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11/23/2011
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How SSDs Solved One Company's IT Performance Problems

When rapid growth overwhelmed AlphaStaff's ERP system, a switch to solid state drives was the answer to its capacity crisis.

Company mergers and acquisitions often strain storage, server, and IT resources, potentially endangering access to applications that are the company's lifeblood. Such was the case with AlphaStaff, a human resources (HR) outsourcing company, and of Jack Rahner, VP of technology for the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based company.

When AlphaStaff acquired another Florida-based HR staffing company in 2009, it grew its business from handling HR services for 6,000 people to more than 80,000 staffers. The extra business completely overwhelmed its LeftHand storage area network and its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Plus, in the five years since they had bought the LeftHand system, the company's data had grown from a manageable 1 TB to over 60 TB of storage.

Rahner knew he had a problem. Addressing capacity and then performance were his major concerns. Employees were complaining that they could not access the ERP and business intelligence applications without delays. These two applications were the lifeblood of AlphaStaff's business, allowing them to process payroll and manage an employee's benefits. In addition, Rahner and his team had started virtualizing the servers within AlphaStaff using VMware and in doing so, added an additional tax on the storage system.

[ Surrounded by data? Growing storage without end? Demands from users for fast access? Endless retention policies? Here's how to cope. The Storage Problem You Can't Ignore. ]

"Everything was getting virtualized and we were getting the most out of our hardware," says Rahner. "I started to realize, though, that the weakest link was capacity. And, now that has taken a backseat to disk speed. We started saturating the network and were having bandwidth issues."

So Rahner started looking for a storage system to replace the LeftHand system he had. He looked at EMC and NetApp and finally chose Compellent, which was 60% faster than his previous storage area network (SAN). Then he connected his legacy ERP and business intelligence applications to the Compellent Storage Center SAN. It came equipped with three tiers of storage: solid state drives (SSDs), 15,000 RPM Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives, and 10,000 RPM SAS drives.

"We are moving our ERP system and business intelligence system over to solid state drives for one reason: latency," said Rahner. "When you are dealing with very high transactions or applications that are very database-intensive and require lots of serving of disk, solid state drives make a major difference."

As a result of the SSDs, "we had our latency go from 10 milliseconds a transaction at 10,000 [I/O operations per second] to one millisecond overnight," said Rahner. Through testing of the ERP system with the Compellent Storage Center SAN, Rahner determined that there was an 80% performance improvement for the ERP system.

Rahner's use of SSDs in his Compellent Storage Center SAN also garnered other business benefits.

"Because everything is virtualized and running on VMware, we were seeing performance from [our business intelligence application] that was less than optimal. Our customers were waiting 10 seconds or more to get information they needed. Going to SSDs made a world of difference."

Deni Connor is founding analyst for Storage Strategies NOW, an industry analyst firm that focuses on storage, virtualization, and servers.

InformationWeek Analytics has published a report on backing up VM disk files and building a resilient infrastructure that can tolerate hardware and software failures. After all, what's the point of constructing a virtualized infrastructure without a plan to keep systems up and running in case of a glitch--or outright disaster? Download the report now. (Free registration required.)

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HakanSoderbom
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HakanSoderbom,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/28/2011 | 9:42:28 PM
re: How SSDs Solved One Company's IT Performance Problems
It is a common story for virtualization projects to hit a bad surprise where storage turns out to be a bottleneck. I so wish that customers weren't still taken by surprise by it.

SSDs provide a quick-fix since they have the potential to add several orders of magniture of performance. The good thing is that they provide a solution, the bad thing is that at this time the virtualization project is running over budget.

A complimentary technology that should be considerred in any virtualization project is a storage hypervisor. I.e. just like virtualizing computing, doing the same for storage. A good storage hypervisor will help architect the project to avoid expensive surprises, while allowing new fast and intelligent storage (e.g. Dell Compellent) media to work seamlessly with any slower media already existing from other vendors.

A story like this, while it has a happy outcome, highlights the underlying problem of not addressing storage head-on at the beginning of the virtualization project.

Regards
H+—kan S+¶derbom | Director Alliances | DataCore Software
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