Engineering Firm Cures Growing Pains with NAS

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Mustang Engineering found that growth had a downside: higher storage costs and growing manageability problems.

“As we continued to grow as a company, managing the servers and data was getting more difficult, and everything we needed to do took too much more time,” said Chris Johnson, network administrator at Houston-based Mustang, an international engineering firm that provides design and project management services to the energy services industry.

Mustang saw that time was running out for its server-attached storage. After researching a number of vendor and product options for a new storage infrastructure, the company turned to Network Appliance. Today, Mustang has 14 terabytes of capacity on its NetApp NearStore system.

Mustang is owned by the Wood Group, which operates in more than 34 countries and reports $2.3 billion in annuals sales. Mustang itself was founded in 1987 and boasts more than 2,000 employees and 4,700 projects for 300 clients.

Engineering a Solution

About four years ago, Mustang’s IT department began to reconsider the dozen Microsoft NT data servers where project data was stored.

“It was getting more difficult for users to find their data on the 12 servers, and managing the storage was getting too difficult,” says Johnson.

Engineering and design projects generate huge quantities of data that must be accessible over the project period, which could be years in some cases. The data often goes months without being accessed.

Mustang runs a couple of hundred programs for its engineers and designers. Project data is made up of Microsoft Office, Excel, Access and PowerPoint, according to Johnson. A Microsoft shop, the company maintains about 70 servers in its primary data center, including the project data servers.

The IT department began its search for a new storage solution by reading literature about trends in storage networking, such as NAS and SAN. Johnson quickly determined that NAS best met Mustang’s storage needs.

The next step for Johnson was contacting local resellers of EMC and Network Appliance equipment, and then having the vendors demo the equipment. What sold Mustang on the NetApp solution was cost, performance, support for McAfee antivirus software, and tech support.

“We determined that the NetApp product was the best fit for what we needed to do,” he says.

According to Johnson, NetApp engineers gave him all the answers he needed and responded quickly and thoroughly to his questions. Not only did the vendor provide answers to Mustang’s technical questions, but Network Appliance steered Johnson and his IT staff to white papers posted on the vendor’s web site. “They were able to answer my questions because they had already done the things I was asking about,” he says.

From a cost perspective, Johnson says the EMC solution was about 25 percent higher, and the vendor didn’t offer McAfee antivirus support.

Mustang made its initial NAS purchase from Network Appliance three years ago. The company bought two F840C NetApp filers with clustered failover and 4 terabyte drive shelves.

While the engineering firm didn’t run a pilot test, it did put the equipment online with test data for IT to access. “The test went well, so we began migrating data,” he says.

Growing with NetApp

Mustang’s IT department migrated data every weekend for two to three months, moving data by department or by group projects. Within three months, Mustang was off the Windows servers and had moved over 2.5 terabytes of data, or 4.5 million files.

“Migrating the data was time-consuming but not difficult,” says Johnson. The data was moved to tape backup and then restored to NetApp files. For the users, the move was seamless, he noted.

“The solution gives us a streamlined OS for sharing network files without the overhead of Windows,” says Johnson.

Within 12 months, Mustang grew its NAS from 4 terabytes to 8 terabytes. “A NetApp engineer added new shelves and changed the configuration, and the job was done in a few hours,” says Johnson.

A year and a half later, the company changed cabinets and went from the F840Cs to two FAS960Cs, and again increased storage capacity from 8 terabytes to 12 terabytes. Last summer, Mustang added another two terabytes of capacity for a total of 14 terabytes. “At this point, we had a good financial opportunity to pick up extra storage and did,” says Johnson.

Mustang declined to give the exact cost for the NAS solution, but says it cost between $100,000 and $400,000.

Last year, Mustang moved its Exchange database off Exchange servers to NAS to take advantage of the improved management, fault tolerance and recovery. The company used the SNAP Manager for Exchange.

“We can grow volumes on line and the performance is better than Windows,” says Johnson. Within the next few months, the company will move 10 to 15 SQL servers to the filers for the same benefits.

For more storage features, visit Enterprise Storage Forum Special Reports

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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