Law Firm Builds A Case For SAN

After mulling various options, Whiteford, Taylor & Preston deploys a Fibre Channel SAN with a disk array and tape library.

October 11, 2004

3 Min Read
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For law firm Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, digitizing its reams of paper records was taxing its storage infrastructure. But solution provider Alliance Technology Group, Hanover, Md., stepped in to consolidate the firm's storage with a SAN that will enable its infrastructure to grow with its caseload.

The Baltimore-based law firm, with practices in medical malpractice, litigation, intellectual property and bankruptcy, was moving from a paper-based repository of exhibits, transcripts and depositions to one that was digital. As a result, its storage capacity has grown four- to sixfold in the past two years and is expected to double again next year, said Neil Cotherman, engineering manager at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston.

A little over a year ago, the firm was running about 35 Compaq and Hewlett-Packard servers, all of which used internal disk drives, with a few also directly connected to external storage arrays, Cotherman said. The firm knew it needed to expand its storage capabilities and was deciding between a SAN and a NAS. But predicting future storage needs was difficult.

"We can predict storage for the current systems we have. But every year, we get new projects, which make [future storage needs] hard to predict. That was especially the case when we started scanning in documents," Cotherman said.

To help the law firm plan the expansion of its storage system, Alliance installed Network Storage Analyzer (NSA), an application that collects statistics on all of a company's machines to show exactly how much storage a customer has and what it needs. "Instead of pulling a number out of the air, NSA gave them a look at what they needed," said Mark Stamper, senior storage consultant at Alliance.NSA helped Alliance plan a strategy for upgrading the firm's storage. "We used NSA to show them their files, what is being backed up, what is not being backed up. They had no idea. So we gave them that data to write their RFP," said Pat Edwards, vice president of sales at the solution provider.

Based on the assessment, Whiteford, Taylor & Preston put out an RFP in April 2003 to EMC, StorageTek and Network Appliance. The law firm chose StorageTek and its solution provider partner Alliance because the vendor's offering was sized right for the firm's needs.

Alliance installed a StorageTek D178 array with about 1.6 Tbytes of raw capacity, two 16-port Brocade Communications' Fibre Channel switches, a StorageTek L40 tape library with LTO-1 tape drives and room for 20 cartridges, and Veritas Software's NetBackup Data Center with Shared Storage Option.

The solution was set up in September 2003, and the law firm's data was migrated to the new infrastructure with very few problems. Last April, the tape library was upgraded to handle a maximum of 40 cartridges, Cotherman said.

The law firm faced some challenges with its Veritas software when it migrated to Windows Servers 2003 and Microsoft Exchange 2003, Cotherman said.As part of the infrastructure makeover, Alliance also installed a large American Power Conversion UPS that can run the mission-critical equipment for up to two hours in the event of a power outage. That's come in handy, as the main power has gone down three times in the past few months.

However, the APC part of the job hasn't been flawless. At one point, the law firm needed a new customer-replaceable unit. Following installation instructions from an APC rep, Cotherman accidentally touched a live wire to a particular screw, causing a fire in the data center.

Going forward, Whiteford, Taylor & Preston will be looking to install a storage similar but smaller system in its Washington office. "We have the inside track," Alliance's Stamper said.

Solving the law firm's backup infrastructure woes has also freed resources for other tasks. "Now they can work on a lot of other projects they otherwise couldn't consider," Stamper said. "For example, they can [consolidate] their Exchange e-mail from three offices into central management."

Cotherman also expects the firm eventually will need to expand its SAN. "I'm sure we'll call Alliance in," he said.0

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