Mennonite Mutual Aid uses storage virtualization to ensure cost-effective business continuity

FalconStor – This Best Practice is part of a collection of advice provided by information technology professionals on how they have solved various challenges, and addressed IT priorities within their organizations.

Company:

Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA), headquartered in Goshen, IN, helps people integrate their finances with faith values by providing a range of financial and insurance products to members of the Mennonite Church denomination. Offering its members insurance, banking, investments and financial advice, MMA serves both individuals and affiliated organizations.

The problem:

MMA successfully transitioned from a sprawling Windows and IBM server environment with direct-attached storage to a tiered, virtual infrastructure with a remote disaster recovery (DR) site. It accomplished this by working with its partner, MapleTronics Computers, to implement FalconStor Software's and Network Storage Server (NSS) and Virtual Tape Library (VTL) plus VMware.

The solution:

The FalconStor VTL was purchased to resolve the backup tape transport issues. MMA has almost completed testing, which indicates that VTL will reduce the backup window significantly – down to 1/8-1/10 of the current window. When implementation is complete, data will be replicated to the VTL appliance at the disaster recovery site, eliminating physical tape transport. MMA expects that most of the Windows backup will be replaced by FalconStor snapshots and replication.

Who provided this information:

Richard Plank, Network Operating System Administrator, Mennonite Mutual Aid.

How it worked:

MMA needed to greatly improve its backup window times and manage its server sprawl concerns. There was a strong push from MMA's management team to ensure that the website and these applications were not only highly available, but performing optimally, with no impact from backup operations. The new system lets MMA schedule backup at any time of the day. The company’s sales force now has faster access to information, allowing them to better service customers and increase sales activities.

Rules for success:

  • Maximize Return on Assets (ROA) by virtualizing and unifying tiered storage
  • Eliminate unnecessary capacity purchases
  • Provision using any protocol required
  • Guarantee virtualization project success by enabling key virtual-environment scenarios
  • Optimize RTO and RPO by instant recovery of consistent data images

Classic mistakes:

  • Technology response times – Data must be always available to maintain effective business operations for customers.
  • Operational efficiencies – Reducing the customer’s backup window
  • Architectural implementation – Building on the company’s legacy infrastructure and allow for ongoing expansion in the future without massive upgrades
  • Financial impact – Cost effectiveness of the solution reduces IT expenditures for future server and storage growth.
  • Productivity – Must improve in order to see ROI and employee satisfaction.

Best practice checklist:

MMA’s primary site now includes a pair of FalconStor NSS gateways (primary and failover), behind which sit two InforTrend storage arrays:

1) a primary storage array with 3 TB of serial-attached SCSI (SAS) drives and 2) a secondary storage array with 10 TB of near-line SAS drives. The primary array is used to provision LUNs for virtual servers in the production environment using two VMware ESX clusters; FalconStor mirrors these LUNs to the secondary storage array, and also creates primary LUN snapshots on it. As more servers are virtualized, more secondary storage will be used to provision LUNs for new virtual machines.

The DR site, hosted in MapleTronics’ data center in South Bend, IN, includes a pair of ESX servers, a FalconStor NSS gateway, and a 14-TB near-line InforTrend array. Using FalconStor, LUNs for critical Tier 1 servers are replicated to the DR site. As more servers are virtualized, their storage will also be replicated to the DR site; the plan is to eventually eliminate tape backup for DR, instead making the remote data center a hot site.

  • The new recovery system positions MMA as a company that is using industry-leading technologies to improve efficiencies and thereby pass these efficiencies directly to customers.
  • Conveying that MMA is using state-of-the-art systems and technologies is another validation of the company’s relationship with customers.
  • MMA is relying heavily on FalconStor NSS, which provides operational efficiencies that let IT focus on other critical business initiatives for the management team.

Three must-ask questions:

  • What applications and company-wide information do you want to protect and in how many locations?
  • How much will this improve my backup window and recovery time?
  • What type of technology can be integrated into this solution?

Hindsight is 20/20:

What did you learn during the project that you wish you had known beforehand?

More customer centric website and features allow more direct and engaging contact with customers, which was indirectly a result of the new server and data backup deployment. In addition, since MMA is asking customers to trust them with their finances, MMA feels very strongly that conveying the company’s commitment and forward-thinking approach via their IT approach is another touch point for them. Customers must trust in the systems before they give over their finances.

Final takeaway:

Storage virtualization deployments enable IT to meet the interests of the company, and let the company better meet the interests of its customers.

This Best Practice was provided by FalconStor. For more information on FalconStor NSS and other FalconStor products, please visit http://www.falconstor.com/en/pages/?pn=NSS or call 631-777-5188.

The ideas expressed in this article are solely those of the vendor and its client, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ITworld.

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