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Outsourcing turnaround: In-house success with Astute Networks Inc. appliance

Construction equipment dealer VCES solved performance issues using a flash storage appliance after relocating their outsourced data center on-site.

When Volvo Construction Equipment and Services was purchased by a new company four years back, a decision was made to outsource the data center. Like so many outsourcing decisions, it made sense on paper. But Volvo Construction Equipment and Services, with six locations across California and one office in Pennsylvania, experienced unanticipated, painful delays on mission-critical information stored at the new Chicago data center.

The 86 Volvo Construction Equipment and Services (VCES) employees and their customers relied heavily on enterprise resource planning (ERP) software called DIS QuipWare to monitor inventory, and frequently used applications such as Microsoft Exchange and a SharePoint database. "When you were waiting for a report -- for five minutes -- it was just brutal," said Jeff Baldwin, the IT manager at VCES.

Baldwin, who did not work at VCES for the two years the data center was outsourced, was called back to his former employer as the only full-time employee in the IT department (VCES also contracts out to a private company to help with management) and left to determine the most efficient way to remedy the problems: cut overall costs and improve performance for end users. The best option, Baldwin decided, was to migrate the VMware environment back to California and rely on a ViSX flash storage appliance from Astute Networks Inc. Baldwin had confidence in Astute from his part-time work at the company, where he said he saw the storage appliances live up to their promise. "[A hybrid system] was cheaper, but I wanted the performance guaranteed," Baldwin said. He eventually purchased a 1.2 TB ViSX G3 storage appliance priced at $33,000.

"The big deal was there [were] 40 servers and everything was virtualized in an environment back east," Baldwin said. In order to house their environment on-site, he essentially had to plan and implement an entirely new data center for the 80 TB environment. The new environment was based exclusively on Dell PowerEdge R510 servers running Linux, and Dell had suggested EqualLogic arrays for storage. Baldwin also considered a unified system from Hitachi Data Systems, but both were ultimately ruled out because he didn't think the performance of a hybrid system was worth the price.

Immediate results, payback

"We pulled it out of the box and had it up and running within 10 minutes -- it's that easy to do," Baldwin said. The ViSX is connected to an Ethernet switch and shows up as an iSCSI target on the network. He also said its ease of management was a plus because the appliance integrates with VMware and can be controlled from the vCenter plug-in.

Using Storage vMotion, VCES moved all critical performance applications to the Astute appliance. "[Queries] would literally take five minutes -- [you are] sitting there watching [disks] spin to pull all this stuff out of a SQL database, and now it takes five seconds," Baldwin said. In addition to the ViSX, VCES also uses a Dell network-attached storage (NAS) running Windows Storage Server 2008, and another running Openfiler software where Baldwin said non-critical applications are stored. A NAS server from Synology is used with Veeam backup software to snapshot and update virtual machine (VM) backups.

VCES was able to cut back on total costs as a result of the purchase, according to Baldwin; $32,000 a month spent to manage the old environment has been reduced to $10,000 a month. By Baldwin's estimate, the ViSX was paid for within three months.

About 80% of the 1.2 TB of capacity is currently being used on the ViSX G3, and VCES recently began using a demo of the ViSX G4, the newest version that Baldwin said they are considering purchasing.

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