Building a SAN brick by brick

Company finds SAN installation not like pulling teeth

Implementing a new storage solution is akin to visiting the dentist. The experience can be painful, costly and full of surprises.

Such was the attitude of Brickmill Marketing Services of Nashua, N.H., when it confronted its vanishing storage capacity. The company, which helps nonprofits utilize and manage data for fundraising purposes, wanted a solution that was relatively pain-free, fit within its operating budget, and was as predictable as daybreak. In February, Brickmill installed StorageWorks MSA 1000 from Compaq, a 2-gigabit Fibre Channel storage system that is expandable to 3 terabytes.

Brickmill runs Compaq servers, and the servers' compatibility with Compaq's storage area network (SAN) product made integration pleasantly uneventful. "The connectivity of getting the SAN up and running took about four hours," not including setup, says Technical Support Manager Peter Smith. "From what I've read about SANs, that is an extremely short time."

Bill Mottram, director of product marketing for Compaq's enterprise storage division, says Compaq surveyed existing customers and learned many enterprises were leery about migrating to SANs. "They felt it would cost too much, would be too risky or would be too complex," says Mottram. The MSA 1000 was developed, he says, to mitigate those concerns.

Brickmill's storage need was driven largely by its proprietary database system, known as Prosper. Developed by Brickmill's Information Services Group, Prosper enables nonprofit clients to analyze and manage their own fundraising data. Although some clients have installed the Prosper database on their own systems, other clients prefer to access it remotely on Brickmill's system. "That's where the storage need comes in," says Smith, because Brickmill must collect, maintain and safeguard reams of client data.

Brickmill also wants to equip Prosper with more sophisticated features in hopes of landing larger nonprofit clients. Thus, it needed a robust yet nimble system capable of storing high volumes of additional data. The addition of the SAN environment and an SQL database gives Brickmill sufficient capacity to support larger database clients, says Smith.

Brickmill executives also figure a SAN could ease the burden of sorting the vast amounts of information culled from direct mail campaigns performed on behalf of clients. "In a particular campaign, we may literally mail millions of pieces in one mailing. Even at a modest response rate, if you compound those campaigns over a number of years and over a number of clients, we have millions of bits of data we have to track and analyze," says Les Hubbard, Brickmill's managing director. "We needed a very large and very fast system -- one that could handle the complex nature of the data we manage, as well as the sheer magnitude."

Before making purchasing decisions, Brickmill estimated each new customer would require between 50 gigabytes and 300 gigabytes of additional storage capacity. "What all this boils down to is that maintaining our database on single servers is no longer doable. We're talking about storage needs that run into terabytes of data," Smith says.

Before electing to use a SAN, Smith and Hubbard pondered other options. They looked at network-attached storage and direct-attached RAID boxes, before deciding neither was flexible enough for Brickmill's needs. Several factors swayed their decision in favor of Compaq's SAN. "We stayed with Compaq because of its technical support and the fact the MSA 1000 was a good fit for us financially. It would have been great to purchase one of the higher end SANs that offer a lot more storage room, but that wasn't in the picture for us now," says Smith. "But the MSA 1000 is a scaleable product that does allow us to move up to larger SANs."

Speedier SAN backups are a "pretty exciting story," says Smith. "We put in a tape library two years ago hanging off one of the servers in the network. Prior to that there was just a single tape drive in one server. That brought us up to about 300M-Bits/min. with Arcserve's Push Agent and we were just ecstatic at that speed. Now we have a Compaq 5026 SL library hanging off the SAN and backups are running at about 1,800M-Bits/min."

Smith wouldn't disclose how much Brickmill paid for its SAN, but he estimates costs could range from $40,000 to $125,000. Cost is influenced by the quantity and type of hard drives used, as well as the number of drive enclosures.

The list price for Compaq's MSA 1000 is $10,000, says Mottram, with average configuration costs estimated at $30,000.

For additional information visit Brickmill Marketing Services's Website.

For more on Compaq's MSA 1000 visit its Website .

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This was first published in May 2002

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