Published On: 14th December 20174.7 min readTags: , , ,

Business Challenge

The University of Oxford is an internationally renowned institution that is consistently ranked among the best higher education establishments globally. Oxford’s Faculty of Classics is part of the university’s Humanities Division and is the largest faculty of its kind in the world. As well as educating, it produces world-leading research through its three research centres and more than twenty research projects.

The Faculty of Classics is responsible for its own IT management, and has several critical applications that require high availability. These are spread over 20 Virtual Machines (VMs) for, amongst other things, the faculty website, print server, research projects and administration. To mitigate against the potential of downtime, the servers hosting the VMs urgently needed to be
made highly available. Diggory Gray, IT Officer within the faculty was tasked with deploying a solution that would be lightweight, simple to manage and be as cost-effective as possible.


Faced with the challenge of providing high availability, Diggory had a number of options available to him. The idea of implementing a physical SAN for shared storage across two servers was quickly discarded. The cost alone made the solution prohibitive, while the experiences of other faculties in purchasing similar hardware and the hassle associated with deployment ruled it out as a viable choice. Keeping the server cost to a minimum also played a significant role in determining which solution would be selected. Some virtual SAN solutions on the market require up to half of the available server memory just to run the virtual SAN, which would have increased server costs. After a conversation with some colleagues about virtual storage appliances, StorMagic SvSAN was suggested as a potential alternative. Its lightweight architecture and need for only 1 GB of memory before caching left it a clear winner ahead of its rivals.

The Faculty of Classics deployed SvSAN on two Dell servers, each with 128GB of memory, two 800GB SSDs and six 1.2TB 2.5” 10K SAS disks. Overall, 3.2TB is presented to SvSAN as usable storage. With SvSAN, management is a breeze. Diggory and his team can easily update the servers with software patches of any type (server, Windows, VMware, StorMagic, etc.) without any downtime. This is achieved by using StorMagic’s failover and failback to update one server at a time, keeping all applications up and running and consequently generating huge time savings for the team.

Why StorMagic

The need for a lightweight, simple solution that used minimal resources was critical for Oxford’s Faculty of Classics. Unnecessary spending on hardware upgrades needed to be minimized or avoided entirely, and that is exactly what StorMagic SvSAN provided. As well as being able to start out using their existing Dell servers and upgrade to newer models later, the faculty enjoys zero downtime during most maintenance events and users no longer experience reboots when software updates are applied. Operating costs associated with more complex, resource-intensive solutions such as power, cooling and increased system memory have also been avoided. In addition, SvSAN’s ease of management makes it a truly ‘set and forget’ solution, allowing Diggory and his team to focus on other projects, safe in the knowledge their virtualized storage has the resiliency to run without constant monitoring.

Technical Configuration

Server Configuration (Per Server)
SvSAN License SvSAN 6TB Gold
Hardware Dell
CPU 2 per server, 10 cores each, Intel Xeon
Memory 128GB per server
Storage 6x 1.2TB 2.5” 10K SAS disks, RAID-10

2x 800GB SSD, RAID-1

Networking Two networks:

One small set of switches for iSCSI, mirror traffic for svsan – 10GBit

Main LAN – Windows 2008R2 for quorum server – in same server – Gbit LAN

Hypervisor vSphere Essentials Plus Kit
Applications 20 VMs running internal applications: print server, patching system, websites, research projects, faculty website, administration websites, room booking
Data Protection University has a centralized backup system using Tivoli

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