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Cloud storage appliance aids MedPlast with primary data, backup

Medical device manufacturer MedPlast found cloud storage with StorSimple the answer to its data protection and primary data needs.

Medical device manufacturer MedPlast Inc. first turned to the cloud for backup. Within months, the company began using StorSimple Inc.'s cloud storage appliance and service provider Amazon S3 for all its primary storage workloads on VMware.

Dan Streufert, MedPlast's IT director, said he brought in a StorSimple 5010 device as a backup target in June 2011 because the company's backup load had outgrown its EMC Data Domain target and its backup window was too long. StorSimple allowed Streufert to dump Data Domain and limit MedPlast's Hitachi Data Systems SAN to storing only the firm's Oracle database.

Seeking a way to protect data at MedPlast's Tempe, Ariz., headquarters and manufacturing plants in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin, Streufert originally liked the idea of replicating to the cloud for disaster recovery (DR) as well as backup.

“I was trying to get something that interacted with the cloud, because I think that’s the way storage is going,” Streufert said. “We were growing out of our Data Domain box, and would have had to spend money either upgrading it or doing something else. The unlimited capacity of the cloud was attractive to me. Getting it offsite without having to pick up tapes was definitely a plus. And for DR, it gives us a chance to do more around disaster recovery very cheaply.”

As it turns out, the cloud was more valuable than Streufert expected. He found that the StorSimple box was easy to use and added reliability with its ability to quickly take snapshots on the appliance as well as cloud snapshots that can be cloned in a separate data center.

“It’s a basic iSCSI server,” he said. “Anybody who knows how to use iSCSI knows how to use this, so we started throwing some primary data on it. You point it at the cloud, and your volume is mounted. And you can get it back within a few seconds. As you access blocks, it will pull data back on the fly. In the case of DR, you’re not recalling tapes.”

MedPlast has a 20 TB license and can expand to 100 TB on its 2U 5010 appliance, which includes solid-state drives (SSDs) and a SAS tier.

“If you have a lot of data to store, it will go from SSDs down to SAS, and then out to the cloud,” he said. “It’s sort of a hybrid, but you can take snaps that go into the cloud and can even go off to separate service providers.”

Added Streufert: “I think you get the best benefit to put as much primary storage as you can on it, and then take snaps and shoot that up to the cloud.”

Streufert doesn’t yet trust StorSimple 100%, but that day may come. “We still have space on Hitachi,” he said. “With new technology, performance is always improving, but for key workloads like an Oracle database, that’s still on Hitachi. As soon as the performance is there, we’ll move that stuff over to the cloud.”

Research your cloud storage setup

Streufert’s research for cloud storage was a two-pronged process. He evaluated service providers, pitting Amazon against Microsoft Windows Azure and Nirvanix, and compared StorSimple to other cloud storage gateways.

“Anytime you’re talking about storage -- especially mission-critical enterprise data -- you want to make sure you do your homework,” he said. “I did a lot of research on [Amazon] S3. I determined the best bang for your buck was Amazon for reliability. All data is AES-encrypted in transit and encrypted in the cloud, and the cloud provider doesn’t have the encryption key. Only I have that.”

The choice of an appliance wasn’t as clear-cut. “We were on the list to evaluate Cirtas, and they went under,” he said. “I looked at StorSimple, TwinStrata and Nasuni, but StorSimple offered the features we were looking for. It’s not just a CIFS share, it’s an iSCSI interface -- that gives you flexibility. I also liked its snapshot approach, and StorSimple is VMware certified.”

Streufert said his cloud storage setup saves the company money, but that wasn’t the main goal.

“Our main issue was reliability,” he said. “With enterprise data, backup, archiving, disaster plans, you don’t want to go to the cheapest guy on the block. You don’t want to waste money, but going with the cheapest guy isn’t the smartest way to go. I definitely would say it’s a cost savings, but it’s also an enhancement.”

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