A SAN deployment helps Jamie Sachs better manage storage in the town of Westport, Conn.
Mar 31 2011
Data Center

Everyone into the Pool

Virtualization delivers an efficient, cost-effective strategy to maximize storage capacity.

Last year, Jamie Sachs, the senior network engineer for the town of Westport, Conn., began consolidating storage on nearly 25 servers because the town was running out of capacity.

With new fiber connections between town buildings and an arrangement to share storage clusters with the town's schools, the conditions were ripe for storage virtualization. Sachs turned to HP StorageWorks (formerly LeftHand) P4500 storage area network appliances, placing three nodes in one location and three in another. The data is striped across the nodes.

Sachs breathes a bit easier now because he can better manage and consolidate storage while ensuring continuity of operations. "The beauty of a SAN is that you are not bound to a piece of hardware. You can't beat it," he says.

State and municipal leaders around the country are turning to storage virtualization to pool storage and manage it from a central console. Storage virtualization -- available from manufacturers such as EMC, Hitachi, HP, IBM and NetApp -- gives administrators more flexibility for protecting data while quickly delivering savings, says Deni Connor, senior analyst for Storage Strategies Now.

"Storage virtualization has already taken off because it has been difficult for companies to know how much storage they have," Connor says. "Without virtualizing into a single pool, they don't know what storage they have and how well it is utilized."

Easing Management

Sachs will use StorageWorks' SmartClone feature to virtualize the town's desktops and remote storage to move data to the SAN in another location, he says. The Network RAID feature stripes and protects data across clusters and is always highly available. Thin provisioning technology enables Sachs to allocate storage space as it's needed, when data is actually created, he says.

Since implementing storage virtualization, Sachs has removed nine servers from the network and virtualized about 20, he says. The town has 24 terabytes of storage, up from 10TB before the SAN deployment. But while the overall storage volume has increased, managing it is much easier than when the town had siloed storage. "I don't have to babysit as much storage as I did before," he says.

At the Lee County Clerk of Courts in Fort Myers, Fla., storage virtualization benefits were immediately apparent, says Dave Thompson, operations risk management supervisor.

By implementing NetApp FAS3020 and 3070 series storage with NetApp MetroCluster, Lee County avoided spending $700,000 to upgrade its legacy system, as well as the expense of hiring an additional IT administrator.

The seamless failover capacity was especially important for the county. With the previous storage system, failing over to another unit required taking everyone down, Thompson says. "NetApp is transparent to the user."

Thompson also points to reduced backup windows. Before using NetApp, the IT team needed six days to perform a full backup. Backups are now completed in less than 24 hours, making the county less vulnerable to losing data.

With more than 400 employees and thousands of county residents accessing information such as court records, property deeds and marriage records, boosting storage capacity, reducing backup time and streamlining systems administration was critical, Thompson says. "It's important for users to have data at their fingertips," he says. "Storage administration was becoming more than a full-time job."

Powering Productivity

The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga was experiencing a huge increase in storage needs when the Tennessee-based utility decided to purchase Hitachi Universal Storage Platform and Hitachi Workgroup Modular Storage System as the centerpiece of its SAN infrastructure.

25% to 50%
Estimated storage capacity savings achieved with storage virtualization compared with traditional storage systems

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

The city-owned utility, which has 168,000 customers, had unveiled telephone and business Internet services, along with a "Fiber to Home" initiative offering digital services to customers, says David Johnson, the utility's CIO and vice president of IT.

"Maintaining the smart grid with millions of data points was the driving factor to take another look at IT infrastructure," Johnson says. "It was a huge leap from a storage perspective."

Daily data backup, including information on customers' meters, consumption levels and billing, averaged 24 hours to complete and left data vulnerable. Overtime was a daily necessity for staff working on storage processes and for customer service and billing agents.

After implementing the Hitachi devices, Johnson estimates the organization achieved a 74 percent increase in productivity. Employees in the billing department were able to go home early, and customer service agents no longer waited for computer screens to refresh. Johnson says he eliminated staff overtime and the need to hire three to five more employees. "We are able to get more done in the same time frame," he says.


Storage virtualization earns high praise from administrators for aiding continuity of operations efforts because it removes single points of failure.

Before implementing HP StorageWorks P4000 SAN appliances, IT administrators in Wilmington, Del., lost access to critical records when the city's e-mail server crashed.

"It took days to get the e-mail operating again," says Jeff Schmidt, network manager for a company that provides network and server infrastructure services for the city.

"It was a crippling event that was probably the last straw."

For backup, StorageWorks takes a disk point-in-time deduplicated snapshot and retains it online for a week. Wilmington's entire system can be recovered at 8-hour intervals, Schmidt says. "The problems are a thing of the past."

The IT department now can add capacity, increase performance and grow volume without any downtime, Schmidt says. What's more, implementing StorageWorks has enabled server consolidation, and client virtualization rollouts create more flexibility for employees because they can work from any machine.

Andrew Kist

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