West Point cadets tap SAN to keep up with expanding data

All West Point cadets are issued notebook PCs, and living areas are linked to the academy's LAN.

Courtesy of West Point

A 17T storage area network is the latest step in making the U.S. Military Academy campus at West Point, N.Y., network-centric.

'Society is increasingly network-centric,' said Lt. Col. Curtis Carver, associate dean for information and educational technology. 'Our cadets are going to be making decisions throughout their military careers. We want them to have an understanding of the implications of technology on decision-making.'

Each cadet is issued a notebook computer for classwork and personal use. Classrooms and living areas are wired into the academy's LAN, and a campuswide wireless network was installed in 2003.

Registration, scheduling and coursework are all online, and each of the 4,100 cadets creates and manages a personal Web site.

'It's not just the IT students,' Carver said; all the cadets build Web applications.

That's a far cry from the technology available to earlier classes.

'When I was a plebe here 25 years ago, there were card machines in the computer room, and we worked at dumb terminals,' he said.

The changes demanded a storage system that would support new applications in addition to bulk storage. The academy settled on a Dell Inc. EMC CX storage array linked through a 2-Gbps Fibre Channel switch to application servers. The storage subsystem can scale from five to as many as 260 disks.

'We are not stuck at 17T,' Carver said. The current configuration can go up to 50T, and that extra capacity eventually will get used. 'We're fine right now,' he said, 'but we're going to have to grow it really soon.'

Eric Endebrook, SAN marketing manager for Dell, called storage Dell's fastest-growing enterprise product area.

'Data growth is out of control,' he said. 'Our customers can't keep up by putting disks inside servers.'

Server-based storage is expensive and increases management overhead. Also, when a server runs out of room, it shuts down. A disk array with redundant connections eliminates that single point of failure. 'It is much easier to protect,' Endebrook said.

A SAN also helps keep traffic off the LAN, separating the computing and storage sides, which have different requirements.

West Point's SAN, which started operating in February, has given the academy an opportunity to evaluate and change some computing processes.

'We're seeing greater sophistication in our users, both faculty and students,' Carver said. They expect more access to and more control over data.

The number of Web servers on the network has been trimmed from 4,000 to just four, Carver said, because 'each class gets its own server.'

Also, he said, 'we've changed the way we map information.' Before the SAN was in place, each department had a different directory structure, making it difficult to search across departments. Directories are now standardized.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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