Echo360 (Dulles, Va.) provides an active and distance learning solution for universities with a sophisticated video capture and archive application. Traditional teaching is a largely passive activity where instructors lecture and students listen. In contrast, the Echo360 Active Learning Platform enables colleges to use digital video as a way to improve the teaching and learning process. It allows more than two million students in 8,000 classrooms in 600 institutions across 30 countries to revisit lectures and instructional material online in specially equipped classrooms, collaborate with peers, and participate in class on smartphones, tablets and laptops, wherever, whenever they choose.
Massive video files always represent a storage challenge, particularly in a cloud-enabled architecture. For years our university and college customers relied on x86-based servers to power and store tens of terabytes of video content on premises. The servers worked; life was good; and IT teams were happy.
As institutions began requesting cloud-based architectures for scalability, operating expense-only cost advantages, and business continuity options, our team faced a number of storage challenges.
Didn’t Want “Typical Cloud Issues”
Our paramount concern was supporting high performance for streaming and playback. In the cloud, “noisy neighbors” with high demands on shared resources can cause performance degradation. As we built out our cloud offering, we found that most cloud storage solutions involved some element of compromised reliability, security and performance.
One of our longstanding customers is the University of Texas at Arlington. Content from more than 200 courses in 60 classrooms at that institution is automatically uploaded and processed—that’s about 600 GB of video every week.
UT Arlington’s Echo360 deployment was a tremendous success story that pushed its video storage requirements from 2 TB in 2008 to 16 TB in early 2014.
This massive increase in video meant that we needed to help the school reduce the risk of data errors or system crashes before servers reached capacity, as any downtime would necessitate time-consuming intervention from the UT Office of Information Technology located in Fort Worth.
In early 2014 UT Arlington deployed a new Echo360 cloud infrastructure using computers from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and storage from Zadara Storage Virtual Private Storage Array (VPSA). Zadara’s enterprise storage as a service (SaaS) sits near the AWS cloud that Echo360 uses to power our application, but separately provisions the storage that Echo360 uses to fulfill UT Arlington’s demanding needs, billing them on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Great End-User Experience
UT Arlington has been pleased with the results, with their manager of technical operations praising the reliability of the service and noting that the implementation had freed up some 6 TB of storage and that there had been zero downtime and no performance issues.
As Zadara VPSA resources are private and never shared, they deliver predictable, single-tenant performance and data privacy, and offer advanced data management features such as remote replication.
For Echo360, leveraging Zadara Storage to handle the storage in the cloud removes both us and our university customers from the business of managing video storage on site. Our clients can now focus on teaching and learning, and we can focus on enhancing our premium features to add greater value to the educational process.
Chuck McKinster is director of hosting operations at Echo360, and has managed IT infrastructure in the large enterprise for more than two decades. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, visit www.zadarastorage.com.