How Columbia Southern University Fueled Distance Learning with PowerStore

Dell EMC PowerStore has helped Alabama-based Columbia Southern University transition to distance learning.

When it comes to technology adoption, higher education organizations are, as an industry, traditionally laggards. In the past, less than 5% of college budgets were dedicated to IT spending, which includes enlisting outside help to improve in-house systems. With so much focus on virtual learning in the past 17 months, it’s easy to forget that the traditional higher learning experience is years behind other industries. However, each statistic has its outliers.

Based in Alabama, Columbia Southern University (CSU) provides students online higher education. Since 1993, CSU has offered distance education degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels in occupational safety and health, criminal justice, business administration, health care administration and more. CSU curriculum provides more than 31,000 students a flexible learning format.

Even before the events of the last year, CSU served non-traditional students including people with full-time jobs, disabilities and military or family responsibilities; people that needed the flexibility the university offered. Academic courses are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so students can attend class at their convenience. Due to its diverse and geographically distributed students, CSU deems it mission-critical that students, faculty and staff stay connected through email, telephone and video conferencing.

This year, as schools around the world transitioned to virtual learning, CSU faced a number of challenges. To differentiate themselves from other universities, CSU needed to ensure they were using the most modern, innovative solutions that provided their students with leading-edge resources to power online learning. Moreover, the boom in online learning increased awareness of online universities, making them an attractive option for students who were previously unaware of learn-from-anywhere educational opportunities. CSU knew they were poised for growth and wanted to future-proof their technology solutions’ ability to scale.

After beta-testing a Dell EMC PowerStore storage system in 2019, the university made the decision to migrate all its data workloads off its legacy systems in July 2020 and within four months, was fully up and running. When making the decision to transition, a key consideration was that the equipment upon which the virtualized environment resides was approved and supported by VMware. The tight integration between VMware and Dell Technologies made the transition to PowerStore seamless and ensured the companies could offer a joint solution if a problem ever arose.

Close up view of PowerStore.

Since moving to Dell EMC PowerStore, CSU has reduced latency by more than half and achieved 4:4 data reduction – a 27% improvement from its previous system. It has also increased capacity by almost 7,000 GB in three months. Dell EMC PowerStore gave CSU the ability to grow while maintaining the performance necessary for them to be competitive by ensuring they are using leading-edge IT systems. As they grow, the university can scale capacity two-fold without having to purchase another appliance.

CSU has used other Dell Technologies offerings, such as servers, desktops, workstations and monitors. Additionally, the company’s virtualized environments are powered by VMware. CSU plans to take advantage of Dell EMC PowerStore’s CloudIQ feature to monitor, assess and manage the system in the future, including recently announced cybersecurity functionality.

Andrew Schellhase, CSU senior systems administrator, says “Our relationship with Dell Technologies has always been a positive one and our transition to Dell EMC PowerStore was no different. The company has provided exceptional support from purchase to installation. The system has changed the game for us from a performance standpoint.”

Dell Technologies is committed to providing innovative solutions in higher education that allow these institutions to better support their students and faculty. Learn more about PowerStore here.

Ben Jastrub

About the Author: Ben Jastrab

Over 20 years' experience in the information technology industry in various marketing and product management roles at EMC, VCE and Dell Technologies. Ben currently leads the Product Marketing team responsible for Dell EMC's primary storage portfolio, where he manages the development of core product messaging, launch planning and execution, and cross-portfolio integration.