A SANtastic Experience

BOSTON (06/12/2000) - Despite the well-documented problems relating to interoperability and management of storage-area networks, many companies have successfully implemented SAN projects.

Azurix, a spinoff from energy giant Enron Corp. and a dot-com in Houston, quickly realized the importance of a robust storage infrastructure for the Internet-based water exchange it was creating. The idea behind the exchange is to treat water like any commodity, which can be bought or sold. Azurix opened its first exchange in California, where it's attempting to get farmers to move their trading of water from local coffee shops to the Internet.

Chief Information Officer Ken Stott and Lance Johnson, director of IT operations, considered SANs as a possible solution to their storage problem.

They initially looked at Dell Computer Corp., EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. before narrowing the choice to Dell and EMC, Johnson says.

The IT department ultimately decided on EMC because it met all of the company's needs and Johnson had worked with EMC at a previous job.

Implementation of EMC's SAN started in mid-November 1999 and was finished by the first of December. According to Johnson, the installation was almost flawless. The only glitch was a minor power problem that resulted from a miscommunication between the IT department and the EMC installation crew.

"Other than that, the installation went very smoothly. In fact, we were surprised at just how smoothly it went," Johnson says.

Stott says the major reason for going to a SAN was to keep operational costs flat. At a time when skilled storage management personnel are difficult to find and expensive to hire, Azurix management was looking for technology that would minimize the number of people needed to manage the huge storage infrastructure requirements of Azurix's new e-business operations.

So far, Stott says the EMC system has exceeded expectations. "If you look at what operations people do in server management, the vast majority of their time is spent in storage management. And what the EMC SAN does is create one 4-terabyte disk that you can allocate on-the-fly to any server. It's much less labor-intensive in managing disk space than the Compaq-based solutions that we were using previously," he says.

EMC also offered flexibility and scalability. "Normally, with a Compaq, HP or Sun storage array, you're limited in the total capacity that you can put on each system. With EMC, however, we can tie in any number of systems for any number of projects across the board whether [Windows] NT or Unix, and virtually one administrator can administer every single system from a storage perspective," Stott says.

In addition, EMC's replication software makes it possible to rapidly migrate to new applications. In the past, when Azurix software developers wanted to test out a new application, they would take an archive copy of the production environment and manually push the patch into that environment - a process that typically took two to eight hours.

The process was lengthy because each development environment, whether based on a Compaq, HP or Sun storage array, was usually tied to one storage farm. As a result, Johnson says, "You would have to move code from server to server, by interacting with each storage farm. In some cases, you would have to hit two or three storage farms just to move one piece of code between two servers."

The new SAN and its associated software have simplified the process and substantially decreased the time involved, according to Johnson. "With the new EMC system, we can take a real-time snapshot of the production code, pull that out of production, and produce the new code in a matter of milliseconds. Then with the touch of a button, you can put the production code back in place with zero business impact," he says.

Another advantage of the EMC Symmetrix system is its high-availability software has made possible hot online backups and snapshots for disaster recovery. The EMC back-up utility lets the Azurix IT department do rapid backups that do not interrupt business operations and formulate realistic disaster-recovery procedures that don't consume inordinate amounts of time.

Because of the SAN infrastructure, Azurix customers can access the site at any time and get their questions answered quickly because the hardware ensures high availability of the system and improves response times.

With the SAN, Azurix customers are not kept waiting when they urgently need water to irrigate their crops because the site is always up. Likewise, sellers can move their product where it is needed quickly because they do not have to worry about disruptions in service caused by systems maintenance.

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