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Accounting firm saves big bucks with big IT strategy

(Editor's note: This is the final of three profiles of the SearchStorage Innovator Award winners, which were presented March 20 in Chicago. This week we take a look at one of the winners in the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) category.)

Before Dave Johnson joined Grant Thornton, LLP, the sixth-largest accounting firm in the world, as Director of Technology, its IT infrastructure was a scattered hodgepodge of remote offices and localized networks. Today the firm has a standardized, centralized network that shares four EMC storage systems with 100% automated data backup, and it's saving the company more than $850,000 per year.

So how did Johnson and his team revamp Chicago, Ill.-based Grant Thornton's infrastructure and manage to bag such a huge savings in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)? The answer, said Johnson, was consolidation.

"Five years ago we had 44 remote office locations each buying its own software. It was all over the place," Johnson said.

The firm faced a choice - gut and consolidate its nationwide IT infrastructure and implement networked storage, or face the future with a direct-attached, disparate IT environment. The choice, as it turns out, was no choice at all.

The project, dubbed the National Information Technology Initiative, began with the company's headquarters and spread to the rest of the organization.

"They had copper running up the elevator shaft," Johnson said. "Every time the elevator went by, there were error

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messages. None of the backups worked." In other words, the infrastructure in use was poor at best.

The team was to implement a geocentric design that nationalized the organization. Johnson and his team went to each of the 44 remote locations, one-by-one and replaced every IT gizmo in operation in approximately 18 months.

Grant Thornton consolidated all 44 locations into a clustered Exchange environment. The storage portion of the project utilized an EMC Clariion system with an automated backup solution featuring a StorageTek 480 tape library and Commvault's Galaxy software in each of four regional data centers.

The results were astounding.

"We went from offering five services to 50 using the same budget," said Johnson. The company was able to deploy unified voice and data messaging throughout its business, allowing users to download all e-mail, voice mail and faxes remotely.

Grant Thornton got a handle on its nationwide network usage and now records close to perfect results with its data backup operations.

The initial layout for the project was $18 million, not a number to scoff at, even for the sixth-largest accounting house on the planet. But the payback was huge.

The end result of the company's consolidation was four Exchange servers, a single database with SAN underpinnings, and a yearly savings of $850,000, with disk savings of $150,000 right out of the chute.

"We had a lot of challenges getting to the point we're at right now," said Jim Moore, Grant Thornton's head engineer.

Moore said there was a fair amount of guessing going on around the EMC implementation. "We weren't sure which RAID configurations to use or how much capacity we would need. We're glad we didn't max out the [capacity of the storage] cabinets. That would have been like shooting yourself in the foot," he said.

Moore recommends that users use a partial implementation strategy to avoid any major issues.

It would have been really helpful if we had found someone who was doing what we were doing at the time," added Moore.

MORE INFO LINKS

For more information about Grant Thornton, visit its Web site.

For additional information about EMC, visit its Web site.

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This was first published in April 2002

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