Storage Solutions Enhance Operations at Food Bank
By Samuel Greengard
Operating a food bank is a complicated endeavor. It's critical to track items, particularly perishable products, while knowing that employees and volunteers are entirely in sync with everything from distribution to donations. For Mid-Ohio Food Bank—a not-for-profit organization that supplies 550 food pantries, soup kitchens, school programs and senior housing facilities with 46 million pounds of groceries—IT is the meal ticket to a better operation.
The organization, with just over 100 employees and 15,000 volunteers, relies on four HP DL3 servers running Windows Server 2003 through 2008, as well as Linux CentOS and VMware ESXI 5.0. With 10 virtual servers operating on two VMware hosts, the organization uses SharePoint, Exchange, SQL and Exact Macola to manage the bulk of its daily operations.
It also relies on a Website, eHarvest, a real-time inventory tracking and reporting system to oversee ordering, and DonorQuest to manage and store donor records and information. Altogether, this data accounts for approximately 12 terabytes of storage.
"In the past, there were a lot of challenges related to managing the environment," says Thomas Davis, network administrator for Mid-Ohio Food Bank. For example, a few years ago, administering backups consumed upward of 25 hours a week. The systems were slow and, in some cases, less reliable and consistent than desired. The infrastructure also wasn't ideal for disaster recovery.
"We had a number of issues and recognized that we needed to make a change," he says.
Mid-Ohio Food Bank considered a number of backup and storage solutions before selecting a Symantec Backup Exec 3600 appliance in September 2012. Davis chose the package partially because it offered V-Ray single-path backup with granular file restore capability.
Combined with an upgrade from Symantec Backup Exec 12.5 to Backup Exec 2012, the organization was able to trim weekly administration time to 2.5 hours. Overall, a previous 6-to-8-hour backup was condensed to about an hour, while accommodating multiple servers simultaneously.
The organization realized other gains as well. The overall deduplication rate is nearly half the total storage: 4.5 to 1 ratio. As a result, the food bank is able to run smaller incremental backups on an hourly basis and keep files in use while the backup process is taking place.
In addition, Davis relies on a 5.5 terabyte Iomega network-attached storage (NAS) appliance to archive older backups. The iSCSI storage attachment to the Backup Exec is used for migrating virtual machines back and forth from virtual machine hosts during upgrades. It relies on a shared storage connection between both hosts. Finally, there's a Drobo 8 terabyte solid-state drive that holds video, photos and graphics used by the communications department.
Davis says that the transition to a more flexible storage architecture went without a hiccup and the pre-configured Backup Exec appliance made it easy to put strong security measures in place. He adds that the organization may eventually move to cloud-based storage, which the device already supports.
"Going with a preconfigured appliance made things a lot easier," Davis says. "We didn't have to spend a lot of time making the transition and ensuring that we have the most robust storage system possible."