Virtualization Help County Cuts Costs, Boost Storage Performance

Clackamas County in Oregon is in the same boat as other counties -- it needs more storage but has a shrinking IT budget.

May 13, 2009

4 Min Read
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Local governments are suffering. As real-estate values drop, so do their revenues. But unlike the federal government, cities and counties can't just print more money. Instead, they have to do more with less, and for their IT departments, that means a move to virtualization not only can help, it can be a critical budgetary lifeline.

Clackamas County in Oregon is in the same boat as other counties, large and small, rich and poor. This area of breathtaking scenery east and south of Portland has a growing IT need and a shrinking budget. In addition, it needs to serve its population without interruption and, if it can, improve the reliability and security of its operations.

"We're facing the same challenges many people are," says Chris Fricke, a senior IT administrator for the county. "The primary challenge was how to manage our upper-level storage with declining budget."

Of course, there's more to keeping up with data growth than just boosting capacity by buying more hard drives. "We had to do it seamlessly so it wouldn't impact our users -- so they wouldn't even know it's happening," he says. When he studied his storage needs, Fricke says he realized he could improve operations and also cut costs if he managed his storage usage properly. "Upwards of 90 percent or our data is untouched after 120 days. We started looking at deduplication and decided if we were going to chase capacity we'd do it in a more efficient manner."

Because of budget constraints, Fricke couldn't just go out and buy a bunch of new servers or hard drives. Instead, he had to find a way to manage the servers and the iSCSI storage in a way that made sense and added flexibility. "We primarily use Windows file servers. As soon as your filer gets too old to be considered production, you're looking at change that requires downtime. We were facing that on some of our Windows file servers when we couldn't grow them without downtime," he says. "That changes when your move to virtualization because you can move from filer to filer with the F5 Acopia."

The Acopia is part of F5's ARX series of storage virtualization appliances. It allows simplified management, as well as the creation of tiered storage so that data that doesn't change or needed to be served up quickly can be moved to less costly storage systems, while still remaining available.

Fricke notes that Clackamas County shares another requirement with other counties in the U.S. -- the need to have a disaster recovery capability, but without the funds to support a second site just for that purpose. Here again, storage virtualization came to the rescue. "One of the other challenges that is solved is that here in the county we have an initiative for disaster recovery just like everybody else," he says. "Because we're not a huge organization -- we have only 2,000 people we're responsible for -- we don't have the budget to have a disaster recovery cold site. Everything we put in place has to be production."

One of the things the F5 Acopia does is support virtualization and backup between physical locations. "We bought the appliances in pairs," he says. "Each level in our SAN holds our production data and can replicate the others."

Another option was to either cluster his servers or his NAS devices, both of which would have been more expensive and would not provide the flexibility he needs for peering policies and data migration. "We were able to have a box in one site that's active and live and another that's in standby," he says.

Clackamas County is still in the midst of moving to a virtualized environment, but Fricke says that he's pleased. "So far it's worked out really well," he says. "The combination of the F5 Acopia with our existing storage tiers and Data Domain, what I've seen so far is an immediate 10 terabyte reduction in our tier one and two storage." That results from policies he put into place to move data older than 120 days to tier three storage. "It gives us the capability to weather this economic storm by giving us the ability not to chase capacity with dollars we don't have," he says. Fricke expects to recover the approximately $100,000 cost through the cost savings in the first year.

Fricke is already planning for the future, once the economy improves. "I'm expecting our existing tier one to fall in line," he says. "What we're really going after when dollars free up is performance. We'll really start considering some kind of enhanced cache iSCSI box we can put in front -- a box that we never would have considered before."

The Clackamas County data center is based on Windows servers that reside primarily on Hewlett-Packard C-class blades along with a few P-class blades. Fricke says he uses Nortel and Juniper networking gear and that the F5 ARX system is central to his ability to manage his costs and provide the service he needs. "Any time I white board what our storage looks like, the F5 is always central to that picture. It is the glue that ties it all together," Fricke says.

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