Centralizing storage

Aero-Metric finds a centralized storage solution to manage their digital imagery files on both Windows and UNIX workstations.

Centralizing storage
One company's quest for efficiency and security

By Linda Christie

To get control of their vast numbers of digital imagery files, Aero-Metric needed a centralized storage solution that could serve both Windows and Unix workstations.

Aero-Metric, Inc.'s production staff was wasting a lot of valuable time doing systems administration. "As our project load increased, it was becoming more and more difficult to manage and backup large volumes of data dispersed among different servers and high-end workstations," says Mike Mertens, Sheboygan, Wisc.-based Aero-Metric's IT manager. "Workstation operators were constantly writing large data files off to tape and reloading them when they needed to work on those projects again."

A national leader in the field of photogrammetric engineering for Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Aero-Metric decided that consolidating storage in their data center would not only increase production but also provide a more secure infrastructure for protecting the company's information assets. "We looked at a number of vendor solutions -- high-end, low-end and SAN (storage area network), which was more robust than required," Mertens says. "We finally decided on a NAS (network attached storage) architecture capable of supporting both Unix and Windows environments," he adds.

The first step was installing a Nortel Networks' BayStack 450 10/100/1000 Ethernet switch. "We purchased a gigabit network card with the NAS and connected to the switch with fiber. All of our workstations run 100MB Fast Ethernet in full duplex," Mertens says. "That way we can serve files at 200MB to five workstations without a performance hit. We configured a VLAN on the switch eliminating traffic from flooding the switches and dragging down the entire LAN."

Once the LAN was upgraded, they installed a Procom Technology, Inc. NetFORCE 3100HA NAS filer with dual Fibre Channel data paths and RAID controllers consisting of three rack-mounted pieces: UPS, Head (CPU with memory, disk drive and proprietary operating system) and just a bunch of disks (JBOD). The JBOD can accommodate twelve 73GB hard drives, with one drive serving as an online spare and two as parity drives. Usable storage per JBOD is 650GB. The rack can hold five JBODs and one additional Head unit when fully configured.

In addition, they installed an external Quantum Corp. ALT Powerstor L500 14-tape DLT 7000 library. Each 70GB tape can store up to 980GB of data with compression. However, Aero-Metric's experience is different. "Because image files do not compress as much as text-based files, we're getting about 35GB to 40GB per tape. So, we've effectively realized 560GB of tape storage," Mertens says.

Using the Procom filer OS, they set up the system to be accessed from Unix and Windows clients. "Getting the system up and running only took a half hour," Mertens says. "However, we spent several days performing seed tests and multiple backup and recovery tests to ensure stability of data. We ran rigorous read/write tests for hours and power-cycled dozens of times to verify hardware reliability. We also set up specific directory structures and permissions for departments, work types and NFS access and performed tape backup and recovery procedures."

Aero-Metric chose ARCServe 2000 from Computer Associates International, Inc. instead of NT Backup to provide faster backups and better tape management. "We use a Compaq Corp. Proliant Win2K server with a SCSI 3 Ultra 160 adapter to do a full backup each weekend," Mertens says. "Given the speed DLT drives can write, we can back up 14-16GB/hour without a verify. During the week we do incremental backups that capture the files that have changed or been added since the last full backup."

Aero-Tech also can control permissions and sharing better, as well as the physical environment by providing redundant power supplies and fans. "One controller can even die and the data will still remain available," Mertens says. "In addition, we're using daily checkpoints to take a flash picture of the system so if it goes down, we can recover to that point."

"Streamlining storage management onto one Procom NAS server has proven to be far more practical and cost-effective," Mertens says. "Now we can keep entire projects on one system rather than on multiple servers and backup tapes. In addition, access times, transfer rates and application response times have all improved dramatically."

"Consolidating digital image storage in our data center makes it much easier to keep track of projects, virtually eliminates the need for re-doing work, and allows our production personnel more time for doing what they do best --processing imagery," Mertens says.

For additional information about Aero-Metric, visit their Web site.

For additional information about Procom, visit their Web site.

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This was first published in June 2001
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