Fruit firm dumps HP servers for EMC VSPEX bunch

Birmingham exotic fruit firm MWW upgraded from HP servers and DAS to twin EMC VNX SANs under its VSPEX reference architecture and saved about 15% on the HP equivalent

Exotic fruit wholesaler Minor, Weir & Willis (MWW) has ditched HP servers and direct-attached storage (DAS) and replaced it with storage and server hardware based on EMC’s VSPEX converged stack reference architecture.

MWW has about 60 users and is based in Birmingham, the site of its main datacentre. It has five satellite sites around the UK and runs Sage accounting software plus Microsoft Access databases, Excel spreadsheets and various bespoke software packages.

It is however, in the process of moving to a specialist produce-sector customisation of Microsoft’s Dynamics NAV ERP platform and runs this in parallel with the legacy systems.

Until last year, it was running a pair of HP ML350 servers with dual four-core CPUs and DAS at its main site and it was this hardware platform’s performance with Microsoft Dynamics that gave cause for concern.

“The server estate was not up to the job,” said chief finance officer Rajinder Gill. 

“Scalability was limited and we could not add new services easily. Throughput was also lacking when there was a load on the servers and we also had some disasters with disks. One failed, and then another, while the first one was going through its RAID rebuild.”

Gill said these issues highlighted a lack of resilience that was needed to move to the new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and the IT team was tasked with designing a new server/storage architecture in conjunction with existing partners Misco and Insight.

This initially resulted in MWW being recommended a new HP server/storage solution, but difficulties with one of its existing IT partners led to the deal falling through, said IT manager Paul Swan.

“We got messed around quite badly by one of the two companies we were talking to and we started off researching a new solution for ourselves,” he said.

MWW eventually settled on EMC storage products and engaged Manchester-based Synapse, which suggested the VSPEX reference architecture comprising EMC storage and Cisco UCS servers.

MWW implemented a pair of EMC VNX 5300 SANs as a production and disaster recovery (DR) unit with flash, SAS and nearline-SAS tiers and using EMC’s FAST (Fully Automated Storage Tiering) to migrate data between them. 

The production SAN uses Fibre Channel for connectivity while the DR hardware uses iSCSI as a server interconnect.

VSPEX is EMC’s reference architecture for bundled servers, storage and networking equipment. So-called converged stacks of IT hardware, often with virtualisation readiness included, have been a rising trend over the past few years.

For customers they offer the advantage of knowing servers, storage etc will work together in supplier-tested configurations. Other storage suppliers offer integrated hardware stacks also, such as Dell’s vStart, Hitachi Data Systems’s Unified Compute Platform, HP’s Virtual System and NetApp’s FlexPods.

“The key advantage of the EMC SANs over the HP products offered were the ability to mix disk types in a rack. HP couldn’t do this, but it’s important for us as we need flexibility to expand in ways we can’t yet foresee,” said Swan.

CFO Gill said the complete bundle of servers and storage cost around £100,000 and was “about 15% cheaper than the HP equivalent from the box shifters.”

Read more on SAN, NAS, solid state, RAID