Benchmark Energy Products

Energy company turns to IP SAN for hurricane-proof disaster recovery

April 1, 2006

3 Min Read
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When it comes to IT in the fast-paced energy business, there's not a lot of room for error -- particularly when it comes to storing key information. Any technology that can help is worth considering.

Ask Steve Collins, IT administrator for Houston-based Benchmark Energy Products. His company manufactures and sells chemicals that oil drilling companies use to do "frac jobs" -- the process of fracturing oil wells so the black gooey stuff will flow. Without the chemicals, there's often no oil. And without the right data, there are no chemicals.

"The oil industry is time-sensitive," Collins says. "Our industry goes back to the Texas wildcat operations where you have to move fast. There's always a deadline. A small frac job could be worth $100,000. Our chemicals are a small part of that, but they have to be there or it won't work. If you miss a deadline, it's a big deal."

Last year, Collins went looking for a couple of SANs to protect his company's mission-critical applications, including email, collaborative software, databases storing orders and deliveries, and information on the types of chemicals needed for specific jobs. Reliability was key: Lost data can prevent Benchmark from filling orders and delivering products, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Collins says he wanted Benchmark's first SAN to be one he could set up quickly and manage easily. A reseller suggested an EqualLogic iSCSI SAN. "A light bulb went off," he says. "I looked at iSCSI three years ago when it was an emerging technology. I was sold on the concept, but it was a lot of work back then to make it work."I thought, 'I don't have to worry about Fibre Channel, I don't have to have Fibre Channel cards in my servers.' I have 10 servers running, I'm not going to put Fibre Channel cards in all of them. Ease of use was a real big thing for me."

Collins says it took about 10 minutes to get an EqualLogic demo box up and running. He was sold -- almost. He wanted a second opinion before making his choice. So he went to EMC, which was just rolling out its iSCSI Clariion midrange systems. (See EMC Mounts iSCSI Blitz.)

"We let EMC take a run -- but they were pushing us towards Fibre Channel. They said, 'You need the speed. iSCSI will never perform for you.' Then they had a split personality iSCSI machine with a Fibre Channel backplane. Their choices were not clear. They want to sell you Fibre Channel, and then begrudgingly will sell you iSCSI."

Benchmark purchased a dual-controller EqualLogic PS100e for its Houston main office and a single-controller PS50e for its DR site around 400 miles away in Midland, Texas. The total price for 5 Tbytes of storage came to less than $60,000.

The real test for the system came last September when Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf of Mexico."It looked like it would come right into Houston," Collins says. "We shut down the data center, but first we replicated everything we needed to replicate. We did last-minute snapshots. We had a hot spare on the server that hosts our accounting system, and we were ready to bring that up in a moment's notice. It was easy to do with those two SANS."

The brunt of the hurricane missed Houston, but Collins says knowing he could replicate and bring up his DR site gives him peace of mind. "We had an infrastructure in place so we could take care of ourselves. We were not reliant on an outside company. Will another hurricane threaten Houston soon? You never know. But as the guy responsible for our data, I didn't lose a lot of sleep over it."

Collins says there's more to do before he has complete disaster recovery. He intends to add tape and perhaps other types of archiving systems. He's also considering adding blade servers to his SAN. "This isn't the end of our evolution as far as DR goes -- but we've got a key piece."

Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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