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Home Depot unit keeps networked storage simple with one vendor

In a time when many users demand the flexibility of a multi-vendor environment, one user says the way to reduce the complexity of storage management is to stick with one vendor.

When Tom Giannetti came to Home Depot Inc.'s Maintenance Warehouse unit, he knew he needed to meet one huge expectation:...

Migrate the organization's flawed direct-attached storage (DAS) system to a network while keeping staffing costs level.

His approach?

"Keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple," he told attendees at Storage World Conference 2003 on Tuesday. "Look for a single-vendor solution. Why introduce new complexity into the organization?"

The problem with networks built by multiple vendors, Giannetti said, is that when problems occur, there's a little too much buck passing and not enough problem solving. "Avoid the finger-pointing sessions," said Giannetti, who's director of IT systems at San Diego-based Maintenance Warehouse, a direct supplier of products such as lighting, plumbing tools and janitorial supplies.

It was a unique message at the conference, where, in general, much was made of the virtues of partnership and vendor interoperability. But Giannetti's account was well received by attendees, many of whom said his advice will be useful "for formulating a better strategy," in the words of John Dockendorf, a systems integrator at the Florida Institute of Technology.

Giannetti needed a good strategy to tackle the challenges he faced at Maintenance Warehouse.

When he came to the company, Giannetti said, storage existed on multiple isolated arrays. All backup was done to tape, which was later stored off-site, and the company never verified that backups had been successful. (And more than 30% of the time, they hadn't been.) Full backups were done once a week, at most. And it took three to four hours to restore lost data.

"The company, at that point in time, thought that was a good and viable backup and recovery plan," Giannetti said.

As they devised their strategy, Giannetti's team chose the idea of networked-attached storage (NAS) over a storage area network (SAN). Their opinion was that NAS would save money by utilizing the company's existing infrastructure, both by saving hardware costs and leveraging the company's existing IT staff. Furthermore, Giannetti said, he could find no evidence of the common criticism made of NAS: that it can slow down a local area network (LAN) by putting extra stress on the system.

Once the company had settled on building a NAS system, Giannetti and his team developed a list of "criteria filters." The first was that the system cost no more than $1.5 million to acquire. The second was that total cost of ownership not exceed $1.9 million over a five-year period.

And, when it came to assessing each vendor, Giannetti and his team insisted that the testing be done on their terms. That meant that Maintenance Warehouse came up with the benchmarks and did the testing on its own over a six-month period.

One vendor balked at this idea and even dropped out of the process temporarily in protest, Giannetti said.

But, he said, storage pros shouldn't be shy about deciding how testing should be done: "You're holding the dollars. You are in control of what happens. You tell them what you want to do."

Ultimately, the company chose Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Network Appliance Inc. The new NA system includes 24 terabytes (TB) of clustered and mirrored storage in San Diego; it's backed up to disk every 15 minutes. File restores take less than three minutes now, Giannetti said.

That means that, when a user loses access to a particular file, he just notifies the IT department -- which can promptly send the user a link to the lost data. And that's keeping the staff happy. "The response that we've gotten from the business on this has been outstanding," he said.

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