One of the biggest challenges facing the IT professionals I’ve met over the years is the constant pressure to do more with less. They’re being pressured to take on more projects with the same – or even fewer – resources or, in other words, more value for less spend. This is especially true for those managing IT in the nonprofit world.

Simplicity – across procurement, deployment, configuration and management ­– is essential to running an effective IT department in this era of limited resources.

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Lavan Jeeva, the IT operations manager for the Knowledge is Power Program Foundation, ­ or KIPP as it’s commonly known. The KIPP Foundation supports a national network of public pre-K through 12 charter schools, the largest in the United States. Our talk reinforced just how important simplicity is to an IT department on a tight budget.

First, a little about KIPP: Founded in San Francisco in 1994, KIPP sits at the center of the intense – and sometimes polarizing – debate about the future of public education in the United States. KIPP has earned admirers from all sides for a simple reason – it gets results. Ninety-five percent of the students who attend a KIPP charter school are African American or Latino; 86 percent are eligible for the federally subsidized meal program.

KIPP FoundationThese are students at the highest risk of dropping out of school. And yet, more that 90 percent of KIPP kids have graduated high school and more than 80 percent go on to enroll in college. The key to KIPP’s effectiveness has been its focus on factors with the greatest chance for success.

The same could be said of its IT department. Lavan manages the KIPP Foundation’s IT infrastructure on what many in the for-profit world would consider a shoestring budget. By focusing on what’s important he’s been able to run a highly successful operation.

Lavan and his team of three oversee email and a virtualized environment that includes, Microsoft SharePoint, and transactional and reporting databases that support thousands of users. Email and SharePoint are important collaboration tools in a field that places a high-value on sharing ideas and information. KIPP regions have the option to host their own SharePoint environment on the foundation’s infrastructure.

About a year ago, those workloads had begun to strain KIPP’s storage system which comprised 5-nodes on two HP LeftHand storage clusters. One option:  Adding more nodes, forcing KIPP to spend money on a system about to outgrow its physical space at its co-lo. Also, KIPP would need to pay a lot to power an expanded HP system.

“I can’t afford to throw money at a problem,” Lavan said bluntly. He decided to replace the HP clusters. Any new storage solution would have to be easy to deploy and manage. “I don’t have a dedicated storage administrator,” Lavan explained. “Whatever we chose had to be simple —get in, get out, without complexity or the need for a lot of support.”

As Lavan considered his options, he kept coming back to Nimble Storage. A new Nimble system would cost as much as upgrading the old HP gear. And, Nimble outperformed HP and could be easily scaled to accommodate KIPP’s expected growth. Finally, Nimble didn’t require more rack space and power from the co-lo.

Lavan was blown away by how easy and quick it was to get up and running. “Nimble was completely simple from a purchase perspective. We gave Nimble our high-level performance and capacity requirements, and they delivered exactly what we needed. We knew exactly what we were getting, up front.”

It took all of 60 minutes to get the Nimble array up and running. Lavan and his team navigated the system’s management console with ease. About 2 weeks later, all of KIPPs VMware workloads had successfully migrated onto Nimble from its storage area network (SAN).

Nimble helped KIPP to fulfill its mission: To offer an excellent college-preparatory education for students from low-income communities. I’m glad KIPP expected the same level of excellence from Nimble. And, I’m proud that Nimble could meet KIPP’s exacting and rigorous standards.

Lavan will discuss the best practices for simple, effective storage management at the Data Storage Innovation Conference taking place in Santa Clara, CA.  I encourage you to join his session taking place next Thursday, April 24, at 3:05 pm to engage in a discussion on managing modern storage environments.