The Virtual Plan

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2007-08-14 Print this article Print

Oil and gas specialty firm Champion Technologies installed an updated SAP platform and a new virtual storage system. An unexpected side benefit: faster disaster recovery.

The Virtual Plan

Etcheverry selected FalconStor, a data storage and protection systems vendor in Melville, N.Y., to implement the virtual SAN system and disaster-recovery system. He had previously worked with FalconStor at Cameron, and was confident the vendor would meet Champion's needs. Beyond that, Etcheverry says he often prefers to work with midsize technology vendors because he can form a closer partnership than with, perhaps, an EMC or IBM. FalconStor had $55 million in revenue in 2006.

The heart of the system is the FalconStor IPStor server. It acts as a form of orchestrator over the entire storage network. In essence, says Jon Lavallee, enterprise storage architect for FalconStor, the IPStor server acts as a gateway to an assembled pool of storage units on a network—no matter whether it's an IBM, Hitachi or EMC disk array, a hard disk or a virtual tape library. The server takes the entire capacity of the assembled group of storage devices and treats it as one large storage pool. "To the user, it looks like one large disc array, but it might really be a series of different storage devices," Lavallee says.

In doing so, an administrator can assign each application a dedicated storage capacity, such as 50 GB; that storage area could come from one device or be assembled from several devices. A key benefit: The network doesn't need to be shut down to add capacity such as a new server. "It's sort of like running behind a car as it's going down the road and filling it with gas whenever it's required," Lavallee explains.

To back up data under the old AS/400 system, Champion typically had to take its SAP system offline for 14 hours. The new IPStor system employs a different method for backup. In effect, it replicates only changes to the data. Once an initial full-scale backup is performed, the system takes a snapshot of the data changes and replicates those to backup. Now, backups can be performed quicker and more frequently. Snapshots take about one second to perform; thus, Champion's SAP environment no longer has to be taken offline for backups.

A similar situation exists for establishing a so-called Quality Client for testing. Like most organizations, Champion creates a duplicate of the SAP environment to test updates and fixes before bringing it live. On the old AS/400 system, obtaining the Quality Client required at least 14 hours to create the data backup and another one to two days to get it ready for testing. Now, a snapshot is taken and a Quality Client is ready in about four hours.

The data snapshot and replication system is also part of the company's disaster-recovery setup. The IPStor server sends data changes over Champion's MPLS network to a SunGard disaster-recovery facility in Scottsdale, Ariz. After Rita, Champion moved its disaster-recovery site to another city. The hot site in Scottsdale consists of a similar set of Dell application and database servers, as well as 7 TB of Dot Hill storage also orchestrated by an IPStor server.

In an emergency, Etcheverry says company operations can be switched over to Scottsdale and operational in about two hours.

Etcheverry estimates Champion spent about $400,000 for its new disaster-recovery system, including storage, application and database servers, as well as the IPStor component.

The technology team began assembling the components for the project in January 2006, and six months later, on a Friday night in July, turned off the old AS/400 and turned on the new system. Etcheverry says there were a few minor problems in the switchover, primarily related to the transporting of data from the AS/400 to the Wintel system. Despite conducting four data conversion trials prior to the cutover, some errors were missed, Etcheverry notes. He says it's not all that uncommon in a conversion of this size, and over the weekend the bad information was identified, the data reloaded and the problems fixed.

A more serious problem occurred a few weeks later when the new Microsoft SQL database crashed. It turned out there was a SQL bug that could cause the database to fail on high-performance servers. Microsoft had issued a patch, and once the patch was installed, the problem was solved.

With the new SAP platform in place, the Calgary office was brought online in August 2006. Etcheverry's team is now working to bring the rest of Champion's regional offices onto SAP through 2007 and into 2008.

"When we began this project, we started by asking how can we best manage this business going forward," Etcheverry says. "We wanted to keep costs low, but we also needed something that could be scaled cost-efficiently to handle our growth.

"We got that, and in the process we've achieved all of these additional benefits."

Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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