SRM prevents storage overload

After a storage overload at a branch office, Mortgage Information Services implemented a storage resource management system.

SRM prevents storage overload
Server crash leads administrator to SRM

After a storage overload at a branch office, Mortgage Information Services implemented a storage resource management system.

By M.C. Kincora

No news isn't always good news for a network administrator. Recently, Mortgage Information Services network administrator Scott Crawford didn't get the news about a storage overload at a branch office until it was too late.

"The overload caused a crash in the NT servers in our largest office in Miramar, Fla.," says Crawford. "It stopped production for about three hours."

Fortunately, the crash didn't take place at the end of the month when many financial transactions are completed. At that time, a three-hour outage could cost the company thousands of dollars.

Cleveland, Ohio-based Mortgage Information Services handles the title insurance, appraisals and closings involved in mortgage transactions for banks. For legal purposes, every document coming into or generated by their 21 locations has to be stored for years. Every piece of paper is scanned, using Report Writer, a custom application written by the company's IT staff, and stored on disk.

Each office runs its own independent program. So, everything is stored first on the local level. All offices store data on servers running Microsoft Windows NT. Each server has a capacity of 32G bytes on disks set aside just for data that comes in via Report Writer.

"New documents are accessed constantly within the local offices," says Crawford. "Storing them locally at first saves on WAN traffic and reduces our usage of bandwidth." If a document record is not accessed for two or three weeks, the records are then automatically moved, via the Web, to the corporate office where they are stored permanently. The records are then purged from the local office's storage disks.

After the Miramar crash, Crawford realized that a set schedule for storage transfer couldn't accommodate fluctuations in storage volume in each office. So, he searched the Web for a tool that offered centralized monitoring of distributed storage systems. He found a recommendation for StorCast, a storage resource management solution from Boston-based Astrum Software, and he decided to give it a try.

Immediately, Crawford saw that StorCast gave him a capability he lacked before: forewarning of trouble in the storage system. With no reliable way to monitor storage space, the first sign of trouble would often be a complete shut down of the system in an office. With production at a standstill, Crawford would have to scramble to free up storage space. "StorCast fit my need for something that would alert us in advance," says Crawford. Also, StorCast offers a menu of alerts, each of which provides information that helps administrators pinpoint problems.

Crawford chose to implement the entire StorCast suite throughout his whole company. The StorCast suite includes several modules, including Reporter, Storage Asset Manager, Interconnect Monitor and Storage Performance Manager.

Storage Asset Manager and Reporter offer information that helps Crawford monitor and forecast storage processes. Storage Asset Manager controls storage consumption, monitors system performance and performs trend analysis. StorCast Reporter discovers storage resources throughout an IT infrastructure and offers storage reporting and forecasting solutions.

"The monitoring features save me time by eliminating the need to check systems manually," says Crawford. "If StorCast isn't sending me a message, I know the systems are working correctly."

With StorCast's trend analysis and forecasting tools in hand, Crawford can plan ahead to accommodate storage volume growth in each branch location.

StorCast's performance monitors have helped Crawford increased storage system productivity. StorCast Interconnect Monitor verifies connectivity and availability of systems, devices, ports, and network attached storage (NAS) throughout an enterprise and the Internet from a central location. StorCast Storage Performance Manager provides a storage-centric view of enterprise performance.

"Before, we had utilities that monitored other servers' performance, unrelated to storage issues," says Crawford.

"Now, we can see the whole picture."

Working directly with Astrum's technical advisors, Crawford deployed StorCast company-wide. "The implementation of StorCast was pretty easy," says Crawford. "We had some configuration issues, but we talked to our Astrum sales rep and had very quick responses to our questions."

During the StorCast implementation, Crawford also added SNAP Network Attached Storage servers from Milpitas, CA-based Quantum Corp. to the corporate office's storage system. Historically, RAID had been used for the corporate office's storage. Legacy data still resides on the RAID system. New data is now shuttled into NAS servers.

Adding storage capacity incrementally is technically easier and less costly in NAS than in RAID, Crawford says. StorCast has saved the day a few times since its deployment in late 2000. "We've been warned in advance when a system's disk space was almost full," Crawford says. "We could then jump on the problem and have it fixed in a matter of minutes."

With StorCast in house, Crawford never worries about unexpected and costly storage server crashes. "I know I'll be warned in advance of any problems," he says. "These days, no news is good news."

For additional information about Astrum, visit its Web site.

For more information about Mortgage Information Services, visit its Web site.

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This was first published in October 2001

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