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State agency tiers records storage with Compellent

The South Carolina attorney general's office estimates it will save thousands by storing millions of paper records in digital format using Compellent's automated tiered storage.

As recent acquisition news from Iron Mountain Inc. highlighted this week, records management and data storage management are blending into the same IT discipline. One state agency has recently begun blending the two with automated tiered storage from Compellent.

According to Sandee Sprang, director of information technology for the South Carolina Office of the Attorney General, there are two factors making the agency's records retention policies unusual -- retention periods measured in centuries, not days and an inability to predict what the next large legal case will be.

"We're under stringent records requirements -- all capital cases have to be kept for 15 years, and all violent crime records have to be kept for 25 years," she said. Meanwhile, with an average of 8,700 cases open at any one time, storage growth will be erratic, especially since the office also houses the state grand jury.

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All in all, the agency has some 15,000-square feet of physical storage space being taken up both onsite and in an offsite facility by hundreds of banker's boxes full of paper records dating back as early as the 19th century. The goal, now that the first 8 terabyte (TB) deployment of the Compellent storage area network (SAN) is in place, is to start at the present and work backward digitizing all those paper records, a process expected to take years and with a big question mark when it comes to forecasting capacity.

Spang said she couldn't even give a ballpark estimate of what all those pages will represent in bits and bytes when the work is done, but the agency has a very precise estimate of the money saved by digitizing paper records -- $126,630 per year.

In addition, she estimated that keeping 60% of the agency's storage on Tier 2 FATA disk rather than Tier 1 Fibre Channel drives will save approximately $40,000 per year and eliminate storage costs, as well as personnel time, since the migration process for tiered storage is automated within the Compellent system.

"We have attorney generals' opinions going back to 1816," said network engineer John Loy. "Most files need to be on the system forever -- there's no real time limit on any of our data, so we wouldn't have been able to tier storage the way most other people do it."

Loy added that since Compellent does the automated migration of data at the block level, independent of the application host, he doesn't have to worry about operating system compatibility.

"A lot of other storage vendors create drivers which do file migration at the OS level," he said. "But we're a NetWare shop, and there aren't a ton of drivers being written for NetWare. We might move to Linux soon, but whatever we do, I don't want my storage system dictating what my operating systems are going to be."

Meanwhile, Loy did say there was one significant item on his wish list for the Compellent SAN -- the expansion of the automated tiered storage capabilities to include offsite media, whether optical, WORM removable disks or tape.

"Especially for the Instant Replay [snapshot] data that's included with the SAN," he said. "I would really love to be able to move that stuff onto some type of archival media to send offsite as a DR copy."

Compellent also offers both replication and WAN optimization built in, but Loy said cost and legal concerns make setting up a full secondary data center for DR a virtual impossibility for his shop. "I would really love to see them add another tier to their migration to address this," he said.

Compellent spokespeople indicated the request is one the company has gotten from multiple customers. "Support for archival media as a fourth tier is being evaluated as a feature [for future releases]," said Bob Fine, senior product marketing manager for Compellent.

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