Barry University

After a three-day Exchange server outage, the college went with a NetApp NAS filer

July 31, 2002

5 Min Read
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In August 2000, Barry University's email system came to a sudden, sickening, crashing halt. And the problem was more serious than anyone realized at first.

The Catholic university, based in Miami Shores, Fla., suffered a three-day email outage when its Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Exchange 2000 servers crashed. Justin Moses, the systems administrator at the university whose duties include managing the Exchange servers, remembers the ordeal with painful clarity.

"At the time, our backup solution was not very good, so we weren't able to recover from tape very well," Moses recalls. "It took seven to 10 hours to do a recovery, then it would crash. It was a total mess."

The outage left many of Barry University's 18,000 students and 2,500 faculty and staff without email access. Moses says the university's IT group traced the problem to a faulty RAID controller in the Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) PowerVault 6300 storage array that was attached to its Exchange servers. He adds that Dell was very accommodating in replacing the component, once the university notified it of the issue.

In the wake of that event, the school's IT department, headed by CTO John Beaubrun, decided to move its Exchange data from direct-attached storage to network storage. Its goals were to provide better uptime (i.e., avoid a repeat of that three-day outage) and to perform backups and restores faster.Barry University first took its requirements to Dell, which proposed a SAN with EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) Clariion storage arrays and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) Fibre Channel switches.

Beaubrun was also interested in evaluating a NAS filer from Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP). When he approached Moses about the idea of using NetApp, Moses balked -- his understanding was that Exchange is finicky about working with NAS filers.

It's easy to see why he might think that: Microsoft recommends that Exchange, as well as SQL Server, be used only with SAN- or direct-attached storage. But NetApp -- which has gone back and forth several times with Redmond on this issue -- says its SnapManager option makes its filers perfectly compatible with Microsoft's Exchange or SQL Server, even though Microsoft hasn't officially certified it via its Windows Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) program (see Microsoft vs. NAS: The Sequel, NetApp: 'Thanks, Microsoft!', and NetApp on Red Alert).

Barry University checked out the SnapManager software, which NetApp bundled with its F820 filer configured with 1 terabyte of storage, and decided to give it a whirl. It installed a test unit in January 2001. For several reasons, it eventually decided to go with the NetApp instead of the Dell SAN.

"Gauging the Dell solution against NetApp's was like comparing chalk with cheese," Moses says.First, he says, NetApp includes a native Snapshot feature, which takes an image of the system's data at four-hour intervals, allowing an IT administrator to recover data in the event the original becomes corrupted. To get a similar capability on the Dell/EMC Clariion, Moses says, would have required an external option for an additional cost.

In addition, Barry University was reluctant to introduce Fibre Channel into its network. "We already had a Gigabit Ethernet switch," Moses says. It set up dedicated Gigabit Ethernet links between its two Exchange servers and the F820.

NetApp also shrank the school's backup window -- dramatically. Previously, it took Barry University four days to run a complete backup. With the NetApp filer connected to the Spectra Logic autoloader, it takes 10 hours. "It makes me sleep better at night," Moses says. Using Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP), NetApp's filer is able to back up multiple drives. The university uses Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS) NetBackup to back up its Exchange servers to a Spectra Logic Corp. Gator tape library with three AIT-3 drives.

The university finished moving over all of its student and faculty Exchange accounts to the NetApp filer as of January 2002. However, there were a few things Moses would have done differently.

First, in March of this year, he accidentally brought down the Exchange servers for about six hours when he was testing out clustering features of Microsoft Windows 2000. [Ed note: oops!] "We had two servers connected to the same VLD [virtual local disk], but that version of SnapManager didn't support clustering," he says. The next version of NetApp's SnapManager, which came out two months later, does support Microsoft's clustering.The other problem Barry University has is that it's running out of space on the F820 filer. It originally purchased 1 TB of storage, and within one month it discovered it needed another terabyte. "Snapshot is a very space-intensive application, so you need double the space for it," says Moses, who adds that the ability to perform quick restores is worth the additional cost of the storage.

The maximum capacity of the NetApp F820 filer is 3 TB of raw data; Moses says the system easily will be maxed out by the end of this year. The university plans to get an F880 filer, which has a max capacity of 9 TB, and redeploy the F820 to its campus in Orlando, about 240 miles away. Eventually, Moses wants to replicate the data between the two sites -- in case a hurricane hits the main facility in Miami. "We're in Florida, after all," he says.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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