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Martin J. Garvey, InformationWeek
Martin J. Garvey, InformationWeek
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Wells Fargo Blazes a Path to IP Storage

Customer's innovative approach inspires vendor partnership and a new product

Storage technology has made great advances in recent years, and many businesses now use storage appliances, networks, and management software to make better use of their storage resources. The next big move will be the long-awaited shift to IP-based storage so businesses can consolidate all data traffic on a single network. In some cases, customers are leading the way.

Wells Fargo Corp. (San Francisco, $391 billion in assets) used to spend 12 hours a day backing up 19 servers in a single department. That was unacceptable in an era of 24-hour banking. The task of improving the backup process fell to Erik Ott, an assistant VP, who knew the bank didn't want to spend a lot of money on a high-speed Fibre Channel storage area network.

Ott found a low-cost approach by combining products from two vendors, and now those vendors are offering the combination as a commercial package. Ott discovered Galaxy backup-and-recovery software from CommVault Systems (Oceanport, N.J.) at a conference. Then he added an IP storage appliance from StoneFly Networks Inc. (San Diego), an established vendor that used iSCSI, a protocol for transferring data from a server to storage over an IP network.

The combination cut the backup process from 12 hours to four. "It runs like a dream," Ott says.

When StoneFly saw what Ott had done, it talked to CommVault about developing a simpler and cheaper version of its software that the two vendors could sell with StoneFly's hardware to small and mid-size businesses. IP storage systems that use the iSCSI protocol should appeal to these businesses because they already operate IP networks and have few IT staffers available to manage more complicated storage networks, StoneFly executives say.

Together, the companies produced the StoneFly Backup Advantage appliance, which debuts this week and offers accelerated backup and recovery times. The iSCSI protocol converts blocks of data into a form that can travel easily and quickly over an IP network, allowing Advantage to work efficiently with servers. CommVault's Galaxy Express backup-and-recovery software is already integrated within the appliance, which sells for $29,795 with a terabyte of capacity.

"Nobody could have gotten the two vendors to cooperate if they didn't want to," says Dianne McAdam, an analyst at the Data Mobility Group, a research and advisory firm. "Wells Fargo definitely set the stage for CommVault and StoneFly."

This may be the year for IP storage, thanks to new products such as the one from StoneFly and the growing support for iSCSI from major vendors such as EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM. Plus, Microsoft is bundling iSCSI support into Windows, which should make it easier for businesses to adopt the technology. "With the big gorillas supporting IP storage," McAdam says, "it's a new market."

Home Banc Mortgage Corp. (Atlanta) is an iSCSI believer. Last year, it bought an iSCSI storage array from EqualLogic (Nashua, N.H.). The lending company is still connecting all of its servers to IP storage, but Akil Woolfolk, network operations team leader, says technology will make it easier to move data among branch offices across Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.

The mortgage company estimated that adding a Fibre Channel storage area network would cost three times as much as the EqualLogic PeerStorage Array 100E. And since it was running out of storage resources, it needed to add new capacity. It looked at a number of options, including StoneFly, but in the end decided to go with the iSCSI storage array.

The deciding factor? The storage system worked over the IP network the lending company already had in place. "For scale, training, and cost," says Woolfolk, "iSCSI was a no-brainer."

This article originally appeared in InformationWeek.

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