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Hospital prescribes hybrid flash array to speed storage performance

Wheeling Hospital improves storage management and data protection with switch to Dell Compellent hybrid flash array, which will replicate to an all-hard drive version off-site.

Wheeling Hospital in West Virginia confronted three common, interrelated challenges to upgrading its storage area network: simplify storage management, reduce hardware costs and reduce backup windows.

To address these issues, the 276-bed hospital replaced aging EMC storage with a flash-optimized Dell Compellent SC8000 hybrid flash array that provides 60 TB of primary storage. That system replicates data off-site to a second Dell Compellent array, with 60 TB of hard disk drive capacity for disaster recovery.

The two Dell Compellent hybrid flash arrays cost less than the allocated budget of $800,000, or about the same price it would have cost to upgrade its EMC array, said Sean Loy, the hospital's director of clinical informatics.

Getting two systems for the price of one was a huge bonus. As a small, community-based health care system, we need to maximize our limited technology budget and turn our profits to getting better testing equipment that directly improves patient care.
Sean Loydirector of clinical informatics, Wheeling Hospital

"Getting two systems for the price of one was a huge bonus. As a small, community-based healthcare system, we need to maximize our limited technology budget and turn our profits to getting better testing equipment that directly improves patient care," Loy said.

Since installing the Dell Compellent SAN this year, Loy said backup times have been cut in half due to the system's replication and snapshots. Rather than bumping into peak production, backups take place overnight and are completed before medical staff begins working in the system.

Key priorities included price, flash performance

Storage was part of an upgrade of Wheeling Hospital's enterprise architecture that also included new servers and applications. Initially, the hospital's IT team intended to upgrade the EMC Clarion CX4 SAN array that it had in place for five years. The maintenance contract on the EMC boxes ended in September 2013. During the preplanning for a refresh, Loy and his project team weighed other EMC storage, including the VNX2 line.

Although Clarion storage provided the required performance, Loy said the sticking point centered on the costs and time associated with adding storage to the EMC SAN. That's when his team investigated Dell storage, first considering EqualLogic arrays before deciding on Compellent.

"As we started looking at the requirements for our next version of storage, we wanted to devise a system that would enable us to scale. EMC has a great product, but it just wasn't competitive on price once we compared it with the Dell Compellent," Loy said.

Wheeling's primary Dell Compellent SC8000 hybrid flash array features two tiers of flash memory and one spinning disk tier. When a write comes in from a server, it automatically goes to a top tier of single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash. If data needs minimal writes but fast read speeds, Storage Center trickles it down to the middle tier of multilevel cell (MLC) NAND. Data that requires long-term retention storage gets pushed to the third tier of hard disk drives.

"The way we have the Dell Compellent SAN optimized, it's going to write as much storage as possible in the flash tiers. We're utilizing more than 90% of our tier-one SLC and a lot of our tier-two MLC storage [in this way]," Loy said.

Wheeling Hospital's secondary SAN for replication consists of two tiers of rotating media to provide redundancy and enable rapid recovery.

Wheeling's SC8000 system has a standard DDR3 interface to support 64MB of memory. Each disk enclosure supports up to 24 hard drives or SSDs in any combination.

Integrated support for clinical applications, SQL apps, and snaps

In addition to the Compellent boxes, Wheeling Hospital added 10 Dell PowerEdge 720 rack servers and two PowerEdge 910 devices to support a Microsoft SQL Server database that manages patient records. The hospital also uses Microsoft Hyper-V for testing and development.

Network enhancements included the installation of four Dell Networking 8132 switches to support 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) capabilities, up from a GbE environment the hospital had in place.

Storage for databases and Allscripts Sunrise hospital communications portal services reside on dedicated physical servers. Web services, development and testing, and training applications all are virtualized.

Brent Estep, a senior systems engineer at Wheeling, said replication is only one piece of Compellent's data deduplication puzzle. Wheeling relies on Compellent's Replay Manager and its tight integration with the Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to create and manage application-consistent snapshots of SQL Server and Hyper-V on the Dell SAN.

When Replay Manager creates a backup of a Hyper-V guest virtual machine, it leverages VSS writers to pause the I/O on the guest VM -- including transactional data such as SQL Server and Exchange -- to ensure the guest VM's restore point is consistent with apps. Leveraging Replay Manager and VSS for Hyper-V also means guest VMs are able to remain online while the restore point is being created.

"It's a feature that was really easy to set up and configure. We can take snapshots as often as we want," Estep said.

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Does a hybrid array meet performance needs, or do you require all flash?