How Our Switch to HPE SimpliVity Helped Us Create Education That Empowers the Next Generation of Graduates
IT departments for K-12 school districts need to enable learning—not get in the way of it. At the School District of Janesville, the 16 IT staff support the educational activities for 10,000+ students and 1,600+ staff.
I enjoy going to work every day, especially when my colleagues and I can focus on projects that are meaningful. Feeling like I help students get an education, especially students who don't have the greatest start in life, is incredibly fulfilling.
When I first started at Janesville, there were times we felt like technology was getting in the way of learning. We had countless performance issues with our old SAN and server infrastructure. We worked in a reactive state, simply putting out fires rather than focusing our time on more important long-term projects.
We had a legacy SAN and performance issues with our VMs—they were running slowly. If a problem arose, the amount of time for a server to reboot, come back up, and get the services back online was unacceptable. Servers being down meant the applications that students and teachers needed weren’t accessible. As an IT department, we shouldn’t be a bottleneck for education. The whole team had decided it was time for our legacy SANs to go.
Everyone on the Same Page
We knew we needed to upgrade and move off of legacy hardware to simplify management. We knew hyperconvergence was the way to go. Since the slow speeds of our VMs was an issue, we looked for a system that would allow us to quickly restore IT services to our teachers and students in the case of a reboot. Moving from regular hard drive to solid state was critical for us.
As a team, we looked at a few different products on the market, and in the end, the team's decision was to choose HPE SimpliVity. We love that HPE SimpliVity brought everything into vCenter—which we were already familiar with. This meant we’d be given more powerful functionality without needing to learn a new system.
The scalability of the HPE SimpliVity solution was significant to the decision. With HPE SimpliVity, we could develop our central infrastructure at the district office and then, in the future, easily add more systems and leverage built-in data protection for off-site backups without any major headaches. Also, HPE SimpliVity demonstrated TCO cost savings of over 3x compared to our legacy solution.
With decisions as big as this, you usually don’t have everyone on board. But when it came down to choosing HPE SimpliVity over the competition, everyone was on the same page—it was a unanimous team decision.
A Quick and Painless Rollout
The rollout took place in the fall of 2017, and it was as smooth as anyone could have hoped. There was a slight delay in the shipping of some of the components due to a hurricane and earthquake, but otherwise, the installation went smoothly.
We thought a lot about the best time to conduct our migration to minimize student and staff disruption. We planned for weekends and when students weren’t in session. But, looking back, we were overthinking it. The migration was so fast and painless it didn’t matter when we made the switch.
The setup was extraordinarily simple, and the PDS team we worked with on the HPE SimpliVity project worked with us through the entire process. We were incredibly impressed. HPE SimpliVity is far ahead of other vendors we had dealt with in the past. Everything for the rollout was perfectly coordinated and significant portions were automated. The migration happened almost effortlessly.
When we look back on the old system, we simply didn’t have faith in it. Every time we had to reboot, we thought, “Let's hope and pray it does what it's supposed to do.” Now, with HPE SimpliVity, we can reboot our VMs within seconds. When we need to reboot—which is not that often —we click a button and it’s nearly done before the screen changes. That’s a vast difference from the way we used to operate. We’ve gone from sitting around biting our nails, waiting for something to reboot, to an instant, stress-free fix.
Restoring backups is now a non-issue. A backup of a 500 GB virtual machine might have taken an hour or two before. Now, it’s seconds. With HPE SimpliVIty, we can run updates on servers, knowing we don’t need to give ourselves extra time to make sure it's finished. The new setup saves us countless hours on the backend and gives us the peace of mind we’d been searching for. The HPE SimpliVity built-in data protection meets our requirements for space and functionality, and we use Veeam to help us protect data on physical servers.
We're fortunate to have had a great team of people from both HPE SimpliVity and PDS working with us on this project. PDS worked seamlessly with the team from HPE SimpliVity on the implementation. PDS is always there to back us up when we need it and make sure everything goes smoothly.
Thanks to both teams, our nodes are correctly sized, in fact, the entire infrastructure is designed correctly from the ground up for our needs. One day, we experienced a hardware failure in one of our nodes, but because they were correctly sized and include built-in resiliency, the remaining nodes were able to take the load off. We were able to maintain service until we got the part replaced, without any impact on student learning. Nobody in the building knew anything had gone wrong. Often in IT, if no one notices what’s happening, that means you’re doing your job. This was one of those times. It was a proud moment to be sure.
Since our initial implementation, we’ve added two large nodes for our backup site. Everything backs up both locally and offsite, which we retain for 30 days. Every Sunday, we run an additional backup locally and offsite, which we retain for three months. We have enough resources on two large nodes to bring up our 25 most critical VMs to run at the DR site. This equates to a quarter of our total VMs.
Today, deploying new servers takes 3 minutes or less. And that’s me taking my time. In my role, I wear a lot of hats, and that was our ultimate rationale in buying HPE SimpliVity. We wanted deploying and maintaining servers to take up as little of my time as possible. I don’t have the luxury of just being a “server person.” I need to do so much more. At the end of the day, I can’t help deploy apps for teachers if I’m restoring a backup or worrying about servers.
Focusing on the Students
When we try to look at the impact of our work, there are two ways for us to measure our success in IT. First is the number of tickets we receive, and second is our service rating. Since implementing HPE SimpliVIty, we have significantly fewer tickets and in our last set of helpdesk ticket surveys, we were above 4.9 on all 5 of the measurements.
For us, these results mean less disruption to teaching and learning because of technical difficulties, which is our primary goal. But it also frees us up to focus on projects that improve education in the classrooms. We’re now stepping into the world of virtual reality—something everyone here is excited about. And since we don't have to worry about the back-end stuff because of HPE SimpliVity, our IT team even has the time to support staff as they work to bring new ideas to life in the classrooms.
Thanks to teams at HPE and PDS, the SimpliVity solution gives us what we need to focus on student learning and achievement.