Washington Archives Management Goes Virtual

The move to a virtualized storage environment lets the company offer a level of service it couldn't offer in the past

May 5, 2009

4 Min Read
Network Computing logo

By Wayne Rash

When you run an archiving service, you have two issues that really matter. The first is where to put all that stuff that companies give you to keep for them. The second is how to find it again once it's been stored. Tom Radford, system administrator for Washington Archives Management in Fife, Wash., deals with the second problem every day.

"We service a number of businesses and industries, including health care, legal, and financial services," says Radford. "We do hard-copy records storage. We have two facilities where we store about a half million boxes. We also do imaging."

As a part of the service Washington Archives provides to its customers, Radford must provide a way to track each record stored by every customer. And he does, but it takes up a lot of storage. "Theyre getting an index to their documents. We offer a client-side login on our Web page where our clients view all of their documents," he says. "It's searchable running off of a SQL backend database. They can view contents, descriptions, retention dates, and it's customizable by the user." The index includes the bar codes that identify each record. In addition, there are a few fields they can change themselves.

The indexes fill nearly 1 TB of storage. To help handle the complexity of keeping track of that information, Radford has partnered with consultant Steve Parlee, a senior systems engineer from Moose Logic in Bothell, Wash. Parlee built the Washington Archives storage system, and plays a critical role in keeping it running. "We have two physical boxes and we're running 15 or 16 virtual servers," says Parlee. "If one fails on one server it will automatically restart on another without impacting the day-to-day operations. The servers back each other up in real time."Parlee chose DataCore's SANmelody storage system, which uses iSCSI over an Ethernet network and virtualizes the storage. The SAN supports Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and Citrix Xenserver v.5 SP2. "We have two Dell 2950 servers. We have two gigabit switches between them. Everything is multipath so we have great redundancy and fail over," he says. Storage is on HP DL180 G5 with 12 bays, and they are using eight of them. "The iSCSI backend is completely segregated from the production network. In our Xenservers we use QLogic 4062 hardware-based [dual-port] HBAs. While that's not required, we do it for performance because it helps offload the iSCSI traffic."

The DataCore systems each have two network interface cards, which plug into each switch and provide four active paths to reach the storage. "I could lose half the equipment. I can lose multiple components at a time; it's highly available," Parlee says.

Washington Archives deployed the DataCore SAN because of the need for high performance and for availability. Previously, the company's availability was hurt by aging and unreliable servers. "It was a straightforward migration," Parlee says. "We had two ESX servers. They were HPs, and the oldest one died. They were not using shared storage; they were using individual storage. We replaced those old servers with new hardware."

Parlee took advantage of the surviving server to create a disaster recovery site at another Washington Archive location in Lacey, about 40 miles away. "We took one of the old servers with a newer server and the drive shelf to the Lacey location and put up a mirrored network. It's their DR site."

Parlee monitors the operations of the Washington Archives setup remotely. "We have a product called MooseGuard and we monitor and manage and maintain the network," he says. "Tom handles on-site issues. We manage and maintain the hardware. We're basically responsible for their network."The move to a high-performance, virtualized storage environment has allowed Washington Archives to offer its customers a level of service that they had been unable to offer in the past. The company is working on plans to offer document imaging to customers that need it. Overall, the migration has been very successful, Radford says. "We have been able to take down half the network for maintenance during business hours and not impact production at all. We've been able to migrate everybody without any loss in day-to-day production."

Parlee says that Washington Archives uses a configuration that his company implements frequently for customers with a need for virtualized storage intensive applications. He said it was reliable and stable, and it costs slight over $100,000.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the challenges around enterprise storage. Download the report here (registration required).

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights