Law Firm Courts a More Efficient Infrastructure
By Samuel Greengard
Data center sprawl is a growing problem for a wide range of organizations. Among other things, it can lead to data silos, poor performance and much higher IT expenses.
For Paul Hastings, an international law firm that serves a spate of Global 500 companies, data center sprawl also ratcheted up risk. "Security is a key concern in everything we do," states Searl Tate, director of engineering at Paul Hastings.
The firm, which operates 20 offices across Asia, Europe and the United States and employs more than 1,000 attorneys, had built four primary hub data centers and numerous smaller data centers in offices—many of them no more than a dedicated room with a server. While these systems performed adequately and helped the firm manage its remote offices, the environment required considerable human oversight and physical resources. "The infrastructure was expensive and did not provide the desired level of security at certain offices," Tate recalls.
It's no small matter, particularly with 100 million active documents residing in the firm's systems and network. So, about two years ago, Paul Hastings began exploring other technology options. It ultimately turned to Riverbed's Granite appliances to centralize data storage while boosting WAN optimization and security. The Granite solution accelerates block-level storage from a data center to remote offices.
The approach allows the firm to control data securely in storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) devices in any of the firm's four hub data centers, with projected instances of the data utilized by branch-bound applications at the edge.
"Small offices that previously couldn't use SAN and NAS devices now have the benefits of the technology," he says. In some cases, Paul Hastings hosts data in an office in one country and, using Granite, replicates it to an office in another country in order to improve bandwidth and protect the data more effectively, he adds.
A key factor in achieving success, Tate explains, is an ability to make the underlying IT infrastructure invisible to users. "The environment has to be transparent, and there couldn't be any performance penalty," he says. "It had to appear that the applications were stored locally."
Paul Hastings relies on a number of key applications, including Microsoft Exchange, Outlook, Office, SQL Server and Windows Server, as well as an Autonomy iManage document management application.
Equally important: The technology ratchets up disaster recovery and security in important ways. By storing the data centrally, the law firm is able to enable snapshotting, which ultimately supports a greater number of recovery points. In addition, Granite's built-in encryption protects data at rest, thus eliminating the risk posed by having equipment stolen or confiscated. Likewise, the ability to remove physical tape media and backup devices from the remote offices further eliminates security threats.
Finally, Paul Hastings has designed an infrastructure that allows the firm to manage data centrally and achieve greater oversight. Through the use of Citrix for secure remote access and Opal compliant hard drives on laptops, which use full disk encryption, the firm has created a more robust and secure environment than at any point in the past.
"We have a high level of functionality along with extremely robust security," Tate reports. "We are able to conduct business in what some people describe as 'scary places' with the highest level of confidence."