When Kelman Technologies Inc. (KTI) went looking for a new storage solution, company decision makers took a leap of faith by partnering with Isilon Systems, a provider of clustered storage solutions with little experience in the oil and gas exploration industry. Canadian-based KTI hasn't looked back since.
"We were at a point where we weren't able to process large jobs quickly enough," says Pat McKenny, vice president for geophysical processing at KTI.
After looking at more than a half-dozen vendors of SAN and NAS systems, the company selected Isilon's IQ clustered storage systems for its Houston office. Today, Isilon's storage products have also been rolled out at KTI's Calgary, Oklahoma City and Denver locations, with rollout to its Tripoli, Libya office expected within the next two months.
"Whatever concerns we had when we first partnered with Isilon, they're gone," says McKenny, adding that its new storage architecture has fueled new business opportunities.
An international company with two domestic divisions, Seismic Processing and Data Management & Archives, and an operating presence overseas, KTI services oil and gas exploration companies with digital seismic data processing, archiving and data management services.
Time for a Change
As far back as 2002-2003, KTI recognized that its existing direct-attached storage (DAS) architecture wasn't going to support where the company wanted to take its business. At the time, the company had an Intel cluster with about 250 CPUs processing jobs.
"We began to notice that we couldn't feed the data to the nodes fast enough," says Brad Stephens, manager of IT infrastructure at KTI.
In November 2003, the company increased its CPU count to 900 and had a state-of-the-art Intel Linux high-performance clustered computing farm to support its strategic plan to target the marine processing market in addition to the land market that it was already servicing.
"At the time, we hoped to utilize a home-grown NFS with direct-attached disk arrays on Sun Solaris equipment, but it didn't pan out," says Stephens, explaining that the NFS couldn't keep up with the speed of its computing systems.
That's when the company put together a requirements list and scoured the market for storage solution vendors. KTI's key criteria, according to its IT manager, was the ability to concurrently feed all nodes (500 nodes and 900 CPUs) at a 1Mbps rate, noting that most are dual CPU machines. Other product requirements included: an enterprise-class solution with redundant components, a global file system, and ease of management.
KTI brought in about eight vendors in all and narrowed its selection to two storage providers. According to Stephens, some vendors were eliminated from the company's selection process because of price/performance issues and others weren't the right technology fit for the company. KTI declined to name the competing vendors for this article.
Isilon came on to KTI's radar screen while company executives were attending a geophysical industry trade show in Denver in Fall 2004, where the vendor was exhibiting its product line. Intrigued by Isilon's IQ clustered storage systems, KTI followed up with the vendor. After several product presentations by Isilon, KTI brought the Isilon equipment in-house and embarked on an eight-week trial.
"During this time, we learned about the installation process, how to add nodes and do systems maintenance," says Stephens. KTI brought in a seven-node IQ 1920i cluster for evaluation and put it through testing. "We took our existing nodes off line and tested the Isilon cluster as hard as we could," he adds.
According to McKenny, they took previous production runs and used the data stored on the Isilon cluster and compared them. "Isilon outperformed our previous runs by more than two times," he says. KTI tested both read and write performance.
Passing the Test
McKenny and Stephens were impressed with Isilon's IQ Clustered Storage solution. But they had reservations about the vendor.
"Our major concern was that we were among Isilon's first customers in the oil and gas industry," says McKenny. "That was one reason why we hit hard when we tested the equipment."
In business since January 2001, Isilon's clustered storage solutions are designed for data-intensive businesses and clustered computing environments such as media and entertainment, digital imaging, life sciences, oil and gas and government, according to the company.
KTI needed additional assurances before going forward with Isilon. After several back and forth visits by top executives at each company, KTI got the assurances it needed and was ready to partner with Isilon, according to McKenny.
The initial product rollout, in April 2005, was at KTI's Houston location. "We took the seven-node test cluster and rolled it into production. It was a non-event," says Stephens.
In Fall 2005, a four-node IQ 1920i cluster, each node with a 1.9TB raw storage capacity, was rolled out in Calgary. At around the same time, KTI increased capacity in Houston from seven nodes to 15 nodes, with 1.9TB raw storage capacity on each node.
In early 2006, a four-node IQ 1920i cluster with 1.9TB raw storage was rolled out at the company's Oklahoma City office and also at the Denver office. The IQ cluster in Calgary was upgraded with an additional four nodes, and the Houston cluster was again upgraded with three nodes.
"Within the next two months, we'll be installing a four-node IQ 1920i cluster at our Libya location," says Stephens.
Each cluster uses a 24-port Cisco SFS 7000 Series InfiniBand server switch for intracluster communications. The clustered computing architecture permits file access to the Isilon IQ cluster using NFS.
More than half of KTI's IT staff of 10 people have some experience with the Isilon solution. According to Stephens, his staff did the installation in Oklahoma City while the remaining installations were contracted to Isilon.
"Installation is very straightforward," he says. Stephens also noted that there's a Web front end on the management tool that allows him to manage all of the company's Isilon clusters from his desk in Calgary.
"The partnership worked out to be wonderful for us. It helped us propel our technology and win contracts that we couldn't win prior to partnering with Isilon," says McKenny.
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