Open source option wins WA cloud deal

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Open source option wins WA cloud deal

Medical Research Institute builds open source cloud.

The Western Australian Institute for Medical Research will today take ownership of a private cloud solution built almost entirely of open source technologies to prepare for an influx of researchers over the coming weeks.

The $200 million medical research project - recently renamed the Harry Perkins Institute for Medical Research - will house over 1200 external researchers in two greenfield Perth campus buildings. These researchers, from 40+ independent research groups, aim to solve complex problems such as the genetic and environmental causes of cancer and diabetes.

The project’s IT posture has been designed and delivered by independent IT consultant Titan ICT, which over recent months has built out data centres in each of the two locations, connected via high-speed fibre (MPLS) and wireless (802.1x) networks.

Around 140 researchers and support staff moved in this week, with the remainder to follow in staggered groups.

Titan ICT went to tender for a private cloud solution to host a set of shared services the Institute will deliver to research tenants, based on some unique requirements.

Bret Watson, a Titan ICT consultant named interim CIO during the build, sought a turnkey private cloud that was storage heavy (350TB of usable data per site) and replicated both across the two sites and within the stack to meet the strict data retention regulations governing medical research data.

The winning bid also needed to support 50-100 virtual desktop users per site, isolated from the private cloud.

Watson told iTnews to his disappointment, tender responses based on commercial software offerings came through prohibitively expensive.

He was intrigued by solutions based on the OpenStack framework, but found that when coupled with commercial storage offerings the price was again too high, whilst those without commercial storage involved an unacceptable level of risk.

“I was quite keen on OpenStack and Ceph - but it was hard to find anyone local to stand up and support it,” he said. “OpenStack is unbelievably good, but its a huge application that is changing every six months. It's still not quite mature enough at the moment.”

The best value solution that could provide stability and support was deemed to be Red Hat’s Enterprise Virtualisation, which runs on the KVM hypervisor, combined with the open source GlusterFS network attached file system.

The Institute’s implementation of GlusterFS -  recently acquired by Red Hat - aggregates storage devices and runs RAID10 configuration for redundancy. Data storage is also replicated across the two sites using 20GB WAN links.

The six servers running this cloud - and the isolated server running the VDI service - are all on Dell boxes.

Watson said he felt confident Perth-based Red Hat advanced partner Open Systems could provide adequate support for the open source solution, which is relatively new to the Australian IT sector.

“Red Hat has made a good habit of taking over control of open source components but creating value from the GUI and [other] interfaces,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to use.”

Watson’s team will start loading virtual machines and applications for the Institute’s users later in the week, but will hand the keys to the cloud to Andy Crowhurst, newly appointed IT manager for the Institute.

The private cloud will also initially remain under management control - the IT team won’t hand over the GUI to researchers for self-service of new virtual machines and applications.

“It has all the authentication and reporting required for self-service, but as a brand new environment we felt it important to cuddle our baby for a little while first,” Watson said.

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