NAS appliance eases server mayhem

Forty file and print servers became impossible to manage so Risdall bit the bullet and spent some money on a storage project

Risdall Advertising Agency, based in New Brighton, Minnesota is typical of a small company in the advertising market. It has about 45 people on staff, 40 clients and annual sales of about $100 million. And just one IT guy supporting the lot.

Also common to the advertising industry, Risdall runs Windows, Apple Mac and Linux machines and until now has been unable to share files between the different platforms.

With over 40 file and print servers, one or the other constantly running out of space, Risdall reached its limit. "We kept running into the same problems...Where did we store such and such a file and how to share drives between groups?" says Kevin Deshler, VP of Accounts Management at Risdall.

Server consolidation became a must. Risdall turned to NeuStream (formally FibreStream), a relatively new company on the block selling a NAS appliance supporting iSCSI and Fibre Channel. The company spent $20,000 on the appliance. "Savings measured in both equipment acquisition and productivity will exceed our investment cost in less than six months," says Deshler.

NeuStream sold Risdall its Storage Boss appliance to prevent it from having to buy any more servers. It is using the appliance like a central file server but may zone by user group later. The appliance is a Linux box packaged up with storage management software and up to 3 TB of SATA disk. The software includes basic backup tools - snapshot and replication for asynchronous mirroring as well as virtual volume functionality.

Storage Boss has been shipping since February this year and about 10 customers are paying for it today. Pricing starts at $13,000 for 750 GB and up to $26,000 for 3 TB. NeuStream is working on a smaller, less expensive version to be announced some time in April, the company says. "Our low-end appliance is still somewhat pricey, but with all of its functionality we still think it's good value," says Kim Anderson, director of marketing at NeuStream.

At least one customer liked it enough to part with $20,000 and aside from the server consolidation project, is planning to use the appliance as part of an iSCSI SAN at some point. "We are toying around with the iSCSI feature as it would be great not to have the files residing on the network, instead we can backup across the network and offload intensive files from the users," says Deshler.

Risdall didn't pay much attention to what else is out there, trusting former partners at NeuStream to solve its problems. However, Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003 offers a lot of this functionality and IBM, EMC, NetApp, Lefthand and Stonefly are among many others that have products for this market.

"The thing about the NeuStream product is that even I can operate," says Deshler. "You don't have to have an IT guy attached to it which is great."

Risdall had no problems investing in startup technology. "We had a past relationship with the founders so there was a good comfort level there," says Deshler.

NeuStream's CEO, Cory Devor was previously at Ciprico, Micron Electronics, and Tricord Systems. While the company's Chairman, Clint Jurgens was most recently an executive at Cisco Systems, and was previously CTO and cofounder of NuSpeed, acquired by Cisco in 2000. Earlier, Jurgens was an executive with Ancor Communications, which was acquired by QLogic. In other words, these two are worth keeping an eye on.

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