When Larson, Allen, Weishair & Co. LLP (LarsonAllen) went looking for a SAN solution to get a handle on storage, one thing the financial services firm required was a vendor that was willing to partner with its IT staff, sharing and transferring knowledge. Xiotech Corp. not only met LarsonAllen's expectations, but exceeded them.
Founded in 1953, Minneapolis-based LarsonAllen has been growing by leaps and bounds, according to Chris Weber, the firm's senior network engineer.
In 2005, for example, the company acquired three firms and increased headcount by 100 employees and gained three locations. Today, LarsonAllen has 1,000 employees in seven states. The company's CPAs, consultants and advisors provide assurance, accounting, tax, consulting and advisory services to organizations and individuals managing business ventures and finances.
It was this most recent growth spurt that galvanized the IT department to rethink its storage architecture.
"With server direct-attached storage (DAS), we had islands of storage and couldn't expand quickly enough to meet our needs," says Weber. Not only was DAS getting costly as the company's storage needs expanded, but managing the storage was becoming increasingly inefficient, he adds.
Today, LarsonAllen has a Magnitude 3D 3000S high-performance, high-capacity virtual storage system from Xiotech. The company began cutting over production systems to the SAN in January and plans to continue migrations to the SAN throughout the year.
"We've already increased our SAN storage capacity from 3 terabytes to 4.8 terabytes and expect further increases before the end of the year," says Weber.
By mid-2005, LarsonAllen had 84 Windows servers, 54 of which resided in its Minneapolis data center. The remaining 30 servers reside in other locations and are used mostly for network services. The company ran two key line-of-business servers in its data center: one housed 300 professional services-related applications and tax data, and the other, Microsoft documents. Each server had DAS and a RAID 5 array, for a total of approximately 400GB of storage. The remaining 54 servers were used for functions such as Web servers, SQL servers, Exchange servers, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and human resources.
As the company expanded, LarsonAllen was buying servers with DAS and replacing them annually. At a cost of $10,000-$15,000 per server, depending on the amount of system software, DAS was becoming an expensive proposition. "The servers weren't in service for too long before we'd have to replace them with a larger unit," says Weber. "Then we'd try to recycle the hardware, but while the servers were big, they weren't big enough for other applications."
Managing the servers was becoming a major distraction and was time-consuming for both the IT department and the users, he adds.
"Before last summer, storage was a nagging issue, but with the business acquisitions and mounting storage concerns, it became a bigger issue," says Weber. "Finally, a new IT leader got us headed in the direction to bring in SAN technology."
Xiotech Stands Out
Last October, the company sent out a RFP. LarsonAllen's SAN solution criteria included high availability, high performance, capacity management, scalability, and redundancy/mirrored SANs. The company received responses from Compellent Technologies, EMC, IBM, Hitachi Data Systems, NetApp and, Xiotech.
"Xiotech differentiated itself during the sales and technology presentation as a company whose strength and focus was on storage solutions for the mid-market," says Weber, noting that LarsonAllen didn't want to be a blip on the radar screen of a bigger technology provider.
Weber and his IT team were also impressed with Xiotech's SAN technology which had all of the features on his punch list: virtualization, product availability, high performance, ease of use, scalability, etc. The vendor's reputation as a solid business partner was also reinforced when Weber spoke to existing Xiotech customers who reported good vendor response, service and delivery.
LarsonAllen awarded the storage business contract to Xiotech in November and quickly began design work with the vendor. "We were on a very tight timeline," says Weber, noting that the SAN equipment was delivered by the end of December.
LarsonAllen took ownership of the Xiotech Enterprise Class Storage Magnitude 3D 3000S, a two controller configuration with two drawers of disk configured with 32 146GB Fibre Channel hard drives, licensed with 3TB of storage.
Working cooperatively with the vendor, the system was installed and configured in four hours, according to Weber. "We attached the first host later that day," he says.
The IT team began consolidation of the application servers and Microsoft data servers, which entailed moving to two Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition Service Pack 1 Clusters.
"We now have the high availability we wanted," says Weber, adding that the solution has already paid off.
"We had software trouble with one of our nodes, which we had to rebuild and did a rolling upgrade to resolve the issue. There wasn't any downtime and the users were unaware of the problem," he says.
Weber estimates that the SAN, including switches, warranty, support and software maintenance, cost approximately 60 percent of the company's budgeted amount. In all, LarsonAllen purchased the Xiotech storage solution, two Cisco 9216i Fiber Channel switches, Tivoli Storage Manager for backup, and the IBM TS3310 Tape Library.
The financial services firm will soon migrate its Exchange server to a multimode cluster, followed by consolidation of the SQL servers to the SAN while simultaneously migrating a Citrix server farm that provides WAN connected offices access to applications and data. Later this year, the IT team also hopes to consolidate 10 SQL servers that house ProSystemfx Engagement, a paperless engagement tool from CHH Inc.
"We plan on adding additional physical disk to the SAN in the fall," says Weber.
The Xiotech SAN has provided LarsonAllen with a cost-effective, easy to manage and deploy, enterprise SAN solution, says Weber. "Early in the RFP process, Xiotech wasn't one of our preferred vendors, but the company separated itself from the pack and finished first," he says.
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