replacement without interrupting the SCSI bus or power source, assuring backup and restore provides non-stop operation, allowing KMi to keep pace with its rapidly expanding data volumes and ensuring that research information is always securely protected.

ULTAMUS RAID offers high configuration flexibility with dual active/active controllers, redundant critical components and a cableless design ensure continuous high availability. The extensible system can dynamically scale up to 48 drives and 72 terabytes making it practical to start small and add capacity as storage capacity requirements inevitably grow.

Paul initially populated each of the KMi's arrays with 24 single TB drives to achieve 20 TB of useable storage. He plans on adding an additional 24 drives to gain an additional 20 TB (useable) per device over the coming months to each of the mirrored server rooms on campus, using the scalability to grow as its data capacities expand.

"After specifying, ordering and receiving the kit it only took half a day to install and configure into our SAN. We were up and running smoothly in no time. The web-based management interface made the process a doddle."

Future plans from the future Internet shapers

Paul sees the ULTAMUS as a lynchpin in his SAN. "Meeting our capacity needs by populating the appliance as needed is great, we started half full and will expand with extra 20 TB drives in the ULTAMUS as required. We forecast a need for another 20 TB in the coming year, but as our needs are revised this may be more."

The Knowledge Media Institute also plans on adding to their value as part of the Open University by replicating backups to two more ULTAMUS modules and a NEO-E Tape Library at an offsite location. Paul is not worried about managing this extra complexity, "I've always found Overland solutions well put together, well thought out and easy to use. Most importantly for our educational department, they are good value for money. I know if we have a requirement that there will be an Overland product that fits the specification."

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