Diminishing server capacity creates system failures

Ben Kraus, co-web editor

The recent failures in computer servers at South can be attributed to aging hardware, according to Marcus Thimm, District 225 chief technology officer.

According to Thimm, the district is replacing current servers and storage systems as part of a long-term technology plan.

Faculty and students’ inability to connect to various services, such as Moodle or HomeLogic, has been due to hard drive failures in the storage system, Thimm said. These hard drives, which hold data for the district, have failed because of how long they have been in use. The current storage system did not tolerate multiple drives failing simultaneously.

“Hard drives are made for lasting a certain amount of time and then they start failing; that’s what we’re seeing right now,” Thimm said.

Over the past four years—the time period during which the current servers have been in place—the servers at South have gone down once per year. This year, a certain server went down twice within a three-month period, according to Thimm.

The most recent occurrence was May 9 when systems that provide network management features became unavailable.

The district consolidated their 35 physical servers down to nine in 2009. Two years later, the total number of virtual servers increased to 95. According to Thimm, the quantity of programs being used has taken up storage space available on those servers.

“We have put so many systems into this environment that we run out of computing and storage space,” Thimm said.

According to Thimm, the hard drive’s storage space is almost completely used up and the processors are working at maximum capacity. The district is currently attempting to address this problem by replacing failed hard drives with new hard drives.

Thimm’s department brought a proposal to the Board of Education May 14 to express the desire for new server resources and storage systems. Following the meeting, the Board decided it would officially accept the proposal at the next board meeting on June 11.

The proposal entails buying two server systems (in case one fails) from Dell, as well as two Dell storage systems. The district will be leasing the new equipment for a three to five year term, and the new setup is expected to be in place by the fall of 2012.

“[The new system] seems to be more reliable than the system we have [now],” Thimm said. “The two storage systems will each have twice the capacity of the current system, and the servers will have significantly better compute capacity and memory size.”

As for the remainder of this school year, Thimm cannot promise that the current system will not have any more problems between now and early June.

“If anything happens with it, we’re going to be working very quickly to resolve any issues that may arise,” Thimm said.