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Government reseller helps Wisconsin National Guard virtualize storage

Francesca Sales

In September 2008, the Wisconsin Army National Guard (WIARNG) employed SwishData Corp., an IT services reseller that caters to governmental and military agencies, to help it virtualize storage and servers.

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Before the transition, WIARNG managed about 7 TB of data spread out across eight or nine physical servers that mostly consisted of user data and flat files. In the fall of 2008, WIARNG contacted SwishData to discuss its objectives for the project. Initial communication with SwishData began about six to eight months before WIARNG purchased a NetApp Inc. unified storage solution to implement storage virtualization.

“Initially, we [had] multiple platforms. We had a silo here and a silo there, and [we] wanted to consolidate it into a single area,” said Chief Steven J. Smith, spokesperson for WIARNG.

Smith devised a plan that included consolidating WIARNG’s file servers via virtualization with VMware Inc.’s server virtualization platform, deploying a NetApp FAS appliance storage appliance for virtualized storage, and implementing data deduplication. The NetApp FAS3140, a unified solution for block-based data (which includes VMware, other applications such as Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint data at WIARNG) and file-based data, virtualizes physical disks and aggregates spindles.

“We worked through this idealized end state, not in one lump-sum fix, but rather … [taking] a phased approach to the solution,” said Chris Kerr, U.S. Army account manager for SwishData.

After the initial phase of the plan, which began in the fall of 2008, SwishData’s engineers brought in the NetApp unified network storage solution as well as enterprise backup using Syncsort’s Backup Express. WIARNG also implemented a disaster recovery (DR) plan for its backup site. Early in 2009, SwishData upgraded WIARNG’s storage as the demands on the controllers’ services outpaced their capacity; later that year, SwishData extended the in-place solution to better utilize the organization’s network.

Unforeseen issues arose after the implementation of the data deduplication technology, which was capable of reducing stored data by about 50% depending on the type of data being deduplicated. WIARNG did not anticipate the rate at which its available SAN space was used, so to fix the problem, the organization purchased 8 TB of high-speed SAS drives and about 70 TB of high-capacity storage from SwishData.

“Between doubling our existing hard disk usage and implementing data dedupe, I thought we’d be good to go on SAN hard disk space for several years. Unfortunately, [because] we didn’t have any disk quotas implemented, the end users began storing everything out there on the SAN,” explained Smith.

After the purchase of the additional storage, SwishData went through a knowledge transfer process and left the organization with documentation, as well as a support desk where WIARNG’s IT department is able to contact the SwishData’s engineers.

Both SwishData and WIARNG envision smaller future projects for the organization, such as VDI, which is currently on the backburner because of government funding limits.


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