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Northern Arizona U Adopts Software-Defined Storage

Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, AZ has implemented a software-defined storage (SDS) solution in an effort to improve performance of its thin clients, thick clients and virtual machines.

The university's academic computing virtualization was straining the capacity of its existing storage array. High input/output latency was causing slow user response times, the disks were running out of storage capacity, and usage spikes caused high input/output operations per second (IOPS) that put further strain on the existing storage array.

NAU's centralized Information Technology Services (ITS) department began searching for a new system to replace the storage array. The team's list of requirements included support for thin provisioning and the ability to integrate with XenDesktop and XenServer. After evaluating its options, the team selected NexentaStor software-defined storage from Nexenta.

The university's NexentaStor system runs on a PowerEdge R720 Rack Server. The system has 16 terabytes (TB) of storage capacity, 128 gigabytes (GB) of memory, 46 hard disk drives and 2 solid state drives.

Since implementing the system, the university has reported faster performance of its thin clients, thick clients and virtual machines. "We now have better than a 93 percent cache read rate, we very rarely see latency above 10 milliseconds — a speed that's practically unprecedented here, and this type of performance is consistent even as usage spikes significantly throughout the academic calendar," said Tobias Kreidl, academic team lead in NAU's ITS department, in a prepared statement. "Our team used to sweat out the traffic spikes around class registration, but that issue is now behind us."

Northern Arizona University serves more than 20,000 students at its main campus in Flagstaff, plus another 7,000 students at its 36 satellite campuses around the state.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at

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