County Finds Right Storage Mix

Case Study: An integrator's multivendor solution solves Lowndes County's storage conundrum.

If patience truly is a virtue, then Aaron Kostyu is probably viewed by his peers as a very virtuous man. As director of IT for Lowndes County, a county of 102,000 people in southern Georgia near the Florida border, Kostyu spent the better part of two years searching for the perfect, single-vendor storage and backup solution for his countys IT systems.

Still, despite the time spent in the search, time was definitely not on his side, as Kostyu realized that the countys existing system was already way too labor-intensive and would not keep up with the countys ever-growing backup and storage requirements over the long haul.

At the time, the county was operating 30 servers containing public records data including property deeds, marriage certificates, engineering documents and other government records, and it would soon be moving beyond its capacity to keep up with the growing volume.

"The amount of data was beyond our ability to back it up. We could only do the backup on live data after-hours because of the performance hits on the servers using traditional backup methods," Kostyu said.

Whats more, "We didnt have a good method to do what we needed to do. We had outgrown our solution, and only critical backups were getting done," Kostyu said.

Kostyu determined that the county needed a new, modern SAN (storage area network) and an automated backup system that could store public records and survive changes in technology. But after he talked to several different vendors, none could provide him with everything he needed in a single-vendor package.

What he said he didnt initially understand was that the countys backup needs required an a la carte solution from several different vendors and that it would take a systems integrator to help him select the best components for each job.

Then Kostyu met Stephen Ayoub, account manager for systems integrator Optimus Solutions, in Norcross, Ga.

Ayoub said that he was sitting in his office outside Atlanta one day in mid-2003 when he decided to give Lowndes County a cold call as part of his regular sales calls. He said that he instantly connected (personality-wise) with Kostyu and understood what needed to be done.

"They were looking at a backup and disaster recovery strategy. They had talked to four or five different vendors, and nobody could articulate what they were trying to do back to them. I went down there and had an hour-and-a-half light board session with them, and it just clicked. I left there with a conceptual design and just attacked it from there," Ayoub said.

In his assessment, Ayoub identified four major areas that needed to be addressed. First, as was clear to everyone concerned, Lowndes County had outgrown its backup infrastructure and needed to update it. The county IT department did not have enough data storage space; the direct-attach storage model the county was using was no longer adequate for the demands on it; the county needed WORM storage technology to store and retrieve government records regardless of the technology in place in the future; and, finally, it needed inexpensive, automated off-site data replication.

Rather than recommending that Lowndes officials go with a single vendor to tackle all these challenges, Ayoub said he suggested a solution that involved a mix of brand-name vendors such as IBM, EMC Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., using the best of breed from each one.

"What made it a strange solution is that it is really mixing technologies, which you dont normally see from a VAR [like us]," Ayoub said. "Most VARs sell products from [a single vendor]. We are unique in that we purchase products from [different companies] and we sell competing products and we have expertise and we are really good at [working with] them."

For the storage pieces of the solution, Ayoub said that he selected the EMC Clariion CX300 as the storage subsystem and the EMC Centera for the WORM drive technology. He said he recommended these solutions because they provided the exact technology Lowndes County needed in a package that also required very little maintenance or oversight from the Lowndes County IT staff.

/zimages/4/28571.gifEMC is widening its storage goals. Click here to read more.

"EMC does everything for you. They hold the keys to the box, so its less work for the [Lowndes County] staff, and the GUI ... makes it very easy to use," Ayoub said.

Kostyu said he has been very satisfied with the results so far. "The EMC equipment has been just a dream to work with, and the company monitors it on a regular basis," Kostyu said. If EMC detects any problems with the system, he said, they e-mail him and arrange to come in to do maintenance before being asked or before the problem causes larger issues.

It was also very important that Ayoub act as the point person for the project and install a solution that was ready to use with little tinkering by him or his staff, Kostyu said.

Next Page: Staying on point.