World Wildlife Fund

After a rocky start, WWF masters Exchange backup with Compellent SAN

May 23, 2006

4 Min Read
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To the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), disaster recovery usually means trying to save the giant pandas or snow leopard from extinction. To its IT staff, it means being able to bring Microsoft Exchange back if the server fails.

The WWF is a Washington-based non-profit group that attempts to protect endangered species and their habitats. One endangered species it decided it couldn't save was direct attached storage. To keep Exchange running, the WWF recently installed a Compellent SAN and is experiencing the joys and pains of Fibre Channel storage, snapshots, and disk-to-disk backup.

Anne Topp, director of network services for WWF, says the decision was daunting but necessary. With about 400 users at headquarters taxing the organization's three file servers, and with backups lagging and Exchange recovery spotty, there was no choice.

"I was alarmed about bringing a SAN in -- it's a different technology," she says. "I heard a lot of horror stories. But we were constantly trying to delete files to free up space, and managing direct attached storage was a nightmare. Now we have more flexibility. We can take disk space from one server and assign it to another."

Price was another issue. "We're a non-profit, and we use our IT funds very carefully," she says. That ruled out midrange systems from EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and Hitachi Data Systems -- all originally under consideration.The WWF lowered it sights. Topp's group looked at HP's low-end MSA systems. After all, the organization was using HP servers, and the 18-person IT staff was familiar with HP's management software. But there was another choice yet to come: The group heard about Compellent from a consultant's recommendation and liked what they saw at an on-site demo. WWF installed a 6-Tbyte Compellent Storage Center system late last year.

Topp doesn't say how much the group spent on its SAN, but the list price for a 6-Tbyte midrange system with features such as snapshots and dynamic provisioning is around $88,000.

"Of course we hadn't heard of Compellent. They weren't a big name player," she says. "But they were easy to use; the system was point and click. Also, Fibre Channel and iSCSI in one system was a selling point. We're not using iSCSI yet, but I can see us using it down the road."

Still, there was a time when Topp and her staff probably wished they'd never heard of Compellent. WWF negotiated a 100 percent money-back guarantee if it was unhappy with the system, and nearly demanded its money back.

"We got off to a rocky start with Compellent. We had a hard drive failure right away, which had nothing to do with Compellent, but the system rebooted itself and brought everybody down. We talked to [Compellent CEO] Phil Soran -- he said the chances of that happening again were slim because all the stars had to be aligned. Well, it happened again within a week. We were close to getting our money back. We had everybody including Phil on the phone."Soran apparently has a future in customer service if the CEO thing doesn't work out. He talked the WWF crew into sticking with Compellent, and Topp says they haven't had problems since.

That let them get to the more pressing issue of Exchange recovery. Topp says the SAN shrunk Exchange server recovery time from eight hours to 30 minutes because it allowed them to back up to disk instead of tape.

"We had a difficult time recovering Exchange before. We do a DR test every year, and have a hard time recovering exchange from tape. With replays we can recover now if we have internal failure."

By replays, she means Data Instant Replay -- Compellent's term for snapshots. But they took a little getting used to before Topp's crew mastered them. At first, the group took too many snapshots and were in danger of running out of space to store them. Finally, WWF settled on snaps every two hours.

"We had an aggressive schedule and it was taking up too much disk space," Topp says.The next project is to integrate financial systems and membership data systems running on SQL Server and Oracle databases.

"They've been on separate silos. We're ready to migrate the financial systems over, and our goal is to get the membership systems over eventually."

Dave Raffo, News Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Compellent Technologies Inc.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

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