Bond Uni chalks up e-learning rollout

Queensland's Bond University plans to implement a new e-learning solution over the next few months in a project which builds on a storage area network (SAN) implemented last year. "We've got a new online teaching project at the moment, called Blackboard," the university's senior systems administrator, Stephen Tonna, told ZDNet Australia yesterday.

Queensland's Bond University plans to implement a new e-learning solution over the next few months in a project which builds on a storage area network (SAN) implemented last year.

"We've got a new online teaching project at the moment, called Blackboard," the university's senior systems administrator, Stephen Tonna, told ZDNet Australia yesterday.

"That's for next semester, that's when it's starting its first pilot and production environment." Bond's second semester starts in mid-May.

The university -- which has around 4,000 students and 1,000 staff -- will follow other institutions like the Universities of Sydney and Newcastle in implementing Blackboard.

Blackboard is a Web-based system that allows students to interact with staff and each other online, as well as facilitating the distribution of electronic content, online assessment, course management and other functions useful to educators.

The system's back end will sit alongside other data like student and staff home drives, e-mail and closed circuit television (CCTV) on the new SAN.

Storage vendor StorageTek -- now part of Sun Microsystems -- won the right to provide the hardware for the solution, after an exhaustive selection process.

"I spent probably three to four months researching all the vendors out there," said Tonna. "I went to presentations by EMC, Hitachi, etc. They all came on site as well."

"I evaluated basically all the products out on the market, and found that between them, there wasn't too much difference basically. They all did pretty much the same thing."

"But then when I came to the support side of things, that's where I felt that StorageTek had the greater offerings."

Backing up data was a key part of the process.

"They [StorageTek] were really the only manufacturer-provider that provided tape as well as disk," he said.

"Everyone else was using a third-party tape solution, that wasn't their own tape solution as such. But this was a one-stop shop sort of thing, the tape and the disk side of things."

Bond's new SAN has a tape robot system for backup purposes.

The systems administrator said the acquisition by Sun -- completed in September last year -- didn't make him nervous.

"We were already dealing with Sun anyway, and we knew what the Sun service and the Sun products were like anyway," he said. "So that wasn't a real big deal for us at all."

"If it was an unknown company, it would be a different story, but because it was a major vendor, there was no real concerns with the Sun takeover as such."

Looking into space
The SAN allowed Bond to move away from its old model of allocating space on a per server basis.

"Basically it was local disks on servers before," said Tonna. "So that was a real restriction for us, as you couldn't get more than a terabyte local to a server with SCSI disks."

Bond -- which uses IBM and Sun servers -- was using a combination of external SCSI storage cabinets, which could fit up to 14 hard disks with a limit of a terabyte of space, or simply putting disks into local servers -- which could hold a maximum of six disks each.

The SAN allowed Bond to allocate two TB of space each for e-mail and home drives, and another six for the CCTV solution.

"It's not all in use at this stage, but that's what been allocated," said Tonna.

Consequently, Bond's students have had both their e-mail and home director storage limits boosted from 50Mb to 250Mb, with staff going from 200Mb to a gigabyte each.

Tonna thinks the SAN has a theoretical limit of somewhere above the 60 TB mark.

"We can expand it quite easily," he said. "We know we've got a solution that's going to last for a good five years, and probably more. It's just a matter of adding disks to the SAN and keep growing."

Words of wisdom
The systems administrator recommended his counterparts in other organisations research carefully if they were shopping for a SAN.

"My big thing was the backup side of things," he said.

"A lot of the vendors forgot about that -- how do you back all this stuff up, once you've got all this data sitting out on your network, all this disk space there."

"Make sure when you are comparing vendors, make sure you are comparing products of a comparable nature," he added.

"There are different levels of controllers as such. Make sure you are comparing horses for courses."

"Find someone that's going to be able to provide the after service as well."

Tonna also advised his counterparts to watch out for so-called "growing costs".

"There are licensing models that need to get looked into," he said. "Some vendors licence things differently -- on a per host basis, for example."

"Whereas for some, it didn't really matter how many hosts you connected to your SAN."

Ultimately Tonna's own research paid off. "It's been basically faultless since it's gone in," he said of the SAN. "We were very happy with the products we ended up getting."