CDW consolidates storage

When users talk about consolidation, they normally mean consolidating servers through use of virtual machines or larger, more CPU-intensive servers. When K.C. Tomsheck, senior director of IT operations at computer gear vendors CDW talks consolidation, he refers his storage infrastructure, formerly strung out across the United States and now centralized in the Chicago area.

Tomsheck has three goals in consolidating his storage into storage-area networks (SAN): to reduce CDW's long-term storage cost, to improve performance and to deal with compliance - where the information resides, how long it is kept and how it is backed up.

"We weren't getting the kind of savings we wanted to get," says Tomsheck. "Like everyone else, our storage was growing 50 percent a year, but the company isn't growing 50 percent a year. What drives that growth is that so much more information gets digitized now. We looked at centralizing storage more than we already are."

To centralize CDW's storage and that of Microwarehouse, which the company acquired in 2003, Tomsheck used EMC gear. Specifically he installed EMC Clariion SAN arrays in both Vernon Hills and downtown Chicago. The arrays are mirrored with each other for disaster recovery.

Then Tomsheck installed EMC's Clariion Disk Library (CDL), a virtual tape appliance that reduces the amount of tape CDW uses and backs up data to tape. Each of CDW's 300 local or remote Windows file servers is backed up to the CDL located in Vernon Hills - eighteen backup servers save data from the SAN and 300 file servers to the CDL.

Tomsheck has achieved two of his goals with the CDL - to reduce cost and to increase performance. "We were able to increase throughput on the backup to tape from 200M-300Mbytes per minute to 2.8G to 3.2Gbytes per minute using the CDL," says Tomsheck. "We cut our backup time from eight hours down to one to two hours."

He has also seen a reduction of 20 percent in the number of tapes he uses and an 80 percent reduction in the amount of data that is being backed up.

This year, Tomsheck will see further savings in management and storage costs. He plans to install a centralized EMC Celerra network-attached storage array in Vernon Hills - and eliminate most of the 300 local and remote file servers. Once Celerra is implemented, users will access applications running on it via a thin client.

Tomsheck also hopes to implement EMC's Centera content addressable storage array for storing data for compliance purposes. He's looking at document and record management software from Meridio to do that.

While Tomsheck won't disclose the amount he spent for the EMC storage gear, he intimates it was between US$1 and $5 million.

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