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SAN heals Andersen Windows' storage pains

A consistent need for storage and a large company acquisition forced Andersen Windows to invest in a scalable storage scheme.

A consistent need for additional storage and a large company acquisition forced Andersen Windows to invest in a long-term scalable storage scheme.

Some companies don't see the data deluge coming, but David Hill at Andersen Windows Corp. did. Even so, it took a large company acquisition to help him convince company executives that a storage area network was necessary.

Hill, the Microsoft System Administrator and Technical Lead at the 99-year old Bayport, Minn.-based company, had been measuring Andersen's data growth and disk space usage for six years and had seen a steady pattern: as regular as clockwork, every 11.5 months the company's data storage needs doubled. Hill tracked the figures so that he could budget for the company's storage needs and have concrete figures to back up his plans.

Andersen isn't unusual. According to Hill many organizations today find themselves in the same data overload pickle caused by the addition of new business applications, more data requests from internal business analysts and pack-rat users who save every file.

Hill was staying even until 1999, when Andersen acquired its largest national distributor, Morgan Products Ltd. At that time, the company realized it needed a better long-term scalable scheme to handle the coming years' data storage needs. "We were maxing out," Hill recalled. Andersen's NT servers were all internally driven which meant that it was difficult to place available disk space where it was needed since it was tied to particular servers. Data wasn't easily accessible and reconfigurations were no picnic either, taking 30 minutes or more.

After researching several SAN tools and setups, Andersen chose the Magnitude hardware platform from Eden Prairie, Minn.-based XIOtech Corp. because of its disk mirroring and virtualization capabilities. Using Magnitude, Hill and other administrators could combine all the system's physical storage disks into a single storage pool, reassign underutilized space and virtualize, i.e. create virtual disks, for specific storage needs. If Hill needed to upgrade actual disks, the virtualization resources also allowed him to upgrade the disks on the fly without system shutdown -- and neither the servers nor system users knew it was happening, Hill said.

Overall, setting up the SAN wasn't as complex a process as advisors suggested, Hill said. "We took a long time to plan everything out, and once we had that done things fell into place quickly."

It took about eight months to plan, build and get the SAN up and running, according to Hill. The total cost was approximately $380,000.

Hill and his team can now change RAID levels and add and assign servers to multiple and shared clusters without taking the system down. Magnitude's management tools have trimmed storage administrative headaches since a single person can handle administration. System performance also improved. "With 1,400 users our four Exchange servers used to get buried with disk I/O," Hill recalled. Since installing the SAN, disk performance has improved eightfold, according to Hill (who carefully watches over all of these metrics).

Hill hopes to soon use his new tools to implement LAN-free backup by removing backup traffic from the production LAN. Andersen eventually hopes to use Magnitude as a tool to help unify its NT and Unix applications. "That's true centralization. Unifying the two environments will also give us significant savings," Hill said.

For additional information about Andersen Windows Corp., visit its Web site.

For more information about XIOtech, visit its Web site.

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