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County expands VDI environment with 'flash first' hybrid storage array

Todd Erickson

When Bartholomew County, Ind. expanded its virtual desktop infrastructure, IT Director Jim Hartsook acquired a Tintri VMstore

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T540 hybrid storage array that mixes solid-state drives and hard disk drives for better performance and easier management, instead of expanding his legacy HDD array.

Hartsook's department supports more than 455 users in 10 geographically dispersed offices. In the summer of 2011, the department decided to expand its VMware View deployment from a 50-seat mobile training operation to more general use; it now supports around 200 users.

"We're always asked to keep our budget as flat as possible," Hartsook said, "and with the ever-growing costs of software maintenance for all the systems we support, we had to get smarter with our hardware purchases."

Instead of replacing personal computers as they age, Hartsook deploys thin clients at a fraction of the cost.

To support the larger deployment, Hartsook decided to seek alternative virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) storage options rather than expand the 20 TB legacy hard disk drive (HDD) array. He knew he would need some solid-state storage for boot storms and desktop recomposition.

Bartholomew County bought a 3U Tintri VMstore T540 hybrid storage array for its leased data center space in Columbus, Ind. to run VDI. It has 26.4 TB raw capacity and 13.5 TB usable. Jenifer Slabaugh, the systems administrator responsible for the Tintri T540 appliance, said it is 50% provisioned, but with deduplication, the county uses only around 2 TB.

Tintri uses what it calls a "flash first" design. All reads go first to flash and about 90% of read and write I/Os are handled on flash. Around one-third of the total capacity is multi-level cell solid-state drives (SSDs), and the rest is high-capacity SATA HDDs.

Hartsook said he "stumbled upon" Tintri at the Indianapolis VMware User Group conference in July 2011, and installed a test unit four months later.

"Once the dual-headed controller unit was available, we began testing it," Hartsook said. "We've had it not quite two years now, and have close to 200 VMs [virtual machines] on it. It's been rock solid.

"We really liked [its] management interface, and we were in the process of migrating our data center to a hosted site, so the small footprint was [also] very appealing to me as we were trying to reduce the number of racks that we needed to justify the move."

Hartsook estimated his legacy HDD array took up 16U, at least half a rack.

He currently has the T540 running the VMs responsible for court records, building and permitting, the health department, and tax and assessments. The next deployment phase is to put the county services with extended and flexible hours on the T540.

After that, he said he will consider migrating county services that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on it, such as 911 response and the county sheriff's office. Those systems will continue to run on physical servers and computers, at least until they are due for a technology refresh.

Slabaugh has no hesitation on putting emergency response systems on the Tintri appliance. "The nice thing for me is that if he decides to [deploy desktop virtualization in] an office that's currently on physical PCs, I know storage isn't going to be my limiting factor," she said.

Like many public organizations, Bartholomew County is striving to digitize as many services as possible with their budgetary constraints.

"Twelve years ago when I started at the county, offices could continue to operate [if the computers were down]," Hartsook said. "That's just not the case anymore. Everybody is so dependent on these services to do the daily tasks of their jobs."


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