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New York museum shuns SAN

New York's Museum of Modern Art claims it saved $50,000 a year on maintenance costs alone by ditching its SAN for DAS and NAS islands.

Centralization of storage may be all the rage, but at least one large enterprise isn't buying it -- the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.

Founded in 1929 as an educational institution, MoMA is widely considered the foremost museum of modern and contemporary art in the world. MoMA, which landed in international news in 2004 following a $400 million building redesign, sees between five and 15,000 visitors per day, and its IT environment must support over 100 application servers running Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Macintosh and OS400 operating systems to support over 750 users in six remote sites.

MoMA bought a SAN (storage area network) from "a big three-letter company" about five years ago, according to its chief information officer Steve Peltzman, but quickly abandoned the machine to collect dust and store some noncritical business and test data.

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"To be honest with you, I couldn't tell you what's on it right now," Peltzman said. "Nothing critical -- not even any operating data."

At the time the SAN was installed, Peltzman said, it quickly became too costly and unwieldy a proposition to get the SAN to work with the heterogeneous PC and Macintosh environment, and MoMA balked at the management costs.

"I have more of a budget than most nonprofits," Peltzman said, "but maintaining the SAN was too much for us."

Currently, a little over half of MoMA's data -- around 3.5 terabytes -- resides on Apple Computer Inc. servers attached to an Xserve G5 NAS box. Most of the Apple-hosted data is related to a database of more than 30,000 high-quality digital images, which Peltzman said his technicians prefer to store and work with using Apple systems.

"My client support team is largely Mac skilled," he said. "It didn't make sense to try to force them over to Windows. But other applications, like Exchange and PeopleSoft, obviously had to be on WinTel servers."

While the Apple servers are attached to NAS, the WinTel boxes have their own DAS islands, an infrastructure many companies have fought to get rid of in recent years. But MoMA is not only happy that way, it's happier than it was with a top-tier SAN in place, Peltzman said.

"In the end, it just didn't make sense to try to force it all onto one homogeneous storage box. It just wasn't worth the management and training, and maintenance headache," he said.

Peltzman said he is also happier to "not have all our eggs in one big basket," and estimates that the company has saved $50,000 to $100,000 a year on maintenance costs alone by abandoning the SAN.

Currently, the only centralized storage in MoMA's entire IT environment is a 6 terabytes Virtual Storage Engine (VSE) virtual tape system by Neartek Inc., which Peltzman said the company put in earlier this year after data growth and demand for 24-hour uptime for some systems, including ticketing, made disk-based backup a necessity.

Peltzman said MoMA saw the disk backup writing on the wall after an incident in which his Exchange database failed, and backup tapes were also no good. In the end, Museum users had to wait three days while the corrupted database was repaired by hand.

"You can imagine the hysterics with email being down that long," Peltzman said.

The Neartek product "really didn't take much momentum from a budget and integration perspective, since it slides in between our CommVault [Systems Inc.] backup software and our ADIC [Advanced Digital Information Corp.] Scalar tape library," according to Peltzman.

But even in implementing a virtual tape library (VTL), the museum that showcases the most cutting-edge art remained conservative, Peltzman said. At this point, data is kept on the VSE for a week before being shipped off site with Iron Mountain Inc. Despite its success so far with the VTL, MoMA will be treating the VTL as "redundant backup," rather than a replacement for tape, Peltzman said.

"There's still a qualitative issue of being able to hold a tape in your hand and being able to lock it up securely in an off-site facility," he said. "We won't be giving that up any time soon."


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