Nov 11 2013

Why the Technical College System of Georgia Deployed FlexPod

Two-year college system reports increased productivity, ease of management with integrated computing platform from Cisco Systems and NetApp.

About three years ago, the technology staff at the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) in Atlanta suffered some serious back-end infrastructure challenges.

Steven Ferguson, senior network engineer for the system of 23 two-year state technical colleges, says the data center stored rack after rack of physical standalone servers. If a hard drive failed on one of the servers, it could bring down multiple systems, Ferguson says. And the physical servers themselves were expensive to maintain, especially when it came to power and cooling.

Those weren’t the only challenges. Expanding the enterprise backup system to increase rack capacity or add additional racks required an investment of more than $100,000. Added server capacity required additional cooling, which in turn required a minimum investment of $50,000 to redesign the data center cooling system, Ferguson says.

As the data center ran out of space, TCSG sought technology that could help IT consolidate both the storage and server infrastructure.

“What I was looking for was technology that could let me run both my server and storage network over the same infrastructure,” Ferguson says. “It just became too expensive to run two separate networks.”


Percentage of IT managers who say integrated computing platforms, such as reference architectures or fully integrated/preconfigured solutions, are their organization’s preferred model for back-end infrastructure that supports private cloud deployments

SOURCE: “Integrated Computing Platforms: Infrastructure Builds for Tomorrow’s Data Center” (Enterprise Strategy Group, March 2013)

Earlier in their research, Ferguson and his staff looked at both SAN-based storage and the Unified Computing System from Cisco Systems, a journey that led them to FlexPod. FlexPod systems integrate Cisco’s combined server and switching infrastructure with storage efficiency technologies offered by NetApp. Once they added a VMware hypervisor, TCSG completed the modern back-end infrastructure that now makes the IT department much more efficient.

“With FlexPod and VMware, if we lose one or two blades, the guest operating systems in the blades that go down are automatically moved to another server,” Ferguson says. “It also now takes us minutes instead of hours or days to roll out applications to support project teams.”

FlexPod infrastructure with VMware enables Ferguson to add up to 100 virtual desktops on a single blade, which that moving to VDI is easier than it was in the past. Ferguson says TCSG runs VDI on tablets via XenApp and XenDesktop from Citrix Systems, offering users full access to their desktops no matter what device they choose, including Windows 7 office applications.

Mark Bowker, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says TCSG’s deployment of its so-called “integrated computing platform” dovetails nicely with many IT departments opting for a system such as FlexPod.

“Many of the organizations that deploy integrated computing platforms tend to deploy specific applications, such as VDI,” Bowker says. “Platforms such as FlexPod also let organizations roll out applications more quickly and offer a single number to call for service.”

FlexPod and VoIP

Along with the many efficiency and productivity benefits FlexPod offers the TCSG data center, Ferguson has found an added benefit as it slowly rolls out FlexPod with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems within three of its local colleges.

His reasoning for combining FlexPod with VoIP: Ferguson says the colleges typically spend as much as $30,000 a month for voice service on an older Centrex system, while deploying FlexPod costs less than $21,000 a month. Running VoIP over the FlexPod infrastructure costs about another $6,000 a month (for primary rate interface services).

“So for roughly $2,000 less than the $30,000 they’ve been paying monthly for voice service, the colleges get more redundancy, better processing and a full data center refresh, plus voice service,” Ferguson says. “I like to call it doing more with more.”

Ferguson says he hopes to add more FlexPod and VoIP systems at the colleges in the months ahead, as time and funding allow.


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