With network data storage needs expanding rapidly and a current storage solution in place that the company had clearly outgrown, the information technology team at LifeCare Assurance-a long-term care reinsurer based in Woodland Hills, Calif.-had to find a new way to manage network storage. The challenge was augmented by the fact that as a mid-size company with limited IT resources, LifeCare needed a solution that was not only cost-effective but one that could be easily managed and maintained by the internal information technology staff.
Searching for IP
In the fall of 2002, Mike Wolf, manager of technical services for LifeCare, began researching various network attached storage (NAS) solutions after the company's direct attached storage solution had reached its limit in terms of system performance and management. "With 36 Microsoft Windows 2000 servers on the network, our direct attached storage method became almost impossible to manage because it took too long to troubleshoot problems and anticipate capacity needs, plus we had network bottlenecks," says Wolf.
Having considered Fibre Channel storage area metwork (SAN) and network attached atorage solutions, which were costly to implement and manage, Wolf began looking at IP SAN solutions based on IP SCSI technology. IP storage (Internet protocol storage) is a method for moving blocks of data using IP as the transport layer. iSCSI (Internet small computer system interface) is a TCP/IP-based protocol for establishing and managing connections among IP-based storage devices, hosts and clients. The combination of the two technologies allows for storage networks to be moved onto existing Ethernet network infrastructures rather than using a dedicated Fibre Channel network.
"The IP storage and iSCSI technology was very new at the time we began our research, but devices based on this technology clearly gave me more for my money," Wolf remarks.
Starnet Data Design, LifeCare's value added reseller, set up a demo of the StoneFly Networks (San Diego) Storage Concentrator, and the LifeCare team was impressed by the results. "The StoneFly solution was very inexpensive compared to traditional SAN devices and the technology was solid," explains Wolf, who estimates that the two-terabyte solution, which included the StoneFly Storage Concentrator i1500, Nexsan (Los Angeles) ATAboy2 Storage Array, and Intel (Santa Clara, Calif.) PRO/1000 T IP Storage Adapters, totaled $25,000. A comparably sized SAN based on Fibre Channel or proprietary technology can cost up to five times that, according to Wolf.
Plug and Play
Implementation of the solution was, for Wolf, one of the project's most notable successes. "The implementation was completely plug-and-play and presented no unexpected challenges. We put an interface card in each server, set up a couple of parameters, and in 15 minutes, it was ready to go," he comments.
Wolf is now able to monitor and manage storage activity through one browser-based control panel, which has greatly simplified storage administration. Network performance bottlenecks also appear to have been cleared up. "The very lack of calls to the help desk seems to indicate that the network is functioning much better with the network attached storage solution, as opposed to direct attached storage," says Wolf.
"The nature of our business requires that a lot of data needs to be kept and this solution will allow us to continue to grow and manage our storage needs efficiently and cost effectively."
Case Study Closeup
Company Name: LifeCare Assurance Co., Woodland Hills, Calif.; 2002 long-term care premiums of $190 million.
Lines Of Business: Long-term care reinsurance.
Vendor/Technology: StoneFly (San Diego) Storage Concentrator i1500; Nexsan (Los Angeles) ATAboy2 Storage Array; Intel (Santa Clara, Calif.) PRO/1000 T IP.
The Challenge: Find a cost-effective, scalable solution for network data storage.