Small Businesses Face Big Storage Demands -

Small Businesses Face Big Storage Demands

Like many small businesses, Weiss Group LLC had all the storage issues of a large enterprise — with none of the budget.

So the financial management and research company revamped its IT infrastructure, brought in server virtualization technology and iSCSI and partnered with StorMagic.

Today, the parent company of Weiss Research, Weiss Capital Management, The Weiss School, and Money and Markets operates a more efficient data center and has an improved data protection infrastructure.

Weiss Capital is rapidly moving away from unreliable and management-intensive tape storage to faster disk storage for both production and backup purposes. At a price point that meets its budget, Weiss Group has a solution that meets its rapidly growing data storage requirements.

Virtual Change

With the company's 60 servers reaching end of life, James Santillo, senior systems administrator at Jupiter, Florida-based Weiss Group, had a couple of options: replace the servers, many of which relied on an IBM (NYSE: IBM) FAStT Fibre Channel SAN that was more than 6 years old, or build a new infrastructure with an iSCSI SAN backend.

The decision, said Santillo, was easy. The company turned to Virtual Iron Software to consolidate its physical servers. The project, which began late last year with the migration of non-production servers, is almost complete, as Weiss Group finishes the migration of its production servers to the virtual environment.

Today, the company has 80 virtual servers, which includes devices used at the Weiss Group's second data center, located in Fort Lauderdale. Weiss Group continues to offer new product initiatives that require IT to increase data stores due to data-intensive applications such as live Web casts and the delivery of video.

"Although we're an SMB, we have a large IT infrastructure compared to the number of people we have," said Santillo. Weiss Group employs more than 250 people.

At the same time the company virtualized its servers, it began to look at iSCSI alternatives to its IBM SAN. "We knew our storage capacity needs were rising quickly, and I knew that iSCSI storage could save us a lot of money," said Santillo.

He said annual maintenance on the existing SAN ran about $7,000 for two terabytes of capacity. The company also had a file server with about one terabyte of storage and about 1.5 terabytes of storage from combined direct-attached (DAS) units and local disk.

Cost wasn't the only thing that made iSCSI attractive to the company: ease of use, ease of management, and ease of implementation were also important. "Basically, I knew there were smaller form factors out there, devices that needed less electricity, less heat and were newer technologies," said Santillo.

About a year ago the company purchased a Xiotech iSCSI SAN and an IBM iSCSI SAN. The Xiotech iSCSI SAN, with 4 terabytes of raw storage, utilizes SATA drives for more capacity at a lower cost, and is part of the company's virtual infrastructure for non-production applications. The IBM iSCSI SAN, with 3 terabytes of raw storage, uses Fibre Channel drives to better accommodate the company's high production applications running at its second data center.

Santillo estimates that the company saved about 50 percent moving to iSCSI technology over a comparable FC solution.

With the new infrastructure in place, it was time for Weiss Group to revisit its tape backup technology.

Turning to Backup

Using a single tape drive system with Symantec's (NASDAQ: SYMC) Backup Exec for daily full backups of about 6 terabytes, the backup window was overflowing into workday hours. One option was to add more tape. The drawback to that solution is that tape is unreliable and expensive.

"We wanted a disk drive system for backup," said Santillo, adding that disk backup is part of any good disaster recovery solution.

That's when the company found recent startup StorMagic and ran a pilot of is StorMagic SM series software on a server with 5 terabytes of capacity. "StorMagic was a brand new product on the market, but I was impressed with the ease of deployment and ease of use. I had it up and running 20 minutes after taking it out of the box," said Santillo.

In April, Weiss Group purchased the demo StorMagic storage solution. Two weeks later, the company purchased another box with 16 terabytes of storage capacity so it would be able to back up all of its non-production data located at the Jupiter data center.

By the end of July, the company purchased two additional StorMagic solutions, each configured with 16 terabytes of storage for use at the second data center in Fort Lauderdale for production storage and virtualization storage.

"StorMagic allows us to assign storage wherever we want for any machine on the network," said Santillo.

In a couple of months, a fifth 16 terabyte StorMagic appliance will be purchased for block-level replication between SANs. At that point, Weiss Group will move from disk-to-disk-to-tape storage to disk-to-disk-to-disk at the secondary data center, a vast improvement in the company's disaster recovery plans.

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