An Apple a Day Keeps Storage Costs Away

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When Summit Energy Services looked at its future growth, company decision-makers learned it was time to find more cost-effective storage, backup and disaster recovery technology. So the company tossed out pricey systems and brought in storage, backup and disaster recovery products that could help support the company’s growth.

An international provider of energy management services for more than 9,000 industrial and commercial facilities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Europe, Summit Energy Services is growing at a rate of about 40 percent per year, according to company estimates. Founded in 1991, the Louisville, Kentucky-based company provides independent market intelligence, sources, rate and risk advisory services for the purchase and professional management of energy.

As the company’s data stores grew, its IT staff was forced to take a closer look at its storage environment. “With our databases growing about 30 percent a year, and our storage needs growing as well, we realized that our existing storage solution was costly to expand and also restricted disaster recovery,” says Gary Jackson, senior network administrator at Summit Energy.

The company took action. It brought in Apple’s Xserve RAID for storage and BakBone Software’s NetVault: Backup product for data protection, including the VaultDR plugin module for disaster recovery.

Growing Pains

A few years ago, Summit Energy’s IT department reviewed how the company’s existing IT infrastructure met current and future needs. What it discovered was that in order to accommodate growth, the company needed to expand its storage environment and improve its disaster recovery capabilities.

“At the time, we realized that this would be the year that we would have to expand our storage,” says Jackson. However, the EMC Clariion SAN platform that Summit relied on was not going to get the company where it needed to go, at least not at a price Summit wanted to pay.

According to Jackson, moving forward with EMC seemed like a dead end. “The Clarion unit we had at the time was phased out, which meant we needed to purchase a new unit that would cost $100,000 plus,” he says. Additionally, replication would require a $40,000 software upgrade and an additional unit to replicate to plus storage space.

With the help of channel partner CDW Corp., the energy services company was introduced to Apple’s storage technology.

Jackson brought in the Xserve RAID product for testing. “It proved to be a good solution and provided a good cost to storage ratio,” he says. The pilot also demonstrated strong product performance and reliability, he added.

Summit Energy ran its internally-developed line of business applications on SQL Server, running Java and .NET applications. The line of business applications contains all client data, such as contracts, usage, contact information and so on.

“We migrated our clustered SQL Server 2000 to the Xserve RAID for redundancy and fault tolerance,” says Jackson.

The company utilizes the Xserve RAID storage for both test and development and production. Summit recently rolled out Microsoft’s Exchange 2003 environment using the Xserve RAID for storage.

“For our production environment, we have a full Xserve RAID with seven terabytes of storage partitioned to different physical disks,” explains Jackson. “The product has been reliable, and the performance has been at least equal to that of the EMC solution.”

Today, Summit Energy has five Xserve RAID servers, each with seven terabytes of storage, for a total of 35 terabytes of storage capacity. Apple’s Xserve RAID configured with seven terabytes of storage cost the company $12,000, according to Jackson.

Backing Up With BakBone

Looking to protect its mission-critical data, the company once again turned to CDW. While Summit Energy had been a user of a Veritas Backup Exec product, the company wanted to explore more cost-effective options.

“Veritas was cost-prohibitive to license and maintain and to use in our environment for disaster recovery,” says Jackson.

That’s when BakBone came into the picture. CDW introduced Summit Energy to BakBone’s NetVault: Backup, an enterprise data protection solution for heterogeneous IT environments.

“We take hot images of our servers to the Xserve RAID and deploy to standby machines,” says Jackson.

The company uses NetVault: Backup for its production environment, testing and development environment, and file systems. According to Jackson, the IT department consists of four people who manage 225 computers and 40 servers in two locations, Louisville and a disaster recovery site about 40 miles away. Summit Energy servers are a combination of HP Proliant DL360s, 380s and 580s. Half the servers are used for production, half for testing and development.

“The BakBone interface is easy to use and the price of the solution was half that compared to Veritas,” he says. Integrating the VaultDR 4.O plugin was easy, he adds.

Summit Energy is saving about 50 percent, or $6,000 compared to $12,000, for yearly maintenance by switching from Veritas to BakBone, according to Jackson. “The cost of the software is also about 30 percent less. Product support is also better,” he adds.

When combined with NetVault: Backup, the VaultDR plugin module ensures the availability of data in the event of catastrophic failure. Operations are managed from the NetVault: Backup server, according to BakBone.

At Summit Energy, the solution takes full image snapshots of the server online and is updated only when there are application changes, which Jackson says are about every two weeks, depending on development cycles.

“Much of the NetVault: Backup management is done through scheduling and jobs,” says Jackson. The company’s developers, for example, use it to launch jobs from a command line interface, which then drops it into the NetVault server, he explains.

Today, BakBone’s NetVault: Backup with the VaultDR module provide Summit Energy with the data protection and ability to recover from a critical systems failure that it was looking for.

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Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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