When Apple decided to stop producing the Xserve range there were a number of IT administrators who were concerned about what the upgrade path would be once their rack of Xserves approached end of life. Martin Stacey was in this position and he requested the assistance of Blackbird to plan the next step.

The Issue

Apple’s shift in focus towards the consumer market signalled the demise of the Xserve and this posed a problem for anyone with enterprise-like environments looking for a suitable replacement. School networks are notorious for putting significant stress on resources during the start and end of lessons when large numbers of users log on and log off. As the lease on the existing Xserves was fast approaching Martin needed to find a new enterprise grade solution that could handle this load and provide the back end for the Mac network.

The Solution

In designing a new solution the first process was to confirm requirements for the new infrastructure. Throughout the lifecycle of the Xserves at St Andrew’s, the sustained load during peak times had steadily increased to the point where they were not sufficient to handle the spikes effectively. The first requirement was therefore an implementation that could handle the increased demand. The decision was therefore made to utilise a central storage subsystem in the form of a Promise Vtrak X30. The challenge was then how to utilise this whilst retaining performance and redundancy.

Multiple Mac mini servers were utilised to provide redundancy for Open Directory and also multiple AFP file servers to spread the load as evenly as possible. These were all connected to the storage via a fibre channel network. A fast disk to disk backup solution was then implemented to backup the data to a geographically separate storage unit. The relatively low cost of a Mac mini combined with a fast restoration process means that should one of the Mac Minis fail, the time to restore to a replacement unit is minimal.

The improved performance from both the new hardware and shift to OSX Lion resulted an in a far more capable solution that comfortably handled the resource usage spikes throughout the day. The additional storage and increased performance allows for plenty of growth in the future.

About St Andrew’s School

St Andrew’s School is an independent, co-educational, Anglican primary school, located at Walkerville, an inner eastern suburb of Adelaide, South Australia.

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