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Building company constructs framework with NAS

As a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Joe Petrie has the attitude that all hills can be taken -- no matter how steep.

Shortly after joining VP Buildings Inc. two years ago, Petrie called upon his Marine-bred determination to solve a chronic problem: the failure of network-attached storage (NAS) devices used to store blueprints and other engineering designs. The Memphis, Tenn.-based company manufactures pre-engineered steel building systems. Customers include Costco, Federal Express and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Getting blueprints into the hands of engineers is critical to the company's success. Contractors use VPs computer-aided design software to draw up plans for customized buildings. These plans are then transmitted digitally to one of VP's nine service centers, where engineers and draftsmen add the finishing details and shepherd each job through to manufacturing. Four years ago Service centers were outfitted with MaxAttach devices by MaxStor to store up to 140 gigabytes (GB) worth of data.

Designed to provide dependable storage, the MaxStor machines did just the opposite. "We never knew when they were going to fail," said Petrie, VP's network and systems administration manager. "It wasn't like we were having downtime every day or anything like that -- maybe once every month or two. But when the machine went down, it was down for three to five days, while we waited for the company to replace the whole unit or the single drive."

The unpredictable interruptions

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cut into production, so Petrie went in search of a solution. "First, we wanted reliability. Second, we didn't want to have to buy a license for another Microsoft server. We could have put a bunch of drives in another server and [added] two or three 100 GB drives. But we didn't want to do that. We wanted [a machine] that sat out there where we could put multiple shares on the device, and (enable) our people to access them from wherever they were," said Petrie.

About four months ago, VP began installing NAS P405 Series servers, made by San Diego, Calif.-based Iomega Corp., at two of its service centers. Each NAS box totals 160 GB, contained in four 40 GB drives. The NAS P405 uses RAID, a method for storing the same data in different places. The technology, known as RAID-5, enables data to be striped, or written, across all disk drives.

The MaxStor NAS boxes also supported RAID-5 striping, but Iomega featured one important difference: hot-swappable disk drives. A buffering-type technology stored data in event a drive needed to be replaced. "If one drive were to fail, all our data would still be there. We'd pop that drive out, put another one in that would rebuild the array set, and all our data would be there," said Petrie.

Iomega's architecture is powered by the Windows 2000 Server OS, which is striped across the first two drives. Data is stored on drives 1 through 4. Therefore, even if drive 2 failed, the system would continue operating and data would continue to be stored in the operable disks. "So far, we haven't had any downtime, and that keeps our engineers working. There's nothing more upsetting than having an engineer twiddling his thumbs because he can't access his data," said Petrie.

VP plans to install Iomega servers at its seven other outlying facilities in the United States and Mexico.

VP's reliance on NAS technology underscores what analysts have been saying: that the encroachment of storage area networking does not signal the end for network-based technologies. Yankee Group, a Boston-based research company, has predicted the market for NAS systems will top $8.5 billion by 2005.

For more information on VP Buildings Inc. visit its Web site.

Additional information on Iomega can be found here.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC:

>> NAS pays dividends for bank conglomerate

>> What is NAS and how does it fit into a SAN?

>> Using a NAS to reduce admin tasks


This was first published in April 2003

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