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School district shares experience moving to HPE GreenLake

A California school district placed its server and storage infrastructure in the hands of HPE GreenLake. Its IT director shares the roadblocks he experienced and the benefits.

With aging infrastructure in need of a refresh, a California high school went almost all-in on HPE GreenLake.

Grossmont Union High School District (GUHSD) has been in operation in San Diego County, Calif., for over 100 years. With 13 campuses and more than 17,000 students, executive director of educational technology services Rick Roberts set out to build the best IT school shop in the state.

"The best doesn't mean the shiniest objects, although it could mean that. The best means serving the touchpoint between teachers and students," Roberts said.

This shines through with IT infrastructure as well, he said. With each refresh since he began in 2010, Roberts looked to improve what was delivered to the classroom. The district relied on HPE servers and storage, such as the HP Bladesystem C7000 and the HPE 3PAR storage systems. This infrastructure worked well for the schools' needs, but needs change.

About two years ago, when it was time for another refresh, Roberts and GUHSD turned to GreenLake, HPE's as-a-service model.

On-premises cloud for management ease

The problem with something like legacy storage is estimating future needs, especially as data grows, Roberts said.

Rick Roberts, executive director of educational technology services, GUHSDRick Roberts

"We estimate what we are going to need, and guess what? We always had to buy more by year three," he said.

GUHSD wanted to avoid "returning to the well" every few years, according to Roberts. Asking the higher ups for more money isn't the best way to remain popular.

GUHSD's implementation now consists of HPE GreenLake for Private Cloud Business Edition; HPE ProLiant DL360 servers for storage and compute; and HPE Managed Services for monitoring, operation and administration.

Another goal was to move GUHSD's IT staff away from storage and server support. This would free the staff to spend their time focusing on day-to-day operations and cybersecurity.

"This could be achieved if I can go to some sort of model where I have operational expenses versus capital," Roberts said.

Cultural changes

With GreenLake, managed services keep track of everything. Roberts' team no longer has to babysit servers and can focus instead on approving and directing work when needed. The near constant churn of patching servers was gone but resistance from the staff emerged.

"When I first shared the idea, one of the first responses was, 'That sounds great,'" Roberts said. When Roberts explained that the job was different, the team was less enthusiastic.

Changing the nature of the job itself from "turning the screws" to higher-level jobs managing the environment was initially met with resistance, as part of the job was going away, according to Roberts. But adopting GreenLake came with the implementation of a brand-new facility.

The staff shifted its core focus from important but menial work, such as patching servers, to more meaningful work: managing the school's IT environment, not taking care of the infrastructure it sits on.

Transitioning to HPE GreenLake was a bit of a culture shock, but it didn't break the culture.

"We didn't go full boat," Roberts said. "It's just the motor in the middle."

GreenLake offers full data center capabilities, but GUHSD only uses compute and storage, he said. Switching to the full data center, where all services are managed by the outside, would be a different conversation around culture. Keeping disaster recovery with the team, for example, promotes a strong sense of ownership within the staff.

Roberts doesn't see managed services replacing everything. There is still a need to have IT staff present on site. As much assistance as HPE provides through its managed services, there is a physical distance between the vendor and GUHSD. Some problems need immediate responses.

"That's what we've come to deliver," Roberts said. "And that's where you need to have people on site."

Implementation process

GUHSD has partnered with HPE for decades, so Roberts saw no reason to go with a different technology vendor. When switching from self-managed to a managed service, he wanted to stick with a vendor he was accustomed to and one that he had watched the evolution of over time.

HPE and GreenLake provided the type of environment GUHSD was looking for.

"I wanted managed services -- a cloud-like experience without shipping everything off to Azure or anywhere else," Roberts said.

Switching to GreenLake was less of a cost savings initiative and more of a cost predictability plan. There were no surprise expenses if storage ran out, Roberts said. When looking at costs over five years, GreenLake came in at a higher price than buying the infrastructure from HPE. But GreenLake also comes with managed services and headroom to grow, which is hard to plan for with on-premises infrastructure.

"The cost of doing business is pretty high," Roberts said. "If you want to do this stuff and do it well, it's going to cost you a lot of money."

However, spending on IT was smoother in GreenLake, he said. Having a set monthly or yearly bill is easier to budget for than asking for millions of dollars when more servers or storage are needed.

Using managed services in GreenLake freed up staff to respond to the district's needs faster and focus on critical needs more closely, Roberts said. For example, his team was able to speed up projects like replacing aging switches and focusing more on cybersecurity.

Next steps

GUHSD recently completed two new operating centers with the GreenLake implementation: a primary site and disaster recovery site. The networking and disaster recovery are still done in-house by GUHSD IT. However, the managed services might expand to other things, he said.

The best [educational IT shop] doesn't mean the shiniest objects. The best means serving the touchpoint between teachers and students.
Rick RobertsExecutive director of educational technology services, GUHSD

"Sort of like everything else, let's go step by step by step and move forward in a way that advances the cause," Roberts said. "Improve what we do while not being overly disruptive."

Roberts sees the future with HPE in AI-powered video monitoring. GUHSD is looking for potential deployment of that in the next few months. Safety is a high concern at GUHSD, which suffered two school shootings in 2001. One was at its Santee campus, where two students were killed, and another was three weeks later at its El Cajon campus, where the shooter was killed.

Choosing the right integrator for something like AI surveillance is vital, Roberts said, particularly in the context of student safety. It isn't about who sets up the system but those that maintain the system years down the road. GUHSD aligned with GreenLake to keep them up to date.

"I'm not the guy having to chase down what's the right AI solution," Roberts said. "People are doing that for a living at HPE."

Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering file and block storage hardware as well as private clouds. He previously worked at StorageReview.com.

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