Pillar Props Up ISP - EnterpriseStorageForum.com

Pillar Props Up ISP

When Wisconsin Independent Network (WIN) prepared to launch its new data center last November, it didn't expect to replace the storage system that had performed flawlessly for the 18 months that it was in operation. But when the network transport services company found a new vendor that offered a less expensive storage solution with more flexible functionality, that's exactly what the company did.

Today, WIN has two Pillar Axiom 500 combined SAN and NAS units up and running at its two data centers to manage data and applications (see Pillar Carves Out a Niche).

"Our objective was to create a redundant and fault-tolerant environment for our sister company, Airstream Communications, an ISP, as well provide a secondary data backup service for businesses in the Wisconsin region," said Russell Berg, director of product development for WIN.

WIN and Airstream are part of Communications Management Group (CMG), a privately-held corporation owned by 31 Wisconsin-based independent telephone companies. WIN provides wholesale network transport services on its 2,500-mile fiber optic network throughout the upper Midwest, along with its two data centers. Airstream provides underlying Internet connectivity and support services for more than 20 independent telephone companies.

Founded in 1997, all three business entities are headquartered in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where WIN recently opened its second data center. The new data center houses a redundant ISP infrastructure for Airstream. The original data center, located in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, is a serving center used exclusively by Airstream.

Backup Plan

Back in 2005, WIN began formulating plans for a duplicate and backup NAS/SAN infrastructure, realizing that internet services was a growth area for its independent telephone companies. Today, Airstream offers internet services to more than 200,000 e-mail accounts through more than 20 telephone company members. Airstream also delivers historical trends and network traffic statistics for planning and recovery to its telephone company members.

"Our initial goal for a redundant data center was for the survivability of Airstream services," said Berg.

Anticipating the opening of its second data center in Eau Claire, WIN, a user of NetApp's 3050 storage solution, knew its first option was to purchase a matching device for the Eau Claire facility.

However, before plunging into a new investment, WIN decided to do a little research on storage solutions. In March 2007, the company began its quest by searching for storage vendors and products on the internet. IT personnel also attended tradeshows and founded contented users of Pillar products.

"Ultimately, we were looking for more bang for the buck," said Berg.

And that's what WIN found. According to Berg, the price of two Pillar Axiom 500s was equal to the cost a second NetApp platform.

But finding a new vendor partner wasn't just about price. While cost was a purchase criteria, WIN needed a storage solution that could provide fault tolerant ISP functionality in addition to being able to accommodate plans for future service offerings.

Those plans include data replication services for businesses; online data backup services that telco ISPs can offer their customers; and e-mail retention, archiving and indexing services for businesses.

"Pillar seemed to have the best licensing model for adding new functionality such as WORM (write once, read many) at a smaller incremental cost compared to other providers," said Berg. Pillar, he said, was the only vendor that his organization took a serious look at.

According to Pillar, the company's AxiomOne SecureWORMfs provides unalterable, disk-based data preservation while delivering cost-effective, scalable, non-erasable, non-rewritable storage for fixed content.

Into Action

WIN officials met with Pillar at the vendor's headquarters in San Jose to learn more about the Axiom technology.

Last June, WIN signed a purchase agreement with Pillar. The vendor's professional services group was contracted to handle the migration from the NetApp 3050 to the Pillar Axiom 500 and installation.

The installation began in September, and today the systems are running in parallel. WIN and Pillar are still in the process of transitioning services. The migration is expected to be completed by mid-2008.

"The most important aspect of the migration is that it doesn't impact services," said Berg.

The technical team recently finished expanding the storage to more than 50 terabytes on the combined systems, double what was originally purchased. The capacity increase is based on a projected explosion in e-mail traffic, according to Berg.

Not only has the Axiom platform performed up to expectations thus far, but Berg said that working with Pillar has been terrific. A company with 14 employees, WIN believes it's found a kindred spirit in Pillar. "We seem to have similar corporate cultures," he said.

WIN added a new IT employee in January to take responsibility for provisioning and administering the new storage system.

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