Network Appliance: Snappy Tools
At 14 years old, Network Appliance may be hitting a growth spurt. A July report from Gartner showed that the Sunnyvale, Calif., storage software maker, widely known as NetApp, had boosted its market share from 5% in 2004 to 6.5% in 2005. Also, the company reported at the end of May that its year-over-year revenue shot up 37%, to $1.6 billion, and its net income grew 18%, to $266.5 million.
A lot of the company's success, customers say, has to do with the SnapMirror replication tool, which copies and restores mission-critical applications and files from a primary data center to a backup facility, helping businesses prepare for and operate through a disaster.
International Game Technology (IGT), a Reno, Nev.-based slot machine maker, picked SnapMirror to replicate vital data like design schematics and inventories between its Reno data center and its secondary facility in Las Vegas.
For IGT, choosing a software provider became a process of elimination. NetApp was the only vendor that passed a proof-of-concept test—which was based on how well a data replication tool fared in transferring an Oracle database to redundant hardware and then restoring the data across a storage-area network, according to network architect Dale Defilippi.
An added bonus was NetApp's Autosupport product, which automatically reports operational or configuration errors on the storage network to NetApp before the customer is even aware of them; Defilippi says Autosupport has chopped down the need for in-house maintenance. EMC also has this capability, he notes.
Ease of use was another positive: A NetApp utility allowed Defilippi to create logical unit numbers, which discern different machines using the same bus on the storage-area network, in one step instead of three.
"We're not constantly monitoring the [storage-area network]," Defilippi says. "It's something that we count on staying up and running, and it does."
Thompson Coburn, a St. Louis-based law firm with more than 650 attorneys in three offices, also likes NetApp's ease of use.
In 2003, Phillip Rightler, director of information systems, invested in NetApp's SnapMirror and SyncMirror—secondary replication software that stores data in case of hardware outages—to copy e-mail and document management on a storage-area network. An easy setup was key, Rightler says: It took only about 20 minutes to set up and configure the entire system.
With the new system replicating to a backup facility in St. Louis and another outside Washington, D.C., in Sterling, Va., Rightler and his team eliminated $80,000 in annual costs associated with tape systems, he says. But the bigger payoff, he explains, is knowing that the firm's attorneys can access their documents and e-mail if the primary data center goes down. Without them, Rightler says, "We're out of business."
But for many firms, how data replication tools perform under stress is the real key.
Oil driller Newfield Exploration counted on SnapMirror last September as Hurricane Rita headed toward Newfield's Houston headquarters. As Rita approached, Mark Spicer, vice president of information technology, copied the company's e-mail to a backup site in Tulsa using SnapMirror. Rita veered off, not damaging Newfield's systems, but Spicer saw the effort as a test run. "And we're confident the technology works," he says.
Since then, he has redeployed the equivalent of two to three full-time employees who previously managed a direct-attached storage system, which connects a storage device and a server without a network. Spicer says buying the software at less than $150,000—and not having to spend on a co-located disaster facility—saved the company at least $500,000.
* Fiscal year ends March 31.