Batten Down The Hatches
It's that time of year again, when hurricane season prompts organizations to make sure that their disaster recovery plans are in order. In Florida, where hurricane activity peaks May through November, companies like ABC Fine Wines & Spirits have a plan of action for data storage security.
With more than 150 retail outlets and 2,000 employees in Florida, Orlando-based ABC Fine Wines & Spirits, the largest privately owned fine wine and spirits merchant in the U.S., is putting together the final piece in an IT plan that will provide the company with business continuity and disaster recovery to protect it from the region's elements.
"We're using WANSyncHA software from XOSoft to replicate our three main servers Exchange, SQL and File Server in real time," says Brian McConnell, network administrator at ABC. The retailer also uses XOSoft's Assured Recovery for testing the validity of a replica server.
While ABC considers itself fortunate because it has never suffered any major damage as a result of hurricanes, its data center did take a direct hit during hurricane Charlie last year. "The back roof on the building peeled off like a sardine can," said McConnell.
ABC's data center escaped serious even though both its air conditioners gave out and the temperature in the data center swelled to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
The near-disaster served as a wake-up call.
"We didn't lose our hardware, but we realized that we had all our eggs in one basket," McConnell said.
The company knew it was time to address data storage and security.
Crafting a Plan
A retail chain that sells wine, beer, spirits, cigars and gourmet cheeses, and also has a call in center for gift baskets, ABC's beginnings go back to 1936. Today, the company's IT infrastructure is centralized in Orlando, where the company has three buildings. The shop has a mix of Microsoft products for desktop, Exchange, SQL, Office and file and print services. There are 20 Wintel servers, and an IBM iSeries AS/400 serves as the mainframe that runs the company's financials and warehouse inventory system.
An Ethernet network runs between two buildings and a third standalone building that serves as ABC's data center. Each retail store has Frame Relay for cash register credit card processing, and a single server as a backup domain controller for credit card processing if the Frame Relay connection goes down.
As the company expanded, decision-makers opted to build a standalone data center two years ago. The building, a concrete structure built 10 feet above the one hundred year flood plain, is secure and has alarm sensors.
Currently, the IT department is in the process of installing a Fibre Channel SAN with duplicate hardware for data storage. ABC also wants to reduce the footprint of its 20 Wintel servers and is moving toward a virtual machine using VMWare on two robust boxes, according to McConnell.
"We have lots of paper, and after the brush we had with Charlie in 2004, we decided to invest in a document management system and SAN technology," he says.
ABC is currently in the process of purchasing a SAN from IBM. The purchase consists of an IBM 4300 and two X460 Wintel servers. "We'll start with a simple configuration on the servers four-way processors with 8GB," says McConnell, expandable to 16-way processors and 64GB for the future.
Getting to Work
At the same time as its SAN project, the company devised a disaster recovery and business continuity plan. Workers are currently constructing a disaster recovery site in one of the existing buildings that will house a duplicate SAN and servers in a VM environment.
ABC is using three products from XOSoft: WANSynchHA for File Server, WANSynchHA Assured Recovery for Microsoft Exchange, and WANSynchHA Assured Recovery for Microsoft SQL.
According to XOSoft, WANSyncHA for File Server ensures seamless availability by synchronizing entire application servers and constantly replicating them to either local or remote replicas in real time. Assured Recovery is an add-on product to WANSynchHA. The product tests the validity of the server without halting production on the master.
McConnell found the XOSoft products as a result of a directive from the company's IT director. "We were instructed to pull the plug on the data center once a month and work for 24 hours on the disaster recovery site," he explains. "My question was then, how do you replicate Exchange in real time to where I have high availability?"
An article in an industry publication steered him to four product vendors: NSI Software, Fujitsu SoftTek, LeftHand Networks, and XOSoft. "When I dug a little deeper, only XOSoft's product answered one of my key concerns, which was how do I do this on different hardware specs," says McConnell.
After contacting the vendor and getting an online overview of the products and a demo of the Exchange piece, he downloaded the software for a 30-day trial. After conducting an in-house test environment, McConnell knew he found what he was looking for. "The product was transparent to the user and simple to use," he says.
ABC purchased six licenses for $22,000.
The retailer expects to have its SAN and disaster recovery site complete by October. With the new data center in sight, McConnell says he is breathing a sigh of relief. "The final piece will be to have business continuity," he says.
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