Enabling digitized testing with flash storage — despite the obstacles.
GUEST COLUMN | by Eric Herzog
Technology touches on everything that we do; we are a heavily digitized society and co-dependent on the enabling technology. Test taking is no exception. Today, standardized testing is a staple in the nation’s education. However, as with anything else, the standard way of doing it is evolving to accommodate a tech-savvy demographic and the demands for faster results and faster reports. Last year alone, states such as California renounced their ties with No. 2 pencils and bubble test sheets to embrace the shift to digital.
Today, many school districts that are looking to get on the digitized testing bandwagon don’t have the requisite technology, nor budget.
Today, many school districts that are looking to get on the digitized testing bandwagon don’t have the requisite technology, nor budget. Or they have technology that cannot scale nor support the workload and student body. Not only does digitized testing require a virtual infrastructure to enable a large student body to access online tests running on virtual machines, but it also requires the proper storage backend for fast application access and data delivery.
Imagine thousands of students accessing the same testing programs at the same time and updating saved work. Downloading test reports requires a robust technology that most school counties do not yet have. These application workloads and concurrent users can bring today’s school district data centers to their knees. And with a tight budget, it’s a heavy strain for the IT department. But with flash technology, it does not have to be.
Take the case of Collier County School District; one of the largest districts in the U.S., whose disk-based storage fell short in supporting their service levels, and the demands of their student body and staff. Upon closer look, Collier County faced numerous challenges with respect to virtualizing their entire school district’s data center in order to meet their SLAs.
The infrastructure at Collier County School District couldn’t handle the virtualized environment workload of more than 45,000 students and faculty. They decided to replace their disk-based storage with four Violin Memory flash arrays to manage their Windows SQL and Citrix XenDesktop environment. The results were impressive. Collier was able to exceed their SLAs and also achieve the following return on their investment on the Violin Memory technology:
- Improved the test taking experience for all their students
- Eliminated the need to overprovision server hardware and their associated software licenses in order to improve performance
- Condensed storage from 50-60 hard-disks to less than 1 rack of flash technology from Violin
- With a reduced and precious data center footprint, they significantly reduced associated power and cooling costs
- Achieved approximately $200,000 in operational savings by purchasing smaller servers and consolidating SQL Server instances
Collier County optimizes their infrastructure
Collier County is one of the most technologically advanced K-12 districts in the U.S, located in Florida. The school district supports a faculty of 7000 and student body of 45,000. As assessment tests became digitized, the IT department leveraged their data warehouse systems – which originally served as a data retention and reporting tool – as online testing resources.
Even though their Microsoft SQL Server data warehouse applications were running on a high-end, Storage Area Network (SAN) infrastructure, the clients were suffering severe latency issues at peak workloads. The slow data delivery from slow, legacy storage had a negative impact on how the tests were conducted. Students and staff were becoming frustrated with the tests.
IT soon realized that they needed faster storage for the petabytes of data generated by the school district, as well as to support the digitized workload. But the economic and total cost of ownership of loomed large on the district’s budget.
Why this solution
The Violin platform addressed many of the storage challenges that Collier faced, while reducing their total cost of ownership. Beyond improving the user experience for the staff and students, the district even saved $200,000 for other operations and projects.
The platform enabled Collier to build a more efficient and cost-effective solution for their SQL Server environment. By condensing storage pools, they were also able to reduce the server count for the SQL environment, enabling cost savings from a license and hardware perspective. With it, Collier was also able to repurpose and redeploy their existing storage investments.
Collier County is just one example of how technology brings real benefits to an organization by improving IT and virtual infrastructures.