The Multiple Sclerosis Society has bucked the trend to outsource its back-up data storage by bringing it in-house, expecting to save at least £40,000 a year and improve system availability.
The society previously used a hosting service for its distributed back-up IT operations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, consolidation means that the number of users it supports has jumped from 200 to 1,000 users.
This has raised the risk of downtime, an issue highlighted when the hosted service went down for a week, said Andrew Young, technical services manager for the MS Society. This was a chaotic time as people resorted to services such as Hotmail and instant messaging to communicate, but without ready records of previous information exchanges, he said.
Looking to take its storage processes in-house, the society chose iSCSI EqualLogic arrays from Dell, believing they would be easier and more cost-effective than fibre channel or direct connect arrays to deploy and maintain.
Overseas reports suggest that iSCSI installations come in at about half of the price of fibre channel, but Young said the society would also save £40,000 a year compared with the hosted option. Young said the previous fibre channel hosted service had cost £150,000 to set up, plus £18,000 a year in support.
While improving the back-up was the society's initial aim, the system worked so well that it has moved its life data on to four iSCSI arrays, with two for the back-up site that are refreshed twice a day.
The storage area network, now around two terabytes, supports 35 physical and virtual servers running VMware. Main applications include Exchange, the Raisers Edge database management system for non-profits, Dynamics accounting and the Office suite on desktops.
The society is also using Dell's advanced management capabilities such as load balancing, snapshotting and thin provisioning.
With the hardware problems under control, Young now faces a training issue. Most of the society's workers are volunteers, he said, which means that their IT skills range from zero to sophisticated.
As a result, he is now looking to outsource first and second line helpdesk support to ensure that as the society grows, everyone gets the same level of service.