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User connects EMC Clariions over Cisco for DR

It took five rounds of talks with EMC and some technical help from Cisco, but AQR Capital has a working DR plan connecting EMC Clariions over 50 miles using Cisco.

The New York City power blackout of 2003 was a wake-up call for AQR Capital Management to improve its disaster recovery (DR) plan. However, reproducing its labyrinth of DAS at a second site was "an ugly solution," according to Jerry Levine, vice president of IT at AQR.

The firm oversees $20 billion in assets but is technically a small business with just over 100 employees. That said, it's managing 16 terabytes of storage in total and this is growing fast. When the company decided to move its headquarters out of New York to Greenwich, Conn.,

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Levine saw an opportunity.

"We needed a SAN at the new HQ and a second SAN at a DR facility farther away," he said. AQR purchased three Cisco Systems Inc. MDS 9216i switches and three EMC Clariion CX700 SAN arrays, deploying two of the switches and arrays at its headquarters in Greenwich and a third switch and array at its DR site 50 miles away.

Selecting Cisco

"We had no idea we would be considering Cisco; we had no idea they were even in the SAN business," Levine said. He was excited to make the discovery, as AQR already has members of its staff that are experts on Cisco. The company recently chose Cisco as its IP phone vendor. "It took us three months to train them on SAN … I prefer not to bring in a barrage of consultants. We have a lot riding on the SAN and wanted the expertise in-house."

From a pure technology perspective, AQR preferred Cisco's SAN switches over Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and McData Corp., because Cisco's support for FCIP comes in the same box. "We didn't need another machine, which was a big selling point for us," Levine said.

AQR created one physical SAN carved into four virtual SANs (VSAN) using Cisco's VSAN software. It stores all its databases on one VSAN, its development data on another, its general file server data on a third and a fourth VSAN is carved out solely for EMC MirrorView replication traffic.

"In order to get the FCIP [feature] working with the CX700 over our OC-3 link, Cisco told us to put the MirrorView traffic on its own VSAN," Levine said. AQR had MirrorView working fine between Clariion arrays locally, but as soon it sent the data over its WAN, it failed. "Once we put [MirrorView] on its own VSAN, it worked flawlessly," Levine said.

AQR also uses VMware Inc. with Cisco to replicate instances of each virtual server over to the DR site. "With the flip of a switch, a server can be up and running at our DR site," Levine added.

Negotiating with EMC

AQR began evaluating SAN products from IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and EMC Corp. toward the end of 2004. "In the end, with proper negotiations, we figured out EMC is in the business to do storage … they are on top of their game with proven products, and we were able to get very favorable pricing," Levine said. He declined to disclose exact pricing details but did say that AQR negotiated 50% off the list price by focusing on total cost of ownership. "Maintenance can be unreasonable so we really focused on that to get it reduced, almost eliminated." It took five rounds of negotiations with EMC, he said.

Down the line AQR plans to rollout a boot from SAN capability and is also looking at EMC SnapView for point-in-time copies of its data.

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