From staging elaborate presidential inaugurations to ensuring that all the appropriate lighting onstage for the dedication of a World War II Memorial ceremony goes according to plan, Hargrove Inc. understands that coordination and reliance on systems are crucial to achieve success.
Hargrove plies its trade by working behind the scenes to set up and run high-profile trade shows, exhibits, and a wide variety of special commemorative and political events.
And it draws on a massive inventory of high-resolution graphics drawings housed at its main site in Lanham, Md., to help accomplish its gargantuan task.
Hargrove creates floor plans as well as traffic flow signage for many of its events. An average trade show might require anywhere from 500 to 2,000 individual, customized signs.
Making things even more complicated, each venue typically features its own demographic challenges ranging from unique data center capabilities, freight handling and shipment duties to wireless parameters needed, according to Christina King, network administrator for Hargrove.
But Hargrove found itself faced with rapidly shrinking storage capacity, growing volumes of data and jeopardized operations due to an inefficient EMC Corp. storage box.
So company executives recruited systems integrator Plan B Technologies Inc. to help its existing storage solutions provider, Network Appliance Inc., solve the storage crisis.
The move to less costly and more scalable storage technology not only helped revamp Hargroves IT architecture but also radically remade its budgeted storage costs in the process.
King said her company is responsible for designs for the staging and event transformation of hotels and convention centers; dealing with security; and a tremendous amount of sign, décor and graphics work orders of information. A complex workflow system oversees trucks coming and going with equipment and necessary tools.
Major events that Hargrove has worked on over the last four years included this years presidential inauguration, featuring 58 events in 38 venues over seven days; 20 events in New York and Boston associated with the Republican and Democratic national conventions; decorating the National Christmas Tree and the Christmas Pageant of Peace; and Reagan International Trade Center tribute décor for President Reagans funeral.
Other events included the dedication of the World War II Memorial and associated events, the G8 Summit, the 10th anniversary of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the unveiling of the Heroes stamp honoring the heroes of 9/11, and the World Economic Forum meetings.
Hargrove currently runs a Windows-based environment, featuring eight Windows 2000 Servers and Windows Server 2003 based on a 1GB backbone. King said most of the companys storage handled by NetApps FAS 270 is devoted to Hargroves graphics and design work.
The company was under pressure to keep files online and available for archiving to re-create work done years earlier, as well as to send large files to travel off-network or to a centralized location. But with all the demands placed on it, King said an EMC Clariion FC4700 purchased by Hargrove four years ago began to show its cracks.
“Thats where our strain was. With EMC, we would spend an entire weekend with the configuration side of things,” King said.
“One of the things we could not do with Clariion was expand our drive space. We had to figure out how to move our data around to manage it. We share project orders, and the [storage box] would send it to different areas as we ran out of space on [the] 500GB drive. Its a very complex technology; to learn [EMC] language, learn the systems and do something [as] simple as increasing drive size is not an easy task.”
Calling EMC for help was often a dead end, said King. EMC would usually respond to a problem by calling in a local contractor who “may or may not” know what he or she was doing, causing further issues, she said. In addition, EMCs Clariion FC4700 storage processors instability caused many headaches for Hargroves IT staff.
“Over a three-year time frame, we had six different processor failures,” said King. “We were never given an explanation [by EMC] on how to prevent them. Every time we asked for an explanation, we were told it was a unique problem. We couldnt stop it from happening.”
Revamping Storage with NetApp
Determined to revamp its primary storage system, Hargrove called in the original party responsible for suggesting EMCs Clariion box three years ago—Plan B Technologies.
At the time, the systems integrator had suggested EMC as the best fit to provide Hargrove with a SAN (storage area network) environment, since its data was being stored on local hard drives.
However, once Hargrove decided to shift gears and move away from EMC, Plan B Technologies turned to NetApp.
“[Hargroves] lease was up on the FC4700, so they had a migration decision to make,” said Steve Taylor, chief technology officer for Plan B Technologies, in Bowie, Md. “They had evolved more into a NAS [network-attached storage]/SAN play. Their applications have changed in the last three years since we implemented the FC4700, becoming more reliant on [Microsoft Corp.s] SharePoint and Exchange.
“Because of those needs and standard file server delivery, we recommended a ubiquitous storage platform that was simple and very low cost. We recommended a NetApp FAS 270 that could do FICP (Fast Infrared Communication Port) and iSCSI and protect data because they desired using [NetApps] snapshot functionality,” Taylor said.
Using NetApp products, Hargrove implemented the FAS 270 filer with 8TB of storage space. NetApp technology running on the appliance includes Data OnTap 7G, the primary storage array operating system; CIFS (Common Internet File System) software; iSCSI software; SnapManager for SQL and SnapManager for Exchange; and SnapRestore.
King said Plan Bs preparation and familiarity with Hargroves systems made the decision to switch to NetApp less risky.
There are certain features King said she enjoys about the NetApp FAS 270 appliance: the straightforwardness of the products navigation and user interface and its ability to easily increase size without having to shift data around.
“NetApp is a little less proprietary. EMC products—we basically couldnt touch it. If we needed anything, we had to call EMC. For NetApp, if a drive needs to be replaced, we pull it out, and its up and running again. They can do maintenance if its something we cant do,” she said.
Since it is not uncommon for Hargrove to save 500MB files and 1GB or 2GB of storage—with many of those larger files used for three-dimensional rendering—NetApp has greatly increased the companys backup capabilities via its snapshot technology.
Before, King said, Hargrove would start its backup on a Friday evening and finish the operation on Monday for full backup of 17 LTO-1 tapes. King said NetApp technology enables her staff to copy snapshots and move the data off-site more quickly and allows for single-mailbox recovery in Exchange to assist with file restores and recovery.
Along with increased storage space and iSCSI-over-Fibre Channel connectivity benefits, King said the biggest distinction between the two configurations is the NAS capabilities on the NetApp filer.
“That was a huge selling point. This system is NAS and SAN. We were only using Clariion for NAS and file sharing, so we had applications underutilized,” King said. “When we addressed this, our CEO said, Why do we need another SAN system? He chose against that because of backup capabilities.”
Despite getting an earful, and a spirited attempt by EMC to retain Hargrove as a customer, Plan B pointed its client toward NetApp because the technology and the companys needs dictated the marriage, said Taylor.
“Hargrove is in business to do what they do; theyre not in [the] business of managing storage,” Taylor said. “So we have to make sure that whatever they use is something they personally can work with. If it doesnt work, then Hargrove knows where to turn.”
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