The next BriefingsDirect storage management innovation case study discussion highlights how communications cooperative HTC centralizes storage management to gain powerful visibility, reduce costs, and implement IT disaster avoidance capabilities.
We’ll learn more about how HTC lowers total storage utilization cost while bringing in a common management view to improve problem resolution, automate resources allocation, and more fully gain compliance — as well as set the stage for broader virtualization and business continuity benefits.
To learn how HTC attains total storage management, we sat down with Philip Sellers, Senior System Administrator at HTC in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Tell us about HTC.
Sellers: HTC is the largest telephone cooperative in the nation. We serve the Myrtle Beach and surrounding South Carolina area. We started out as a telephone company, but at this point, we’re a full-line telecommunications company, doing cable TV, internet security, home automation, and through our partnership with AT and T, we also do wireless service.
Gardner: Now, you are not HTC, the handset maker from Asia; you are an entirely different company.
Sellers: A completely different company, although we do sell a few of those handsets with our wireless division.
Gardner: You told me when we talked earlier that you are a reluctant storage administrator. You started out as a VMware in virtualization admin. How did you get from one to the other, and why is it important for your organization?
Sellers: It’s probably a common story in a lot of shops. As VMware became more prolific in our environment, the line started to blur between networking and VMware, and storage and VMware. So I was pulled more into those directions as the primary VMware admin for our company. That gave me the opportunity to dig in and start to learn an area of IT that was new to me.
Gardner: Philip, tell us a little bit about the scale: how many virtual machines (VMs), how many employees, what sort of a size organization are you?
Sellers: We have 700 or so employees at this point, and almost that number of VMs that we’re managing. We have a couple of different storage platforms today with the HP EVA and HP 3PAR StoreServ in-house.
Gardner: What kind of storage workloads are we dealing with here? Is this all of the apps across the company? What set of IT workloads are you addressing?
Sellers: The group that I’m a part of is actually the internal IT group. So we’re running line-of-business applications, not the things that our customers are delivered service across, but the things that run our business to take orders, support financial operations, and those sorts of things.
And we’re running a mixture of test and dev and production. One of the great benefits we’ve realized with VMware is the ability to have a good test and development platform to mirror what we have in production. So it runs the gamut for internal IT.
Gardner: When you start to think about progressing to a better utilization and the rationalization of storage, rather than have overlapping or disjointed storage capabilities, what sort of philosophy do you have about storage? How do you think that you can make the whole greater than sum of the parts and get those utilization benefits over time?
Sellers: It’s something that I learned back in my virtualization days. For me, it’s huge to have visibility into what’s going to in your storage. One of the benefits of our transition to HP 3PAR storage is that we’ve been able to realize much deeper levels of insight into what’s going on inside of the arrays.
You know, as we were making that switch, we evaluated other third parties, ultimately deciding on the mid-range 7000 3PAR series for our environment and for our needs. That visibility has been key for us.
But it’s also come with a set of challenges, because we now have multiple storage consoles that we need to manage from. We have different places that we need to check. One of the keys for us is having somewhere where we can see it all, or get a better idea of the entire environment from an end-to-end perspective.
That’s one of the things we learned from our VMware days. We were flying blind early on, and that caused us problems and potential problems, because we didn’t know something was going on. One of our main goals is establishing good visibility into our storage environment.
Gardner: So, it’s not just enough to modernize your storage and improve your storage capabilities, but at the same time you really need to address the management issues and consolidate management. In doing so, what have been some of the payoffs that you can recall? How has this helped your organization better provide IT services internally?
Sellers: From a performance standpoint, our former primary storage platform was not great at telling us how close we were to the edge of our performance capabilities. We never knew exactly what was going to cause a problem or the unpredictability of virtual workloads in particular. We never knew where we were going to have issues.
Being able to see into that has allowed us to prevent help desk cost for slow services, for problems that maybe we didn’t even know were going on initially. One of the other huge benefits that we’ve realized is new levels of disaster avoidance.
Gardner: And what do you mean by that, rather than disaster recovery (DR), which is taking care of business after we have had some terrible thing happen? How do you head that off?
Sellers: I know that’s not an industry term, but that’s what I like to call it, because in our environment, we have two data centers that are fairly close together. What we’ve implemented is the HP 3PAR StoreServ metro storage clustering feature, which they call peer persistence, but it’s VMware’s metro storage clustering. We’ve also done that with Windows clustering as well.
We have two sets of 3PARs in different data centers, and they act as one. So, they replicate synchronously between the two locations and they fail-over “automagically.” I don’t know how else to say it. It just seamlessly fails-over between the two sites.
For our environment, we were at a particularly vulnerable state if we lost a data array, because so many things were pointing at it. Now if we lose a single data array it’s not a big deal. It fails-over and it continues running.
Gardner: And when you say vulnerable, I think you’re talking about hurricanes?
Sellers: A lot of times we plan for those large natural disasters, but sometimes it’s the small ones that get us like UPS maintenance or something as simple as a power outage. Maybe your generator doesn’t kick in in time. Sometimes, that can be a disaster of almost the same scale as a hurricane to your business operations — just from something simple.
Storage Operations Manager
Reduce Total Costs — Increase Productivity
Gardner: So the storage management capability has provided “automagically,” as you say, this disaster avoidance. That’s a pretty important metric. Do you have any idea of the value of that to your business, and maybe start to put that in dollar terms? It seems a pretty profound difference.
