Case Studies

How Businesses Use Virtualization to Optimize Storage

Virtualized SAN technology offers flexibility and simplicity.
This story appears in the Summer 2012 issue of BizTech Magazine.
How Businesses Use Virtualization to Optimize Storage
Instead of a simple upgrade, Kitch Drutchas Wagner Valitutti & Sherbrook completely transformed its IT environment, says CIO Bob Papandrea.
Credit: Tom McKenzie

Kitch Drutchas Wagner Valitutti & Sherbrook has faced increasing demand for the services of its more than 100 attorneys, so it’s not surprising that the law firm has found itself quickly outgrowing its setup of traditional servers and direct-attached storage (DAS).

The firm, based in Detroit with six offices spread across three states, needed a major overhaul of its IT infrastructure, which “was decidedly long in the tooth,” says CIO Bob Papandrea.

Instead of simply upgrading what was already in place, Kitch’s IT team completely transformed its IT environment, choosing to virtualize not only the firm’s back-end server environment but also its storage infrastructure. They installed VMware on new data center servers and replaced multiple DAS systems with EMC’s VNXe3100 storage area network (SAN) solution.

“We felt like we wanted to move forward by going with the next level of technology,” says Papandrea, who plans to extend the new system to a disaster recovery site.

The flexibility and simplicity offered by virtualized SAN technology are extremely comforting to Papandrea and his IT team, because the firm’s employees now have access to all the storage capacity they need as the firm takes on large, new opportunities.

“It makes our job easier and less stressful,” he says. “Before, if we missed accurately sizing our DAS storage, we would have to go out and buy more disks, and that could take a lot of time and money. Now, we can just add space from the storage pool as we need it. It’s not magic, but we can accomplish it relatively quickly.”

Virtues of Virtualization

As more small and medium-sized businesses discover the advantages of virtualizing back-end servers, many also recognize that they can gain similar business benefits with virtualized storage.

Unlike DAS, which is attached to a single server and provides a set amount of dedicated storage space to that server, virtualized storage systems can connect to several servers and share a pool of storage between the various operating systems and applications.

This capability allows companies to optimize their storage capacity, reduce storage sprawl and simplify administration tasks, which, taken together, typically result in lower IT costs, more redundancy, more efficient backup and disaster recovery capabilities, and a smaller physical footprint. What’s more, virtualization can enable companies to more easily handle sudden spurts in data growth.

That has certainly been the case for Apple ­Vacations, a travel company headquartered in Newton Square, Pa., that specializes in packaging all-inclusive trips to Caribbean and Mexican destinations. In recent years, the firm has experienced a significant rise in online bookings, a fact that caused its largest storage array to hit the limits of its capacity and performance.

As a result, CIO John Venezia decided to replace Apple Vacations’ six distributed back-end SANs with a single IBM XIV solution. This virtualized storage system makes it much easier to plan for and accommodate the data capacity that the company’s various financial and operational applications need.

[30%]

The annual percentage by which enterprise storage demands are growing

SOURCE: IDC

“I no longer have to spend three days figuring out how to allocate the LUNs [logical unit numbers], design the arrays and distribute the use of the disk in order to optimize the use of, say, my Lotus Notes or my Oracle database,” Venezia explains. “Instead, I just say, this is my Unix pool and this is my Windows pool, and the virtualized system interprets the way the data is being laid out and distributes it and uses it accordingly.”

That simplicity has enabled Apple Vacations to slash the time required for storage-related tasks by 75 percent while improving operating system response time fivefold. What’s more, the required physical storage footprint is just 25 percent as big as it used to be, a fact that has led to a 30 percent reduction in data center cooling costs and overall IT expenses.

Meeting Expectations

The complexity of the storage virtualization market led Kerry Sylvester to buckle down and do his homework when searching for a product that could help his company continue to grow. As director of IT for WaterFurnace International, a manufacturer of geothermal heating and cooling systems, Sylvester also wanted to eliminate unplanned downtime and find an easy way to replicate data to an offsite location as part of the Fort Wayne, Ind., company’s new disaster recovery plan.

“We started with an open slate and met with probably 12 to 14 vendors to try and figure out what was out there and what was the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff,” Sylvester recalls. WaterFurnace eventually chose to implement FalconStor Network Storage Server, an aggregating virtualization solution, after Sylvester decided that the company wasn’t ready to lock into a single vendor. The FalconStor product works with the company’s existing storage components, as well as servers virtualized with VMware.

So far, the company has experienced no unplanned downtime, and the new solution is able to replicate server data in real time to the new disaster recovery site. “It’s everything we hoped to gain,” Sylvester says. “We are highly automated and integrated, so we live and die by our ability to access our data and stay up and running. Honestly, now that we have this new system in place, we feel extremely well positioned to grow and meet demand.”

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