More school districts adopt HCI, which combines servers, storage and networking resources with virtualization software in an integrated system. Managed through a centralized software tool, these unified systems are highly available and reliable. They are also simpler to deploy, manage and scale, which can result in significant cost savings.
“HCI takes away a lot of the mundane, tedious work that IT folks used to spend a lot of time on,” says Matt Kimball, a vice president at Moor Insights & Strategy. “It’s literally point-and-click simplicity. That’s important in education. They are understaffed like everybody else, but education seems to be more so. They have fewer people to do things, so it helps.”
Hyperconverged Infrastructure Simplifies K–12 IT Management
In early 2020, NAFCS replaced its 7-year-old servers and SAN with a three-node Scale HC3 cluster that has 100 terabytes of storage. In doing so, the district consolidated its hardware from five physical servers to three and eliminated the SAN.
Migration was easy, Bowers says. He and his team used the Carbonite Migrate software tool to move its virtual machines and data from the old hardware to the new solution. The migration tool helped the district convert existing VMware-based VMs to Scale’s Kernel-based Virtual Machine HyperCore hypervisor, he says. Bowers and his team manage the HCI equipment through Scale’s web-based management console, where they spin up servers, provision storage, restore workloads from snapshots and do software upgrades.
“It’s all in a single pane of glass,” he says. “Everything we need to do with the cluster is right there. The three individual servers are connected and share a pool of storage. When we manage it, it looks just like a single resource.”
Bowers loves the high-availability features of the system. When upgrading software on one node, Scale shuffles the node’s workloads to the other two nodes to keep the workloads running. Once the node is fully updated and restarts, its workloads automatically move back to that first node, he says.
In 2021, the IT staff expanded its Scale implementation by installing a one-node Scale HCI system at a secondary site for disaster recovery. They added another one-node Scale system at a high school as an edge server for imaging teacher and staff notebook computers.
Overall, Bowers says he’s extremely satisfied with the Scale HCI solution.
“It was a game changer for us,” he says. “It provided substantial upfront savings, and in terms of management, it provides ongoing time savings for our staff.”
Hyperconverged Infrastructure Bolsters IT Productivity
When Millard Public Schools in Omaha, Neb., needed to refresh its server and storage hardware, the district’s IT department standardized on Nutanix’s HCI solution because of its price and performance. Other key benefits include hardware consolidation and the IT staff’s ability to work faster and more efficiently, says District Technology Manager Joe Kuehl.
Historically, the IT department dispersed its servers and storage across 39 district buildings, including 38 schools. That achieved Millard’s disaster recovery goals because there was no single point of failure. However, the decentralized approach was a management nightmare, requiring staff to travel to different sites to troubleshoot, Kuehl says.
In 2020, Kuehl and his IT team centralized and modernized the infrastructure by purchasing five four-node Nutanix HCI NX series appliances. They installed three clusters at the district office’s data center to be used for VMs, file servers and virtual desktop infrastructure; and two clusters in an offsite location for disaster recovery.
During the past year, the district installed an additional cluster to its main data center to manage the district’s video surveillance and door access control software, with a matching cluster for disaster recovery.
“We went from having servers in all of our buildings to centralizing all of it,” he says. “And we still cut four full racks down to two in our main data center.”