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NexGen arrays save manufacturing firm from storage silos

Philadelphia Mixing Solutions ditched four isolated SANs to deploy two hybrid NexGen arrays, with 32 TB of capacity apiece for primary storage and DR, avoiding storage silos.

When Linda Lingle took over as IT director at Philadelphia Mixing Solutions Ltd. in 2013, she quickly set out to consolidate a "hodgepodge" of storage systems that had data spread across four discrete SANs. As part of an IT overhaul, the maker of industrial mixing equipment replaced the four storage silos with two NexGen Storage N5 hybrid flash arrays for primary and backup storage.

To complement the NexGen arrays, Philadelphia Mixing added Veeam Software backup for its VMware virtual machines (VMs) and installed ExaGrid Systems disk backup appliances.

The company, based in Palmyra, Pa., has 32 TB of capacity on each of its NexGen N5 hybrid arrays and it purchased two 48 TB capacity packs. That gives each array 80 TB of raw and 55 TB of usable storage.

One N5 array handles 25 TB of production storage that previously was scattered among different SANs. The second N5 box provides SAN-to-SAN replication to a newly established disaster recovery (DR) site.

NexGen Storage Inc.'s N5 arrays place PCIe flash on the compute bus, and use the vendor's branded ioControl quality-of-service (QoS) software to accelerate spinning disk.

"When I first got here, storage was really a hodgepodge," Lingle said. "There was no rhyme or reason behind our virtualization project. We had separate SANs, [but] no ability to use any of the major VMware tools. None of the storage talked to each other. The infrastructure was subpar in all places: switching, networking, firewalls, storage, servers -- the whole nine yards. It was just awful."

Because it was running discrete SANs, Philadelphia Mixing lacked key insights on its storage, including redundant data and how much storage it needed to support business applications. Lingle also sought to eliminate backup tapes, which had been stored in the same non-climate-controlled facility that housed its 750,000-gallon testing tank. The company also had no true DR when she started.

"I had a fairly good idea of what we needed to start with," she said. "We were using iSCSI already. We switched to a local 10 GB [Ethernet] backbone to the SAN, which we knew would be part of the overall plan."

The NexGen user interface lets us manage QoS right on the box. We needed it to be simple to use. Our network engineer uses the software to carve up storage and present it to the [VMware] ESXi boxes.
Linda Lingle, IT director, Philadelphia Mixing Solutions Ltd.

Lingle said she considered hyper-converged systems and other hybrid arrays from various vendors. Lingle and her team eventually whittled the finalists to NetApp and NexGen Storage.  Density and scalability were considerations, but Lingle said NexGen's ioControl management software proved to be the clincher, with its QoS a key feature.

"The NexGen user interface lets us manage QoS right on the box. We needed it to be simple to use. Our network engineer uses the software to carve up storage and present it to the [VMware] ESXi boxes," Lingle said.

"We could use the same NexGen SAN for virtual desktop infrastructure [VDI] and for servers, and know they aren't going to trounce one another. Our mission-critical Exchange applications always get the storage, the IOPS and the bandwidth they need."

To protect its VMware environment, Philadelphia Mixing implemented Veeam Software's Availability Suite to back up VMs to an ExaGrid node at its main data center. The ExaGrid backup appliance deduplicates the backup data and replicates it to a second ExaGrid node at the DR facility.

The storage upgrade was not without hiccups. Partway into the implementation, a sinkhole opened up on the company's property, necessitating the relocation of an electricity transformer. That forced Philadelphia Mixing to run off a generator for two months. The company had VDI in place for most employees to work remotely, but design engineers needed access to large physical workstations.

"Unless they could get access to the building, it meant our single most expensive human capital was dead in the water," Lingle said, prompting the company to expand its VDI to include production systems.

"We needed a DR method that could keep our design engineers functioning if something winds up happening. The N5 arrays give us that flexibility."

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