Virtualized Storage Controls Data Flood

By Alison Diana Print this article Print

A better way of storaging data ensures high availability for customers and employees of the Onslow Water and Sewer Authority.

The budget dried up, but the amount of data flowing through the Onslow Water and Sewer Authority (ONWASA) continued to swell.

Management at the Jacksonville, N.C.-based water authority realized that its long-term plan to phase in a storage area network was currently unaffordable. A SAN would have cost between $30,000 and $40,000, and that kind of money was out of the question, according to Tim Connolly, network administrator in ONWASA’s three-member IT department. So the team began researching other options to store its ever-growing flood of data.

As a first step, the utility decided to move from a peer-to-peer infrastructure to a virtualized solution. “We’ve got a total of approximately 25 virtual servers now, going across three hosts,” Connolly says.

“We also have a disaster-recovery site in Greensboro, N.C., which is further inland. That’s important because we’re on the coast and our big issue is hurricanes. We need to be able to bring up our critical apps in Greensboro if we lose them here.”

ONWASA runs its virtualized environment under VMware, but the vendor’s storage capabilities could not handle the volume of data involved, says Connolly. However, ONWASA could not afford detached storage.

“We migrated without any type of detached-storage solution on the back end,” he explains. “We tried two years in a row, but budget constraints prevented us from moving ahead. So we began looking for some alternative we could use until we could phase in a SAN.”

Reviewing their Options

If ONWASA’s host crashed or was taken down for service, the storage—and, therefore, the data—would be unavailable to the organization’s 125 employees and 40,000 customers. “In April of last year, we were stuck,” Connolly reports. “We had no fail-safe. If the host went down, everything went down—and downtime equates to losing money.”

Connolly started using VMware’s online forums to research the water authority’s storage options. Although other vendors offered similar capabilities, a promotion offered by StorMagic sealed the deal for ONWASA.

“They basically offered their software for free,” he says. “If you want the additional functions—high availability where you mirror to hosts—that’s when you pay. The vendor was also providing an extra year of support, so we jumped on that.”

ONWASA’s IT team did some configuration work to take advantage of the high-availability features. The technology was easy to load using a built-in plug-in, according to Connolly.

“For the most part, StorMagic’s customer service was outstanding,” he says. “I would usually get a phone call within two hours. This is one of the smoothest transitions we’ve had with any software. The vendor keeps pace with VMware. A lot of third-parties have a problem with that, but StorMagic doesn’t.”

Connolly says the utility will continue to use this storage solution even after implementing the long-awaited SAN—probably for backing up the networked storage device.

Return on Investment

Today, ONWASA can take down a server during regular business hours, but the data is seamlessly available to users, says Connolly. Customers who are looking to connect or disconnect service, pay their bill or transfer service can access those online services day and night.

“We have applications that control the wells and water flow, and we have to keep those up 24/7,” he adds.

The authority saw a return on its investment within three or four months, Connolly says. Because ONWASA was able to do everything in-house, it saved money on consultants and eliminated downtime.

The implementation also provided a personal benefit. “The improvement in my quality of life was instantaneous,” says Connolly. “If we didn’t have this storage technology, we’d have more downtime, and then I’d be in here on the weekends, too.”

This article was originally published on 2010-10-15
Alison Diana is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.