More and more K–12 districts opt to simplify, consolidate and upgrade their data centers with HCI.

Hyperconvergence Hits Mainstream in K–12 Data Centers

More and more K–12 districts opt to simplify, consolidate and upgrade their data centers with HCI.

While preparing to move the data c­enter at Iron County School District to a ­building with more space, the IT team received an alert: The air ­conditioning system had failed. By the time a crew got there, the temperature was so high that their ­fingerprints melted into the plastic around the power cords.

Fortunately, the Utah district was in the process of replacing its aging systems with a Scale Computing HC3 hyperconverged infrastructure, which was onsite, just waiting to be installed in the new data center.

“That really confirmed for us that what we were doing was both right and necessary,” says Troy Lunt, ICSD’s technology director.

Simplicity and ease of management initially drew the district to hyperconvergence, but it didn’t take them long to experience the many other benefits that have led a growing number of school districts to adopt HCI.

Rather than upgrade compute, storage and networking individually, it combines all three, as well as management, into a single infrastructure.

HCI adoption is projected to climb by as much as 70 percent in the coming years, and its benefits for school districts match those realized by smaller organizations: “It’s easy to deploy and manage,” says Vladimir Galabov, principal analyst, cloud and data center research practice at IHS Markit. “It’s also attractive as a form of low-cost storage.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how K–12 districts are virtualizing their desktops.

Consolidation Is a Boon for K–12 Virtualization 

Less electrical power, less cooling, less need for support and hands-on management — that’s how Ken Munford, ICSD network and security manager, boils down the benefits of Scale Computing’s HC3 product. “I spend maybe 10 minutes a week monitoring both Scale systems that we have,” he says.

When the district turned to hyperconvergence in 2014, it had been using a growing number of applications for everything from accounting to student information systems. 

The same group of nine technicians managed everything, on top of all of their other support responsibilities. Whenever a new server was required, IT relied on the district’s one virtualization expert. With HC3, teams can now create templates and use them to clone other servers.“

Ken Munford
We had terrible cable sprawl, and there were a lot of switches to connect all of the devices together. It was becoming a nightmare. Based on the growth we were seeing, we would have outgrown it within a year.”

Ken Munford Network and Security Manager, Iron County (Utah) School District

"We’re talking minutes now, compared with what used to take days,” Munford says. HC3 also made sense as the district outgrew its data center.

“We had 40 or 50 bare-metal servers operating in that environment at any given time,” Munford says. “We had ­terrible cable sprawl, and there were a lot of switches to connect all of the devices together. It was becoming a nightmare. Based on the growth we were seeing, we would have outgrown it within a year.”

Meanwhile, much of the district’s equipment was nearing its end of life. “We didn’t want to spend that time and money on such a huge system,” Lunt says. Today, the district runs two hyperconverged clusters: The primary one has seven nodes, and the other, a DR site cluster, has five nodes. 

The two appliances communicate with each other and replicate virtual machines and their corresponding snapshots onto each other, so in the event of a cluster failure, IT can clone a replicated VM or activate a replicated VM snapshot on the other cluster. There’s no more cable sprawl, no more overheating. 

“We went from four 7-foot 42U racks chock-full of servers and SAN storage to a measly 8U of rack space,” Munford says. “We’re a lot more efficient.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how your school can avoid these common data center mistakes.

Hyperconverged Infrastructures Are a One-Stop Shop

The storage area network and servers at Wisconsin’s Kiel Area School District predated Dustin Goebel’s decade-long tenure — and even those had been refurbished.

“They’ve been great units,” says Goebel, the district’s technology director and network administrator. “But it was time to upgrade.” When pricing new storage arrays, he included hyperconverged solutions in the mix, primarily as an academic exercise. “I never thought it would come in at our price,” he says, but he was stunned to learn that HCI was in line with his budget.

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Iron County School District’s Troy Lunt (left) and Ken Munford gained time, space and cost savings when they replaced the district’s old data center with a hyperconverged infrastructure.. Photography by: Louis Arevalo.

“The biggest plus is that it’s a one-stop shop,” he says. “If I have a problem with a drive or the software, it’s just one call to Nutanix. There’s no finger-­pointing between vendors.”

The district installed the new system in 2018, and implementation was straightforward. A user-friendly interface and a single login allow Goebel to see the storage, processing power, inputs/outputs and all virtual machines. 

“We have 1,500 end users and just about that many devices, so anytime we can streamline management, it’s always a good thing for us,” he says of his two-man IT team. 

“Most school districts are just like us, so if HCI fits within the budget, it’s definitely worth taking a long look at. I think the benefits outweigh that little bit of extra cost.”

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K–12 Schools Replace Legacy Systems for a Fresh Start

When the Janesville School District set out to replace its aging legacy systems in 2017, all of the bids it received were for hyperconverged infrastructures. “It just made sense because everything was being replaced at one time,” says Cassandra Anderson, systems administrator for the Wisconsin school district. “We were in a good situation to just lift it out and start fresh with hyperconverged.”

She didn’t know much about the technology, so she did some research before the presentations to keep her from going in blind. Her first surprises were the amount of storage the district could save, and how much it could shrink its data center footprint. 

70%

Percentage of the cost Iron County School District paid for hyperconverged infrastructure ­compared with what it would have cost to refresh the entire data center

Source: Iron County School District

Another perk: Backups and DR capabilities are built into the system. The district’s backup system wasn’t due to be replaced, but it had become a steady source of frustration.

Janesville School District opted for HPE SimpliVity. IT migrated over to the new system in the middle of the day without interrupting staff or students, then spent the rest of the week feeding all of the data, adjusting the nodes and taking care of other minor settings.

The team replaced the district’s entire main data center with four SimpliVity nodes. A few months later, they added two more nodes for the newly created disaster recovery site. 

They recently added another node at the main district office and yet another at the disaster recovery site to cover the phone systems. “It’s easy to scale up and bring new nodes into your environment without causing pain points,” Anderson says.

A server reboot now takes 20 seconds or less as opposed to 20 minutes — and backups that used to take hours now take mere seconds. Anderson is also pleased with the system’s single-pane-of-glass management. “We didn’t need to learn another interface to manage it,” she says.

Dmitrii_Guzhanin/Getty Images

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