Magazine Article | July 1, 2003

Rover Can't Eat RAID-Protected Homework

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

An online, network attached RAID (redundant array of independent disks) system gives a 2,000-student school district 2 TB of shared file storage for classroom projects.

Integrated Solutions, July 2003

Knowing how to carve up shared storage for all network users isn't something you are likely to have learned in high school. But, it is something you could learn if you went back to school. That is, if you went back to a certain high school - namely, one of the two facilities in New Jersey's Ramapo Indian Hills High School District (RIH). There, you would see students and faculty pulling files from centralized, RAID (redundant array of independent disks)-based storage supplied by ATTO Technology, Inc. (Amherst, NY). Not only are they doing so from classroom-housed laptop computers, but they are also doing so from home computers via Web-based connections.

RIH's centralized storage initiative was driven by a laptop computer rollout, itself an offshoot of wireless networking efforts. (Apple Computer, project consultant for the networking initiative, has already provided laptops for faculty, as well as an additional 400 laptops for student use. A potential leasing program with Apple would drop computers in the laps of all of the more than 2,000 students in RIH's two high schools.) Along the way to making its LAN 100% wirelessly accessible, RIH jumpstarted a budding revolution in computer-assisted learning.

Expect Data Growth Spurts
With teachers and students relying more and more on computer-based class preparation, the need quickly emerged for a stable, scalable storage solution. After reviewing Apple's Universal Locker product, RIH knew it had the core of a solution. Universal Locker is a file management and storage system for academic institutions. Using Universal Locker, teachers and students can drag and drop files to folders that correspond with their period-by-period class schedules. After responding to a student's work, the teacher can save the file to his or her own class period folder. Universal Locker then makes it accessible to the student within the student's folder for that class period.

RIH was particularly attracted to Universal Locker because it offers browser-based access to online storage. That meant that students could log onto the system from home computers, as well as from classroom-based laptops, to retrieve and store files associated with school projects. Although Universal Locker is designed as a subscription-based, Apple-hosted solution, RIH preferred to house the application and the storage itself. So, it purchased ATTO Technology's 2 TB Diamond disk array and configured it as mirrored RAID 10. In designating storage capacities for Universal Locker users, RIH carved up 100 MB for each student and 1 GB for each faculty and staff member. Because total capacity requirements haven't exceeded 1 TB, RIH has only half-populated the array with drives, leaving space for expansion.

Given the large file size of student projects that emerge from RIH's full-scale television production studio, having room for storage growth is significant. "For the video classes, we'll temporarily increase students' storage limits because they may need to store files as large as 1.5 GB each," says Richard Edwards, director of technology at RIH. In fact, the ability to store and retrieve rich media files was the litmus test Edwards used during the product evaluation process. "We originally saw the ATTO array at the NAB [National Association of Broadcasters] show," Edwards says. "If you want to build the fastest networked storage, learn from people who know how to move video."

Put In A Network Crossing Guard
Although the ATTO unit is equipped with a dual Fibre Channel card, RIH couldn't give both Apple XServe servers running Universal Locker direct Fibre Channel connections to the array. That's because Universal Locker is designed to allow multiple users to dump files into the same folder at the same time. If both servers were connected to the array, each would have access to the entire RAID drive structure but wouldn't see each other's read/write activities. So, one server could be overwriting what the other server has begun to write to a drive. To combat that problem, RIH configured the system so one server mounts the drives via a Fibre Channel connection while the other uses AFP (AppleTalk filing protocol) to mount the array through the initial server.

Although the drive connections presented challenges, the drives themselves have presented no problems. "The drives have worked flawlessly," Edwards reports.