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RBMG drops direct-attached storage for SAN

When RBMG discovered it had hundreds of unused storage gigabytes, the company decided to dump its storage system for a SAN.

Resource Bancshares Mortgage Group (RBMG) conducted a storage utilization survey and made a startling discovery: Almost two-thirds of its 750G byte storage capacity wasn't being used. "We were staggered by just how much our disk space was unused," says Chip Register, chief technology executive for Columbia, S.C.-based RBMG. The survey convinced him to dump RBMG's direct-attached storage system and bring in a storage area network (SAN).

Register was stunned by the extent of the system's storage utilization problems, but his daily experience had already demonstrated storing data directly in servers was inefficient. He knew that RBMG's IT personnel who specified servers didn't always know what the users' data requirements were.

Register had been looking for alternatives to direct-attached storage for some time. He'd followed the development of SAN technology since the mid-1990s and had not been impressed. "To me, the acronym SAN meant 'See Announcement Next' year or 'Simply Another New' toy," he recalls.

Network-attached storage had also left Register cold. "The bang wasn't there with network-attached storage," says Register. "It seemed like a hybrid between what I had and what I wanted."

The survey convinced Register that it was time to find a SAN that was not 'Simply Another New' toy. He evaluated SAN storage solutions from EMC Corp. in Hopkinton, Mass., Sun Microsystems Corp. in Palo Alto, Calif., IBM Corp. in Somers, N.Y., and Compaq Computer Corp. in Houston. After some analysis, the final contenders were Compaq and EMC.

During the evaluation period, Register and RBMG Technology Services Manager Todd Warnock attended a Compaq-hosted Storage Days event in Colorado Springs, Colo. With a hands-on introduction to SANs, they got a clear picture of how RBMG's storage could be managed as a single, unified resource shared among many users and systems.

The hands-on demo turned the tide toward Compaq, but Register had been leaning in that direction anyway. He preferred Compaq's distributed computing model to EMC's mainframe focus. Also, most of RBMG's network systems already ran on Compaq servers.

Soon after returning from Storage Days, RBMG ordered two Compaq StorageWorks Enterprise Storage Array 12000 (ESA12000) Fibre Channel systems equipped with a total of one terabyte of storage. The system included Compaq SANworks storage-management software and Brocade Silkworm Fibre Channel fabric switches.

As part of its SAN implementation, RBMG also installed the Compaq SANworks Management Appliance and SANworks Resource Monitor software. These tools provided a centralized point for managing and monitoring SAN elements, including switches and storage arrays.

"The Compaq SANworks Management Appliance gives us another view into our SAN systems," says Register. "This enhances our ability to manage performance and identify any bottlenecks that may exist before they become a problem."

RBMG's IT staff teamed with Compaq Global Services to implement the StorageWorks SAN. Since RBMG was already a Compaq shop, the team ran into few compatibility issues during installation. Even better, there were no production or downtime problems.

"The biggest issue we had was the ramp-up time in understanding SAN," says Register. "It was a cultural change in IT operations." The IT staff had to get used to having separate strategies for servers, operating systems and storage. Before, they only looked at the strategic direction for servers and the OS.

RBMG decided to lease its StorageWorks SAN solution, as well as all future IT systems. After evaluating five leasing companies, the company chose Compaq Financial Services. RBMG now leases all of the company's Compaq equipment.

"My CFO and I agreed that we were tired of writing off computer assets every three years," says Register. "With leasing, I get to swap out our technology every three years, lowering our maintenance costs and reducing the time spent on cost justifications."

The StorageWorks SAN supports approximately 80% to 90% of the company's mission-critical applications, including general accounting, loan origination, core back-office systems, corporate system of record using a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp. database, human resources, enterprise data warehousing, back-end World Wide Web site and quantitative risk management.

Soon after going live with its new StorageWorks SAN, RBMG also implemented the Compaq StorageWorks Enterprise Backup Solution (EBS). The EBS includes a Compaq StorageWorks Enterprise Modular Array 12000 (EMA12000), Veritas NetBackup software plus a Compaq StorageWorks TL895 tape library, which is equipped with seven DLT tape drives and 96 tape cartridges for total unattended backup capacity of 6.7T bytes.

Register's skepticism of SAN technology is a thing of the past. "The improvements in moving to the Compaq StorageWorks SAN were so obvious that we never looked back," he says.

Once shy of SANs, the IT staffers are now "SAN bigots," Register says. "It's cool stuff. IT people want to do cool stuff."

To learn more about Resource Bancshares Mortgage Group, visit its Web site.

For more information on Compaq storage, visit the storage section of its Web site.

For More Information:

>> Tips: Tech (SAN/NAS)

>> Discussion Forums: Storage Networking

>> Best Web Links: Storage Area Network (SAN)

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