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12/16/2011
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Why Texas Schools Implemented A Disaster Recovery SAN

Texas Association of School Boards uses HP P4000 storage systems to replicate data synchronously and protect its assets.

While earthquakes aren't a major concern for businesses in Central Texas, the effects of hurricanes and tornados are. Tony Fowlie, technical architect for the Texas Association of School Boards in Austin, Texas, wanted to protect his company's greatest assets--its data--from possible damage from natural or man-made disasters.

The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) represents a lot of organizations--1,035 school districts in Texas, 20 regional education service centers, 49 community colleges, 34 tax appraisal districts, and 146 shared service arrangements--that employ more than 600,000 people and serve over 4.7 million students.

TASB had been using mostly direct-attached storage and had about 20 TB, a system they couldn't easily manage since the server-attached storage was either fully utilized or underutilized.

In 2008, Fowlie was involved in virtualizing his servers with Microsoft Hyper-V. Originally Fowlie had about 200 servers, but virtualization reduced that number to 60 servers with 140 virtual machines.

The next year, Fowlie started to search for a system that could solve his storage problem and, further, replicate data between two locations 15 miles apart. Those locations were connected by a Gigabit Metropolitan Ethernet link so fast replication could occur. "We wanted a system that was simple to operate, with features such as snapshots that weren't offered at a separate cost," says Fowlie.

He evaluated systems from EMC, HP, and XIO Storage before choosing two HP P4000 storage area networks (SANs), formerly LetfHand Networks Network Storage Modules, and installed them at his two locations. The HP P4000 SANs were his first choice because replication and snapshot technology were included and he could boot his virtual servers and store the virtual hard disk (VHD) data for each virtual machine on the P4000. It became a shoo-in choice for TASB.

[ Solid state drives were a better option than SANs for a company seeking performance gains. Learn How SSDs Solved One Company's IT Performance Problems. ]

And, the P4000 SANs allowed the virtualization of TASB's 20 TB of data into a single pool of storage, solving the problem of utilization.

The installation of the HP StorageWorks P4000s took Fowlie and his staff about five hours, with one P4000 in North Austin and one other in East Austin, 15 miles away. Data replication is accomplished synchronously between the two sites. The sites are mirrors of each other, so in the event of a disaster TASB can switch over operations to the other P4000 without users even knowing about the failure.

"Every virtual machine is its own volume," said Fowlie. "We pick the volumes we want to replicate and set the replication schedule. And the software does the replication automatically."

Now the servers in TASB's network boot from the P4000 storage systems and with the integrated replication and built-in expansion, if TASB suffers a disaster, they can recover in as little as 15 to 20 minutes.

In the net, TASB was able to replicate every virtual machine using the HP P4000 SAN Snapshots feature. Most volumes replicate daily; but others every 15 minutes.

Deni Connor is founding analyst for Storage Strategies NOW, an industry analyst firm that focuses on storage, virtualization, and servers. James E. Bagley contributed to this story.

IT's spending as much as ever on disaster recovery, despite advances in virtualization and cloud techniques. It's time to break free. Download our Disaster Recovery Disaster supplement now. (Free registration required.)

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