Brown & Williamson

Tobacco giant lights McData directors for server and storage consolidation project

January 8, 2003

4 Min Read
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When Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. more than tripled the size of its SAN last year, it unexpectedly became one of the first adopters of McData Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MCDTA) forthcoming 140-port director switch.

Fortunately, the SAN went live without any major complications, and Brown & Williamson was able to breathe a deep sigh of relief [ed. note: before it started hacking up a lung].

In the third quarter of 2002, the tobacco company, based in Macon, Ga., was planning to implement a large customer resource management (CRM) project. The group responsible for managing the SAN piggybacked off that to justify the purchase of two McData director-class switches.

The company first installed a 64-port Intrepid 6064, running at 2 Gbit/s. Then McData brought in the 140-port 6140 -- and even though it was technically three months away from shipping, Brown & Williamson felt comfortable enough to give it the green light. Basically, the 6140 was the same box as the 6064, only with more ports, says Mark Swaim, technical services manager at Brown & Williamson (see McData Hits 140 Ports).

"It wasn't like going from a switch to a director," he says. "We viewed it as an extension of the existing director."Swaim and his five colleagues are responsible for designing and building the company's SANs, managing its mainframe and Unix systems, and working with the Windows server group. The group installed the two McData directors, set up with dual redundant fabrics, over the long July 4th weekend last year. They connected the development servers first before moving the production servers over. "Oh, yeah, we had a big party after that one," Swaim says. (They threw a tailgate at the next home game of Macon's arena football team, the Macon Knights.)

The 6140 had only one little glitch, according to Swaim: It was reporting that one host bus adapter wasn't working, when in fact it was. Fixing the issue required upgrading the system's microcode, which went off without a hitch. "I was pleasantly surprised," Swaim says. "It shut down very cleanly, and our computers didn't lose any data." He says the switch has been rock-solid ever since.

This kind of situation was exactly why nondisruptive code-load -- a feature McData calls HotCAT -- was critical for Brown & Williamson, Swaim says. "It's a big deal because our windows of opportunity for taking the production environment down are small or nonexistent. That eliminates a lot of planning we would have had to do."

Currently, Brown & Williamson has 30 hosts connected to the SAN. That number is probably going to grow to around 100 at end of 2003, Swaim says, as the company replaces its SCSI-attached storage with Fibre Channel storage. The SAN serves a total of 20 Tbytes in two IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) Shark storage servers and an IBM FastT 700 array. "We think 20 [terabytes] will hold us through the end of 2003," Swaim says.

Brown & Williamson worked with McData and Champion Solutions Group, a systems integrator based in Boca Raton, Fla., to design a migration plan. Basically, Swaim says, he just took the old SAN architecture and duplicated it on the 6064 and 6140 directors.The company was already a McData shop. It deployed its first SAN two years ago with two 1-Gbit/s 16-port McData 3016 switches connected to an IBM Shark. Brown & Williamson later added the second Shark and two more 3016 switches, which connected to Windows NT servers. Those 16-port switches are now connected at the edge of the 2-Gbit/s SAN.

For Swaim, the biggest advantage in moving to 2 Gbit/s was that it doubled the pipe to the IBM Shark 800, which provides 2-Gbit/s FC interfaces. Previously, Brown & Williamson had to use four Fibre Channel cards to get the throughput it needed for its data warehouse. "Of course," Swaim adds, "you need a machine that can keep up with that."

That's why Brown & Williamson early this year is going to bring up an IBM p690 Regatta server, which will replace 12 existing servers. The Regatta server will run several enterprise applications, including those from SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP), PeopleSoft Inc. (Nasdaq: PSFT), and Manugistics Group Inc.

In considering the move to a director-class Fibre Channel switch, Swaim worked with Champion Solutions to look at the strengths and weaknesses of various products on the market. Brown & Williamson considered Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) switches, but Swaim says McData's director was more mature. "It gives you a comfort level that they're used to enterprise environments," he says.

Meanwhile, Swaim says he's done some research on Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) new Fibre Channel switches, but he says he's unsure how well its first-generation SAN equipment will function. "We have Cisco equipment in our network, and the network guys like it. But this is Cisco's first dabbling in storage area networks. I'm not going to bet my paycheck on it."Easy enough for him to say so, since he's already cast his lot with the McData directors. But so far, his bet has paid off: Swaim still has a job.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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