Magazine Article | March 19, 2012

Shrink Your Customer's Backup Window 95%

By Jay McCall, Business Solutions magazine.

A VAR implements a virtualized storage solution that provides its law firm customer with a myriad of benefits and a one-year payback.

Zuckerman Spaeder LLP is a national litigation firm with offices in Washington, D.C.; New York; Tampa; Baltimore; and Wilmington, DE. The firm, which boasts 22 attorneys on The Best Lawyers in America directory, handles millions of litigation documents each year. Managing data proliferation and ensuring uptime of communications and collaborative tools top the list of challenges facing the firm’s IT department. John Reckner, national practice manager at networking and data center infrastructure VAR ePlus Technology, a division of ePlus inc., recalls when his law firm customer reached out for help with its data center. “The firm found itself with multiple computing silos and a very large footprint in its data center,” says Reckner. “Some of its servers were being used at only 20% capacity while other servers were nearing capacity.”

At the time, the firm ran its mission-critical business systems (e.g. Microsoft, document management, and Citrix systems) on redundant physical servers with more than 8 TB of direct attached storage arrays. The infrastructure was increasingly challenging to manage from a labor perspective. The existing redundancy built into the infrastructure was expensive to maintain, which became a budgetary issue for the firm. Making matters worse, full data backups were starting to take more than two days to complete.

Pool Your Customer’s IT Resources With Virtualization
To build a more automated and resilient infrastructure capable of supporting business demands, including efficiency objectives, ePlus worked with the law firm’s IT staff to create a solution built on VMware and began to look for complementary virtualized storage technology.

Working with ePlus, the IT team deployed NetApp FAS3040 and FAS2050 systems that provide storage resources to 300 attorneys and other members of the legal staff. NetApp supports access via NFS (network file system) from the VMware virtual server environment, via FC (Fibre Channel) from the firm’s footprint of physical-server systems, and via CIFS (common Internet file system) for Windows file shares and other documents. Approximately 75% of the Zuckerman Spaeder application environment was transitioned to the VMware environment. Systems and applications running on six VMware vSphere 4.0 ESX hosts include Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2003, Microsoft SQL Server 2000, SQL-based Elite accounting software, Autonomy Interwoven document management, LexisNexis Concordance litigation support, Citrix XenApp, and Good Mobile Messaging.

NetApp SnapManager software simplifies data management, including configuration, backup, and recovery operations for Exchange and SQL Server environments. NetApp SnapManager for Virtual Infrastructure works with VMware vCenter to give Zuckerman Spaeder’s IT team the ability to create applicationconsistent backups for virtual machines or to instantly recover disasters, virtual machines, or individual files within a virtual machine guest.

For disaster recovery (DR), Zuckerman Spaeder uses NetApp SnapMirror technology to replicate systems and data to one of the NetApp FAS2050 systems deployed at the firm’s business continuity site in Virginia. SnapMirror’s built-in network compression, NetApp deduplication technology, and a Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) WAN optimization solution enable high-speed replication between the primary data center in Washington, D.C., and the DR site located in Ashburn, VA.

The VMware-on-NetApp infrastructure helps Zuckerman Spaeder provide uptime for essential communication and collaboration systems and protects access to the firm’s more than 40 million case-critical images. Additionally, the new infrastructure provides the firm with 24/7 availability of its Exchange and SQL servers and other mission-critical applications.

NetApp point-in-time copy, backup/restore, and replication technologies have helped eliminate protracted backups and recoveries. Mark Harris, network manager at Zuckerman Spaeder, explains the impact on recoverability and staff productivity: “Because there’s no performance hit and minimal consumption of storage space, we can afford to make frequent backups. Most of our recoveries now are from NetApp Snapshot copies, and the process typically takes less than 5 minutes. In the past, recovering from tape took hours. Restoring email was even more difficult — in one case, two IT employees worked for two days on a single recovery. Today we use NetApp Single Mailbox Recovery for Exchange software and retrieve emails in minutes. The process is simple, and we’ve nearly eliminated recovery wait times for our legal staff.”

Tangible Business Benefits Build Stronger Customer Relations
Leveraging NetApp SnapManager software, the IT team has automated replication of critical systems to the DR site, tailoring schedules to application-specific recovery point objectives (RPOs). The average 2-hour RPO for critical systems represents a 92% improvement over the 24-hour RPO achievable in the former environment. Harris cites even greater improvement in recovery time: “We estimate a 95% reduction in recovery time for business-critical systems. In the previous infrastructure, it would have taken weeks to do what we’re now doing within a 4-hour window. Another point worth making,” continues Harris, “is that the business plan for this infrastructure included a full-time engineer to manage business continuity/DR processes. In the past, recovering from errors or failure events not only consumed considerable IT resources, it also put at risk the firm’s progress on case work. With the NetApp solution in place we haven’t needed to fill that position. Today we’re protecting the productivity of both IT and legal staff by delivering greater levels of availability with greater simplicity.”

NetApp’s unified architecture allows administrators to more easily align applications and storage to meet performance, protocol, and capacity needs for both environments. “The firm used to require a two-week lead time to add capacity to a server,” Harris notes. “Today we can scale volumes and add LUNs [logical unit numbers] in real time without disrupting operations. It takes just 15 minutes to add capacity, and we’re adding to a consolidated storage pool instead of making huge up-front investments in storage silos.”

Shawn Mitkowski, CIO at Zuckerman Spaeder, adds, “Many solutions have bolt-on tools that are not completely integrated. In contrast, our virtualization solution gives us a unified and integrated interface that spans the entire product line, as well as application-aware data management tools and advanced features that integrate with and complement our VMware environment. We can deploy server or storage resources within minutes while achieving management efficiencies simply not possible with the old infrastructure.”

Administrative efficiency tells just part of the savings story at Zuckerman Spaeder. “We helped the law firm eliminate three server racks, which contributed to a 70% decrease in their power and cooling costs,” says Reckner. “Additionally, they realized a return on their investment in less than one year.” Other efficiencies included:

  • 68% capacity savings using NetApp deduplication
  • 77% improvement in server utilization
  • 30% reduction in rack space
  • 35% longer UPS (uninterruptible power supply) runtime

Harris recalls that during the evaluation process the firm had a preview of NetApp Global Support. He says, “We were still in the design phase of the project when we experienced a litigation server failure that brought production to a screeching halt while we tackled the monumental task of physically copying back tens of millions of small files — more than 3 TB of data. Without asking for a commitment on the virtualized-infrastructure project, NetApp stepped in and helped us achieve resolution days faster than if we had to rely on our own tape-based recovery. While NetApp’s responsiveness was not a sole decision-maker, it was certainly a significant data point.”