Systems Integrator Helps Healthcare Provider Control Storage Growth on Its Clustered Servers and SAN

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To provide group-buying services for more than 1,800 hospitals, Premier, Inc., based in San Diego, California, maintains about 300 Windows NT servers, as well as more than 50 Unix servers, across four U.S. sites. Some of the sites use Microsoft Cluster Servers with about 200 gigabytes to 400 gigabytes of disk storage. One site has Compaq ProLiant 5500 servers connected via Fibre Channel to a storage area network consisting of an EMC Clariion storage system.

The Move to Windows NT From NetWare

In 1999, Premier outsourced most of its information technology (IT) tasks to Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), El Segundo, California. At the time, Premier had Novell NetWare file servers and was using NetWare’s built-in disk space quota management feature to control storage space on these servers. CSC’s first task consisted of converting the NetWare servers to Windows NT. Premier requested that the servers have some mechanism for allocating storage space to employees and monitoring the rate of file growth in each employee’s allocated space in real time. Since Windows NT doesn’t have any built-in disk space quota capabilities, Bob Lanning, a computer scientist for CSC, said, “We bought a copy of W. Quinn Associates’ StorageCeNTral (, and tested it on the servers in our lab. Since it did exactly what we needed, we put it on our servers as our standard tool to keep them from running out of space.

StorageCeNTral Allocates and Monitors Storage Usage

When Premier used NetWare, each employee had a 15-megabyte quota on his or her home directory. Some of the group directories had either a quota of 50 megabytes or 100 megabytes. But these quota limits wouldn’t work for employees on the Windows NT servers. The e-mail systems were growing out of control due to lack of space. So, CSC had to give employees enough space in their home directories to accommodate their e-mail storage. Using StorageCeNTral, Lanning first created a template, which automatically allocated 100-megabytes of space on each employee’s home directory. Now, any time Microsoft Cluster Servers automatically set up a new user directory, StorageCeNTral, in turn, automatically allocates 100-megabytes of disk space on that directory.

With NetWare, Premier employees had gotten used to their space limits and doing their housekeeping tasks to stay within their limits. However, the canned messages NetWare sent when an employee had reached his or her quota — such as volume about to run out disk space – often put them off. Apparently, NetWare used to broadcast this type of message to all employees, prompting them to call the helpdesk en masse.

On the other hand, Lanning says that StorageCeNTral provides enough alerting capabilities so employees clearly know the status of their disk space allocation. In fact, employees get their first on-screen warning when they reach a 75 percent threshold. He says, “The message tells them to look at their file space and delete any files or request more space. They get another on-screen alert at a 90 percent threshold, and then when they hit their absolute limit. Unlike NetWare’s disk quota feature, StorageCeNTral enables employees to save what they are working on even if they’ve hit their maximum space allocation. To this end, employees never lose any files and then go back and look at their space.”

So that Premier’s servers don’t run out of space, Lanning has allocated a half gigabyte of disk space on the entire group’s share. He says, “We also put a space allocation on the entire home drive. Overall, calls to the helpdesk requesting more individual space or group space have been minimal. Apparently, with NetWare, Premier’s IT department constantly got requests for more space.”

The Reports Help Premier To Make Storage Decisions

Lanning says that IT outsourcers need tools that enable them to be pro-active in monitoring network resources but yet provide the customer with information to make decisions. He says, “That’s the beauty of StorageCeNTral’s reporting capabilities. It reports on specific characteristics of files.”

By running the space by user report, Lanning says he knows immediately which employees are about to hit their quota. If he sees that certain employees keep hitting the quota limit within a short period of time, he might want to contact them and find out if they require more space. He can also provide them with a HTML-based report showing the files in their home directory. By clicking on a hyperlink to the file, an employee can view a file, delete it, or move it.

Using the files not accessed report, he can get HTML-based lists of files that haven’t been looked at in the last six or twelve months. He says, “These aged file reports have become one of the most useful reports we provide to Premier’s senior management, who can in turn tell us what they want to do with these outdated files.”

Elizabeth M. Ferrarini is a freelance author based in Arlington, Mass. Your Invited to reach this opinionated writer at

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