Arming Against Mother Nature

Case Study: Isilon and RCL systems help oil and gas exploration company Penn Virginia back up data at its vulnerable sites.

When hurricane Rita ripped through Houston in September 2005, it forced Gary Bailey, director of IT for Penn Virginia, to quickly take notice.

What if a large-scale weather event like Rita forced the company to shut down its Houston offices for an extended period of time, Bailey wondered? Would the company be able to recover its backup data and set up seamlessly in another location without losing significant time?

Penn Virginia, an oil and gas exploration company based in Radner, Pa., with offices in Houston, Dallas and Kingsport, Tenn., deals in large amounts of data, as much as 2TB to 3TB. And, despite that Bailey backs up data religiously, he suspected it might take too long to get workers set up in another office while restoring large amounts of data from a tape backup in the event of a natural disaster such as a Category 5 hurricane.

It was at this point that Bailey decided to look for a new, more modern storage solution, one he would eventually purchase from Isilon Systems, of Seattle.

Penn Virginia purchases raw geological data on CDs or DLT (digital linear tape), which can vary in size from 4GB up to as much as 60GB, according to Bailey.

Twelve geologists and geophysicists in the Houston office analyze this data to determine the most likely location of oil and gas deposits. They use the Kingdom Seismic Software Suite from Seismic Micro-Technology, also in Houston, to help them find this information.

The resulting project files are often between 40GB and 60GB, and each project file comprises hundreds of sub-files, Bailey said. These files were being stored on Hewlett-Packards HP StorageWorks 1000 Modular Smart Array with two 1.5TB volumes and then backed up to tape every week using Iron Mountain off-site storage.

"We have two to three terabytes of data, somewhere in that area code, and it gets to be pretty cumbersome to back up," Bailey said. After Hurricane Rita, he began to take a closer look at the backup systems he had in place, he said. Even though his department does daily backups, he was concerned about what a major hurricane like Rita could do.

With that in mind, Bailey said that he began to look for a high-performance solution that would enable him to replicate the data in the Houston and Kingsport locations.

For the previous two years, Bailey said that he had been working with Royce Landman, founder of RCL Systems, a five-person consulting company located in the Houston suburb of Stafford. Landman has more than 15 years of experience working in the oil and gas industry, providing support for SMT software, and in designing custom, high-end workstations to run SMT software.

Landman had been working with Penn Virginia scientists building workstations and providing SMT software support. Bailey explained that during a conversation with Landman in December 2005, Landman suggested that Bailey take a look at Isilon for his storage solution issue.

Isilon uses a cluster-based storage solution—the grouping or "clustering" of storage nodes (industry-standard boxes of hardware including Hitachi or Maxtor drives and Gigabit Ethernet or InfiniBand back-end switches)—to produce a single, shared pool of data that can be scaled to meet capacity and performance needs simply by adding or removing nodes.

Next Page: SAN and throughput problems.