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Virtual storage area network meets backup, disaster recovery needs

Virtual storage area network backups are affordable, flexible and simple using the SANmelody software developed by DataCore.

With about 3 TB of virtualized server data and another 2 TB of email and database data that needed to be backed up daily, Montreal-based law firm Stikeman Elliott LLP faced a growing problem. Virtual storage area network backups were taking 24 to 48 hours, and not all of the data was getting backed up properly.

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What was needed, said Marco Magini, a network system specialist for the firm, was an almost instantaneous backup system. The firm chose DataCore Software Corp.'s SANmelody software, a virtual storage area network (SAN) that's installed on one or two x86 servers. The servers become virtual storage controllers for large arrays of physical and virtual storage disks. Those disks are then moved to existing networks to send data to application servers, according to DataCore. 

SANmelody solved several other IT challenges, including disaster recovery shortcomings and high-availability needs for virtualized servers, Magini said. "I was not looking for storage virtualization. We had plenty of storage to fill our needs." But once the application was installed, we uncovered a host of new unexpected capabilities, he said.

Stikeman Elliott started testing SANmelody in June 2008 and then deployed it into production last September. The 1,200-employee law firm is using the product in its Montreal headquarters and will roll it out to six other offices around the globe.

Magini said he's still finding new ways to get performance gains using SANmelody. "We started small," he said. "It's not that you don't have faith in the products, but when you are moving business-critical data, you want to be sure it can handle it."

SANmelody also allowed the IT department to make use of all types of unused legacy disks. When added to the system, SANmelody's management system views them as one massive disk for storage. That allowed Magini to reuse about 50 old 72 GB drives that were sitting on a shelf.

Mark Bowker, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass., said it's not unusual for a planned server or storage virtualization project to affect other IT needs. "People typically begin projects for something as simple as server consolidation or resource utilization," Bowker said. "But they find other infrastructure is needed. Once they start rolling out virtualization, they find there are other benefits to be had," including disaster recovery and improved backup capabilities.

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