SRM breathes new 'spirits' into storage network

Southern Wine and Spirits had a storage hangover. So, the company implemented an SRM solution that is easing the headaches.

Robert Madewell figured that his storage issues were like the common cold. Everybody suffers from them, and no one's found a cure. So, Madewell -- director of networks for Southern Wine and Spirits (Southern) of California Inc. -- just dealt with the spreading disease of inefficient storage utilization as best he could.

Business for Southern, the largest distributor of wine and spirits in California, has been growing at a rapid clip. Meanwhile, Madewell has seen storage requirements skyrocketing and, as a result, Southern's storage systems becoming more complex.

The burgeoning system suffered from severe congestion. Duplicate files were stored on multiple servers and different drive partitions, and users' undetectable non-business files (think MP3) took up space. Manual inspections of storage volumes, searching for MP3s and "those outdated files from 1989 or memos from 1991 with multiple logos and graphics," would be too time-consuming and "painfully inefficient," Madewell said.

Unable to get rid of the congestion, Madewell could relieve it only by adding more storage. "The overall need for storage led us to buy more and more hard drives," he said. Added to everything else, as storage volume kept growing, the system's backup windows got bigger and bigger.

That's life in storage management, Madewell thought. Then, suddenly, he discovered something that made him think again. He attended a demonstration hosted by Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc. (CA). There, he saw CA's BrightStor Storage Resource Manager (BrightStor SRM). To his surprise, the checklist of resource management issues addressed by the product read like a list of his daily storage management headaches.

BrightStor SRM promised to allow centralized management, capacity planning and exception-based reporting. Like a cure for the common cold, this sounded too good to be true. A hopeful Madewell asked CA for a live trial at the Southern data center.

CA obliged, sending an engineer who set up a trial server and got an application up and running. Madewell tested BrightStor SRM on several servers. "The results were outstanding," he said. "I showed my boss, the IT manager for the state, and he was flattened."

The next step was the purchase of a dedicated server for BrightStor SRM. Following that, CA's engineers installed the application and did the necessary knowledge transfer.

With the installation complete, Madewell and his team mastered CA's own Enterprise Definition Language (EDL) so they could craft customized reports. "The product came with canned reports, but that wasn't exactly what we were looking for," he said. Jokingly, he added: "They set up custom EDL scripting for us and showed us a bit, so we could be dangerous."

Actually, the custom EDL scripting option has eliminated some dangers. For example, Madewell tailored BrightStor SRM's reports to identify files by owner. This reduced the likelihood of someone assuming a file isn't needed and deleting it without first talking to the file's owner.

The wisdom in that quickly became apparent. Madewell and his team found a group of MP3 files and figured that they were old downloaded music files cluttering up storage space. A few words with the files' owner, however, revealed that the files were part of a presentation used by the Southern graphics department.

"We would have been in a lot of trouble if we had just eliminated those files," Madewell said.

Using BrightStor SRM, Madewell easily manages the storage resources of Southern's 70 HP servers, which run Windows NT 4 and Windows 2000. The reports generated by BrighStor SRM allow him to see directories by size and level, domains by size and volumes by size, as well as duplicate files and more.

Madewell's chance encounter with a cure for his storage ills has paid off handsomely. Madewell estimates BrightStor SRM has saved the company $30,000 statewide. The savings come from more efficient management of the company's storage resources, the ability to use existing servers longer and a diminished need to purchase new servers.

Madewell has been able to save money on backup systems, too. He was on the verge of buying another backup system when Southern implemented BrightStor SRM. "We were backing up 400 GB just in Northern California," Madewell said. "Since the implementation, we're down to 300 GB."

Madewell now freely gives out his prescription for curing storage congestion. He advises network managers not to keep adding storage until they have a huge farm of servers. Instead, he tells them to work on increasing utilization of existing resources.

"I can't stress enough the need to peer inside those drives into that storage," Madewell said. "Spend a little effort in the beginning and save yourself a lot of time and money in the long run."

How innovative is your company or someone you know? Nominate a true storage trailblazer for a prestigious "Storage Innovators" award. The deadline for entry is TOMORROW!

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For more information on Southern Wine and Spirits, visit its Web site.

Additional information on Computer Associates can be found here.

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This was first published in February 2003

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