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Investment firm finds value in SATA array

Swelling databases and slow response times led UVEST Financial Services to dump its NAS in favor of a mid-tier storage array.

There comes a point when network attached storage just isn't going to cut it anymore. That time came recently for UVEST Financial Services Inc., and a storage area network was the answer.


Replication for disaster recovery, snapshots for backups, those were pretty important [criteria as well], because we were going at this looking toward the future.

Josh Wopperer, UVEST network engineer

about 250 desktops in its Charlotte, N.C., headquarters, 300 remote sites and more than 1,000 sales reps around the country using Web-based applications. The majority of the financial services firm's boxes run Microsoft software. UVEST uses Windows XP Professional, Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000 Server, SQL Server 2000 Enterprise and Exchange Server 2003 Enterprise.

UVEST had reached a tipping point about two years ago with its network attached storage (NAS).

The company was using Windows-based Maxtor MaxAttach NAS 4300 and 430GB and Unix-based Quantum Guardian 4400 Server 440GB for NAS, but they were quickly filling up the boxes.

"We were growing so fast. We had many SQL databases that were growing and an imaging database that was growing very fast," said Josh Wopperer, UVEST's network engineer. "Our NAS started to not respond well, and that's what our imaging was on."

With a mounting problem, Wopperer said his team evaluated several kinds of storage arrays, including Fibre Channel and iSCSI products before finding a SATA array that seemed to have adequate capacity and speed while keeping costs down. UVEST looked at the EMC Cx300i and Ax100i, the EqualLogic PS200e and various Hewlett Packard products.

Living with less connectivity

Storage analyst Mike Kahn of the Clipper Group Inc., in Waltham, Mass., said many enterprises make storage decisions based on criteria rather than go for the top-of-the-line model from the hottest storage vendor.

"Most enterprises have varying level of requirements," he said. "Some are for high performance and high security. When you look at the very big arrays, all of those products are giant network machines. Inside, there is a lot of connectivity, so you can connect lots of disks to lots of servers."

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Mid-tier storage products, like EqualLogic's PS200e, have fewer ports and less connectivity, but can meet the needs of a company like UVEST.

"It's better than me having to pay five times the price in order to have instant satisfaction," Kahn said. "People are making those decisions intentionally, and in many cases, they are managing the tiers."

What were Wopperer's top criteria for evaluating storage arrays?

Cost, included features and transfer speed were deciding factors, and the company chose the EqualLogic PS200e. "Replication for disaster recovery, snapshots for backups, those were pretty important [criteria as well], because we were going at this looking toward the future," he said.

Fibre Channel's benefits didn't justify cost

Recently, the company decided to purchase additional storage and went through a second round of evaluations. The company's first and second arrays cost it about $35,000 each, and it plans to purchase a third for about $48,000, Wopperer said. "When we first reviewed [them], all the Fibre Channel solutions were $150,000 to $200,000 more," he said. "For the little amount of speed that we gained, it was ridiculous."

"The EMC Cx300i came close to the EqualLogic PS200e," he said. "We chose to continue with EqualLogic because it was $20,000 less then the EMC with the same software -- replication, snapshot and array manager. Even though the EMC unit had Fibre Channel 300GB 10k, compared to [EqualLogic's] SATA 400GB 7200k disks, we did not feel this to be enough of a technology advantage to compensate."

While UVEST decided to stick with EqualLogic, no product is perfect. Wopperer said greater and faster storage would be an improvement, as well as improved analysis and data-scrubbing capabilities. He would also like to see better reporting tools, an information lifecycle management (ILM) analyzer and migration tools.

As UVEST grows, the company will need to acquire additional storage to keep its sensitive financial information safe. The company continues to explore storage options. "We always like to stay ahead of the curve," Wopperer said. "We are always willing to look at other products to ensure our decision is the best for our company."

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