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Network infrastructure, SAN and VMware upgrade: A law firm case study

A law firm gave its IT infrastructure a much-needed facelift with a storage and network infrastructure redesign, as well as a VMware upgrade.

After redesigning its storage and network infrastructure, and making a VMware upgrade, a 138-year-old law firm now has a stable, scalable data centre that can support future growth.

Stevens and Bolton LLP had an IT system that was struggling to keep pace with the organisation's growth and wasn’t capable of handling future challenges -- including the migration of 170 employees to a new location. The Surrey-based law firm decided against stop-gap fixes and instead opted to overhaul its entire infrastructure.

“We also needed to re-evaluate the virtualised server infrastructure and storage products,” said David Thomas, who became the head of Stevens and Bolton’s IT department in 2008.

Network infrastructure redesign

To obtain stable and reliable performance across servers, desktops and storage, the firm first needed to improve its network.

“Our network infrastructure was fragmented,” Thomas said. “We had a combination of switches and hubs, where some ran at 100 Mb and others at 10 Mb.”

With help from network service provider Atlanta Technology, Stevens and Bolton selected Cisco Systems switches for the network infrastructure, which allowed for an iSCSI connection to its storage area network (SAN). The team then added Juniper switches to the network edge.

Replacing the SAN

The new network infrastructure then formed the base for Stevens and Bolton’s new storage infrastructure and for the VMware upgrade.

When members of the IT team looked at the existing server infrastructure, they concluded that the existing SAN would not meet the future needs of the firm.

“There were resilience is­sues and no upgrade path for the product from the vendor,” Thomas said.

When choosing a replacement, the product’s life span was an important consideration.

“The previous SAN had gone end-of-life earlier than expected, so the question of obsolescence was important,” Thomas said.

Atlanta recommended a Dell Compellent SAN , which is currently driving just about 5 TB of data with 28 TB of available space, “so there’s plenty of headroom,” Thomas said. Another advantage is that it is easy to add additional disk arrays for further expansion, he added.

VMware upgrade
The Dell Compellent SAN is built for virtual infrastructures, and it allows administrators to present virtual volumes without allocating drives to specific servers.

“Administrators don’t have to worry about complicated capacity planning or performance tuning,” Thomas said.

With a new SAN in place, Stevens and Bolton moved to upgrade its server virtualisation platform, going from VMware ESXi 3 to 4. The firm runs about 20 virtual servers on three physical hosts. The firm also migrated its existing physical and virtual servers to the new SAN.

The entire network, storage and VMware upgrade fit within Stevens and Bolton’s budget and helped the firm’s IT department become proactive instead of reactive, Thomas said.

“Much of the improvement is about providing speed and reliability for routine processes,” he said. “The IT team is now capable of helping our lawyers to perform quickly and efficiently.”

This was first published in September 2011

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