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Air Force Unit Embraces Storage Virtualization

The U.S. Air Force's Center for Engineering and the Environment (AFCEE), located at Brooks City-Base, near San Antonio, has a mission as broad as the Air Force itself. In addition to its wide range of core responsibilities, which include the process of cleaning up bases closed under the Base Realignment and Closure Act, it provides position papers, studies, and engineering support and manages contracts with a wide variety of service providers. It even builds base housing for Air Force personnel. In addition, according to Ralph Miles, network administrator and information systems security officer for AFCEE, the organization must support Air Force-wide IT demands.

The result is that Miles and his staff never know exactly what to expect next in terms of requirements for storage. And Miles also must make sure that the mission-critical information that his organization stores is constantly backed up to an emergency recovery site at a remote location and that Air Force offices and personnel can have access to the data he stores from anywhere in the world.

"My requirements can leap in one day by 10 terabytes," Miles said. That means there's no way to anticipate storage demand in advance and quickly procure enough capacity to meet those demands. Instead, Miles and his team have moved to an environment flexible enough to meet nearly any demand.

AFCEE does this by using a Bobcat storage gateway from OnStor, Inc. that provides remote access and virtual storage on its servers. The gateway provides access to AFCEE's clusters of Dell servers, and in addition, provides storage virtualization. The organization has another OnStor Bobcat gateway and attached storage at the remote backup site. Miles noted that he uses object-oriented security tokens from Sharepoint and plans to add server virtualization using VMware.

The OnStor gateway can support up to 32 shares per physical file server, and it can manage a network-wide pool of storage that can include everything from existing network-attached storage (NAS) appliances to existing storage area networks (SANs). Each user, in effect, sees a drive letter reflecting the amount of storage they're allocated, but has no way to know where the data is physically located, or even if it's all on one device or storage target. The amount of space any user or process gets can be controlled by the administrator, or it can be provisioned dynamically according to need.

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