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Storage management reins in file bloat

The Genetic Testing Branch employed storage management software when its RAID storage filled up more quickly than expected.

Storage management reins in file bloat
Branch saves space with storage management

The Genetic Testing Branch employed storage management software when its RAID storage began filling up more quickly than expected.

by Rick Cook

When the Genetic Testing Branch of the California Department of Health Services in Berkeley, Calif. installed a new Compaq Computer Corp. NT server in 1999, it assumed that the 54G bytes of RAID storage would last its 120 employees for three years. Within a year, the server was 75 percent full, and the storage consumption was accelerating.

That's when the branch decided it was time to implement storage management policies and installed StorageCentral from W. Quinn Associates Inc. in Reston, Va. (recently acquired by Precise Software Solutions in Westwood, Mass.). As a result, the storage on the server met the enterprise's needs for the full three years planned for, and there is some to spare.

The Genetic Testing Branch is responsible for testing mothers and newborn babies for genetic diseases and informing the public about the diseases and treatments. The job involves everything from maintaining databases of information on test results to preparing brochures and presentations on the subject. Therefore, the Branch has a mix of very large files, such as graphics and databases, and the usual small productivity files that an enterprise produces. According to Deborah Moorer, associate information systems analyst for the branch, the first efforts concentrated on the "fat users," the top ten users who were taking up nearly half the space on the server.

The first step was to generate reports showing who was using how much disk space. Then using the StorageCentral Disk Advisor module, the fat users were sent HTML reports showing where they were using space. They were asked to delete or archive files that weren't immediately needed or to move them to the disk on their desktop computer. The HTML reports allowed the users to administer their files from within the reports, which made it easy for the users to comply.

"Once users found out they could manage their files through the HTML report, they liked it," Moorer says. "It's taken a little bit of training, but it's pretty simple. We do file backup. So, they can restore if they delete something that they didn't want to delete."

The result of the first phase was positive. "During the initial cleanup we recovered about five gigabytes of disk space," Moorer says.

The next step was to monitor disk usage with daily reports and to set quotas for the top ten users. The reports showed a number of typical problems with the way storage on the server was being used. "You know how people are about cleaning up stuff," Moorer says. "They continue to create files, and they're kind of negligent about cleaning up afterward." The result was that files that hadn?t been touched since they were created consumed a lot of disk space. By creating reports on files that haven't been accessed in a year and sharing them with the users, the branch encourages users to delete or find another home for them.

To handle the problem of old files, the branch offers to burn CD-ROMs of infrequently accessed files. This is especially effective for the graphics files created to produce brochures, which are only needed when new versions of the documents are being prepared for printing.

Duplicate files were another problem, as were files that had been put in temporary directories to be shared with other users. "We have a temporary drive where you're supposed to share files, but a lot of stuff just stays there," Moorer says. "It becomes like a common trash bin." It was also easy for users to lose track of files because the server doesn't have file management software to let users know where they had stored everything.

Finally, of course, there were the usual collections of inappropriate files. "We found a large number of MP3 files," Moorer says. "We were able to remove those, and then with FileScreen (part of StorageCentral) we set a rule that prohibits saving MP3 files to the server."

For Moorer, one of the major advantages of StorageCentral is the automatic daily reports. She says they keep her on top of trends in storage usage and alert her to developing situations. "If I didn't have something like StorageCentral, I'd have to be out there constantly monitoring storage space," she says. "Otherwise there's no way we'd be notified we're getting this kind of increase in NT."

By managing user files on the server, the Genetic Testing Branch was able to rein in storage growth and keep to the normal three-year schedule for upgrading or replacing computer equipment. "We could have added more storage," Moorer says, "but I think this was a less expensive solution, and it's also a better solution because a lot of this stuff is junk.

"I would say that if we didn't have something like StorageCentral, our server would be completely full by now," Moorer says. "We probably would have had to upgrade our RAID array six months ago."

For more information on W. Quinn, visit its Web site.

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