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Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Getting Educated at .NEXT

An Interview with Tim Schmidt, Engineering Services Manager at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Background: California Polytechnic State University is a public university located in San Luis Obispo, California, United States. Founded in 1901 as a vocational high school, it is currently one of only two polytechnic universities in the 23-member California State University system. Tim Schmidt is the engineering services manager at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is in charge of the design and architecture of the university’s data center and the systems that support that infrastructure.

Q. What IT challenges were you facing before you migrated to Nutanix?
A. A large percentage of our data center infrastructure was coming off warranty, including nearly all of our storage and VM hosts. We were trying to solve a complexity problem and since we had the opportunity to start fresh – with a green field approach, we also wanted to find a solution that was easier to manage and would enable us to isolate workloads. With our previous environment, dev/test, production, and QA were all on the same hardware. As a result, we had a lot of servers that were fairly generic as we could not afford to specialize workloads. We wanted to find a solution that would ‘just work’ for these – one that didn’t have all of the traditional complexity of the SAN, network and server host paradigm. We wanted to find a way that made more sense for the future.

Q. Why did you choose Nutanix?
A. The problem we were trying to solve was ‘how do we replace everything in such a way that it will be appropriate for the next five years?’ That’s always a tough challenge, given that it is hard to say what the next five years of the data center will look like. With the increasing move to hybrid cloud, what would be a good step forward for us? How do we make everything simpler and future-proof? At the time of the refresh, we were engaged with Nutanix for a VDI environment. It solved a lot of our complexity problems with VDI and made growth linear. We soon realized that Nutanix was the logical choice for our server environment as well, as many of our servers had similar needs and specs to desktops.

Q. What Nutanix features stood out?
A. When we made the decision to go with Nutanix a few years ago, a lot of vendors were making promises about how their environments would ‘just work’, make things easier and how data could be replicated. There were two things that stood out for Nutanix. The first was data locality – running the VM storage off of the host that the VM lived on. The second advantage for Nutanix was its multi-hypervisor support. Even though we are running VMware right now, we feel that KVM and Hyper-V are likely to be a lot more relevant for us as the years go on. Thus we wanted the flexibility and freedom to choose a different hypervisor down the road. We also knew that we wanted something that was hyper converged and out of all the competitors, Nutanix had the best solution.

Q. How are the Nutanix systems performing?
A. We ran some I/O reports on the Nutanix systems, because that was one of our main areas of technical investigation. We were experiencing I/O storms on our old hardware and it was impacting the campus. We ran reports on our old NetApp and Dell systems and they were running around 20,000 IOPS. The six Nutanix nodes we put in are operating at about 120,000 IOPS maximum, and about 80,000 on average. Even at the worst possible read/write ratio, it tripled our I/O capacity which was a huge thing for us. Everything running on Nutanix is consistently performing extremely well. We no longer have to worry about a disk latency problem, because of the way everything is cached on Nutanix. The systems are operating so smoothly that the constant panic of ‘are we hitting I/O storms?’ has completely gone away.

Q. Will you be attending .NEXT this year?
A. Yes, I will be there. I am hoping to see what is on the roadmap for the Nutanix software platform. Will there be replication to some other tier at some point – whether it’s archival, or cloud, or something like that? It also looks like the management interface and tools have been receiving some attention lately, so what can we expect there? We have 12 nodes now and plan to add more, so Nutanix will be the primary compute resource for our University datacenter. As such, I am very interested to see where Nutanix is taking us and what additional features we can expect in the near-term.

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