Horticultural Society puts tiered storage into action

The Royal Horticultural Society uses tiered storage automation to keep its picture library updated with the most frequently accessed images while also reducing power consumption.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has replaced a cumbersome direct-attached storage system with a Compellent mixed Fibre Channel and SATA SAN. Now, the Chelsea Flower Show organisers can move the least-accessed images in their picture library to lower cost SATA drives according to usage patterns, driving revenue-generating opportunities for the online picture archive.

 It just wasn't possible to deal centrally with this much imaging data using direct attached storage
Phillip Gladwin,
IT operation manager, Royal Horticultural Society

Digitisation of the RHS's image library, which begins in earnest this month, was the catalyst for the new SAN implementation. If an infrequently accessed image becomes more popular, it is moved back up to the faster drives so it can be accessed and downloaded more quickly.

According to IT operations manager, Phillip Gladwin this automated tiered storage process has enabled RHS to take full advantage of SATA drives, which require less power than Fibre Channel drives. "That's enabled us to drive down short-term drive acquisition costs as well as make environmentally-friendly savings over the longer-term because of reduced energy consumption," he says.

Moreover, the ability to run a secondary SAN purely on SATA, without the need for an exact mirror of the primary SAN has saved on power costs.

The upgrade process

It became clear that RHS's existing storage infrastructure would not support the library of 200,000 images, which average 80 megabytes each. Previously the society's storage resources were direct-attached to 40 HP servers which support 500 desktops across the UK.

A further driver was the need to cut time from backups and restores which were taking anything up to 12 days in the distributed environment.

The society's HP DL380s servers run Windows Server 2003 and support applications including an Microsoft Exchange 2003 email, Navision financials, Iris Care CRM, Webtrends analytics and an Ibase image database.

The solution chosen - and implemented by integrator Fordway - comprises a 12TB Compellent SAN at the RHS's primary London data centre made up of two Fibre Channel controllers with 2.5TB of Fibre Channel disk capacity and 9.5TB of lower-cost SATA capacity. A second Compellent SAN, located approximately a mile away, comprises two Fibre Channel controllers but with the entire 12TB capacity made up from SATA drives. The RHS declined to reveal the cost of the project.

The RHS also wanted to improve its disaster recovery capabilities so that it can recover within a 24 hour period.

Gladwin says, "It just wasn't possible to deal centrally with this much imaging data using direct attached storage. At the same time general data was increasing, backups were becoming onerous and we wanted to be able to shorten recovery times to less than 24 hours. This wasn't possible using our existing storage infrastructure. In the event of a catastrophe at our main data centre it took anything up to 12 days to bring all the main servers, data and applications back online."

Prior to the SAN implementation recovery from an outage meant building up servers in numerous locations by re-installing applications and reloading data from tapes taken off-site each evening.

Before picking Compellent, RHS examined Equallogic, HP, IBM and Sun. The society's IT team attended demonstrations by all the suppliers. Compellent won out through a combination of features and value for money, says Gladwin.

He says, "Compellent won on ease of use but primarily on grounds of value for money, with the fact that we got the DR site equipment for more or less the same cost as the others were offering just the production site equipment. Besides cost we were also impressed with the auto-tiering feature and block level snapshotting of data."

He adds, "Compellent offered dual Fibre Channel and iSCSI connectivity in the same device, which really sealed the deal. We would have had to make an either/or choice with almost all the other vendors. This seemed the most practical approach to scaleability and future-proofing and perhaps iSCSI will take over completely at some point."


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