Sellers: I can’t necessarily put it into dollar terms. That’s not the world that I work in, but I know that anytime there is downtime to our customer relationship advisers, and the people in the field, that’s bad for business.
So we’re avoiding those kinds of situations as best we can. We could lose an entire data center site and, with technology built into the VMware layer and into the HP 3PAR layer, it will come back up. It may be reboot of a server, but we try to do everything we can to avoid disaster situations today, rather than just plan for needing to fail a data center over to “site B,” and go through all of that testing.
Gardner: Let’s get down to some more brass tacks on actual storage utilization benefits. Any thoughts or recollections about what this means in terms of utilization, so no more worries about running out of storage base or capacity?
Sellers: Yeah, the HP 3PAR platform has been really great inside of our environment because we realize the marketing term of the “two-to-one thin provisioning.” We’re seeing that benefit.
When I looked at the console before I came here, we were seeing around a 2.3 to 1 compaction, and that’s without deduplication and some of the other newer technologies that are capable in the 3PAR platform. We may be able to realize better than that in the future.
Gardner: We’ve talked about disaster avoidance. We’ve recognized some significant savings in the provisioning and utilization. Let’s go back to management. What sort of benefits are you getting now with a more holistic approach and how does that help, perhaps on a data lifecycle basis?
Sellers: One of the ways that we’re approaching that set of problems is with storage resource management software. We’ve traditionally used a piece of software called Storage Essentials, which HP makes. It’s heterogeneous storage-management software, so it can look at all of our different arrays and looks at our backup arrays and our primary storage arrays, as well as our back-up environment, and pulls all that information together.
We’ve been able to leverage that from a reporting standpoint to be able to view and pinpoint growth to see how see things are running from a dashboard view. Over the last six months or so, I’ve been working in an early-release program for a product called HP Storage Operations Management.
This software is the next iteration of Storage Essentials. It’s got a much more approachable and modern user interface, which brings up and aggregates our total environment so that we can get a full picture of what’s going on there. Then, we can drill down and see at specific levels how things are performing, what our utilization trend is, or how much time we have until a device or a storage pool is full.
Those are things that keep us out of the really dangerous situations in getting down to a time where you’re in a mission critical season, maybe the holidays or something where it’s heavy sales, and you run out of disk space and you can’t get your procurement cycle to get storage quickly enough.
Those things are just as dangerous as the hurricane that we were talking about earlier from a business operations perspective. Tools like this help us to manage and see what’s going on in the environment and help us plan and act proactively.
Gardner: I could really see why your philosophy is visibility and management oversight. It comes back again and again as a huge force multiplier benefit.
Room to grow
Sellers: Absolutely. There’s a saying that ignorance is bliss. When you’re flying blind, that’s true, until it catches up with you, and it eventually overtakes you. We have lots and lots of room to grow and capabilities where we’re at today. This new version of management storage resource management product has lots of great potential, too.
It’s an initial release. So, it’s got somewhat limited support for different storage families and that kind of thing, but they’re working to bring in additional support and make it all that the previous product was, and much more — and that’s visible from the initial release.
So we’re excited about seeing where that can help us, particularly because one of the switches in this new product is that it’s not just a collect, an analytics reporting system. It’s a dashboard system where it takes that analytics and brings it back to a dashboard to let you drill down in to it and see it real clearly in near-real-time. I won’t say in real-time, but within whatever amount of time you configure.
Gardner: How about your future business activities? How well you can support them? I know that media is a fast-changing business. Do you feel confident now that when your superiors in your organization come to you and say, “We need this,” that you’re in a better position to hop-to quickly? Is there a sense of confidence that you can take on market change better?
Sellers: I certainly believe so. We’ve been able to adapt and change more quickly because of changes that we’ve made with VMware, with HP 3PAR. We feel confident that we have room to grow and that we can do so in shorter terms. We’ve been able to try and look at new things like VDI deployments to help us with compliance-type issues, where we’re under regulations and have to patch and have to ensure that our systems are secure.
And so we are looking at things like that now that we were afraid to put on to primary storage in the past. It’s something where we think we have a good mix today for the future.
Gardner: What advice might you might provide others who would be approaching a disparate storage environment? And maybe share your philosophy about visibility and anticipation being better than reaction. Maybe they are also seeking disaster avoidance, rather than disaster recovery. For those folks that are not quite as far along in this journey as you are, what might you suggest for them to be thinking about — or that you wish you knew about earlier?
Sellers: There is definitely some low hanging fruit, and that’s what visibility will bring to you — the ability to handle some of that low-hanging fruit. If you have a situation where your storage team is siloed away from your server team, bringing something in that can see both of those sides and map together that whole environment is a real easy way to identify inefficiency.
Those are LUNs that maybe are provisioned — but not in use. There is no I/O on them. That’s a dollar amount immediately reclaimed. Finding VMs and things with visibility. These tools can look in to the VMware environment where you can see that you have lots and lots of VMs that are shut down.
There are easy things that you can do to start that process, no matter what your storage platform is. I think that’s a universal thing. If you have something that can gain you visibility in to the environment there are some easy things and easy wins that you can bring back.
Gardner: And those of course provide grist for the mill of further improvements and further budget to accomplish even more.
Sellers: Absolutely. If you want to make a storage platform switch or if you want to do other improvements and gain more efficiency, this gives you a little bit of extra room, some wiggle room, to make those things reality. We spent an awful lot of our budget just in keeping the lights on, keeping things up and running. Anytime you can gain some wiggle room from that budget, it certainly allows you the ability to look at innovation.
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