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    Walter Sisulu University Fuels Data Infrastructure Innovation with Huawei OceanStor Storage

Aiming to be one of the most innovative educational institutions in the country, this university knew that its data infrastructure needed a comprehensive upgrade.

To thrive in the digital age, any organization needs a workforce with strong digital capabilities and universities are often key to developing this talent pool. As digitalization sweeps across all industries, it's no wonder that educational institutions around the world are beginning to prioritize digital development. Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in South Africa is a good case in point.

Located in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, WSU has over 30,000 staff and students spread out across its four major campus sites. With a clear aim to become one of the most innovative universities in the country, one that's always relevant in the rapidly expanding and evolving digital world, WSU knew that its infrastructure needed a comprehensive upgrade. Specifically, the university required a highly performant and reliable data infrastructure platform built on innovative technologies, to bring about a digital teaching environment and improve the overall quality of teaching.

However, achieving such an upgrade appeared to be a huge challenge. WSU's legacy infrastructure suffered from a wide range of Information Technology (IT) system issues, such as scattered information resources, and each would need to be addressed to ensure success.

Roadblocks to University Innovation

"Our live network was reaching its performance and support limits, with certain legacy storage devices unable to support our teaching and research workloads," Brendan Langley, Deputy Director of the WSU Infrastructure Department, said. "So we needed to refresh across the board, covering performance, reliability, and security."

The first and most pressing concern facing the university involved outdated IT systems. Many storage devices on the former live network were approaching End Of Service (EOS), resulting in poor performance, especially in database applications. During the university's term time, when performance needed to be at its peak, bottlenecks were commonplace on both the administration and registration systems, with the IT team struggling to rapidly respond.

Another major sticking point was the lack of Disaster Recovery (DR) capabilities. Any system failure would likely result in service interruptions and, in turn, the potential loss of digital assets. In terms of data security, systems also faced frequent attacks, stemming from phishing software and hackers. And because the legacy data center's system had no security foundation, a new high security data model would have to be built from scratch.

Fully aware of the issues it faced, WSU was clear on what it needed: an innovative, high-quality storage solution that was fast, reliable, and easy to manage.

The Key to Getting Unstuck

Cooperating with Huawei since 2010, WSU was already familiar with Huawei's achievements and standing in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) field. And because a huge range of equipment would need to be replaced on the live network, WSU's familiarity with, and trust in Huawei's product portfolios made the decision to work with Huawei once again an easy one.

"We know that Huawei is a brand that we can rely on, with clear advantages in E2E integrated solutions and services."

WSU deployed Huawei's OceanStor Dorado all-flash storage to resolve performance issues of critical workloads. Its innovative hardware, algorithms, and architecture provide extremely high performance and millisecond-level latency, eliminating performance bottlenecks and meeting the peak needs of high-performance workloads. OceanStor Dorado also converges Storage Area Network (SAN) and Network-Attached Storage (NAS) in a single storage system, supporting diverse workloads. Now, the university's storage system latency has been slashed to just 0.34 ms, while performance has increased by 60%.

Previously, even a minor system breakdown could cause major service headaches for WSU. But with OceanStor Dorado's gateway-free active-active DR solution in place, data integrity and service continuity are ensured. The system also includes SAN-based ransomware prevention features — such as secure snapshots — to safeguard data assets.

Different generations of OceanStor can also be converged, so WSU adopted the entry-level OceanStor 2600 storage system on the DR side, forming a High Availability (HA) environment. This has given WSU the flexibility to purchase and deploy solutions according to its specific needs, greatly reducing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Speed and Scale — in a Flash

With the new and improved network now up and running, teaching management and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems enjoy stable connectivity, while the administration system's data processing speeds have improved significantly. And thanks to the new storage solution, WSU's business system enjoys excellent performance that meets the latency of database applications, in turn providing a better overall experience for staff and students alike.

Huawei, of course, goes beyond merely providing solutions. If any issues arise in the future, WSU knows that they will be swiftly addressed. "That was one very noticeable benefit with Huawei. The solutions are reliable but, if needed, support is always on hand. We can now quickly troubleshoot any problem and we know that Huawei's IT support team are right behind us," Langley said.

These upgrades have provided WSU the freedom to focus its energy where it's needed most: fostering the talents of the students in its care. They have also put the university in a strong position to consider future opportunities as it works to develop a comprehensive smart campus. WSU can now expand its teaching and research programs without compromising data security. And with the project serving as an example for other universities across South Africa looking toward data infrastructure upgrades, it has also put WSU firmly on the path to becoming one of the most innovative, forward-thinking universities, nationwide.