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Computer Crime Center solves data overload with HDS NAS

Law enforcement agency ditches direct-attached storage for an HDS NAS system.

Picture this: A bunch of FBI agents huddled around a computer surrounded by piles of paperwork, styrofoam coffee...

cups and well, not to ruin the scene, but a stack of IDE hard drives from Western Digital Corp.

The South Carolina Computer Crime Center, based in Columbia, S.C., is a cooperative effort between the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the United States Secret Service and the FBI. The Center started out in December 2002 with this exact setup, a simple direct-attached storage environment.

However, it quickly outgrew this as the cases and the amount of digital evidence to be stored mounted up daily. Investigators at the Center recover and analyze evidence in technology crimes related to credit card fraud, pornography, security breaches within corporations and other top secret stuff.

"Our evidence repository has been growing dramatically, and we were forced to continuously purchase hard drives to store extremely large image files," said Walker Johnson, an information resource consultant at the Crime Center. "We were in bad shape."

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The Crime Center had approximately 300 IDE drives, many of them 80 GB Western Digital drives housed in IDE drive trays on agents' desks. "The management of it was difficult as we could look at only one case at a time, which made analysis and searching of the data an arduous process ... It was very limiting," Johnson said.

The Crime Center worked with Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) partner Data Network Solutions Inc. for about a year to find a better solution. They looked at Fibre Channel SANs, but didn't want the cost or aggravation of rewiring the whole building, and eventually settled on a plan to upgrade their local area network to gigabit Ethernet and run a NAS system.

Specifically, the Center is using an HDS Thunder 9570v array plugged into a Network Appliance Inc. NAS GF940 gateway to combine a high-end storage array with file-serving capabilities. It also had to buy an IBM server and an Enterasys Networks Inc. gigabit Ethernet switch to complete the network solution. The total cost came to $250,000.

"Now, the investigators can look at 200 cases at a time, and it takes one to two hours rather than 24 hours to search for files," said Johnson. He added that the software enables them to perform deep searches to recover e-mail and deleted file evidence.The South Carolina Computer Crime Center is the first state crime center in the United States. Right now, there are seven multi-state crime centers across the country, but ultimately the goal is to have a center in every state as they are "overloaded with work," Johnson said. "A lot of the guys are trying to custom-build NAS boxes as the servers are overloaded … it's not a pretty picture."

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