Guildford-based law firm Stevens & Bolton has implemented a new IT infrastructure, replacing its previous HP StorageWorks Modular Smart Array SAN solution with a Dell Compellent Storage Center SAN, which the company claims has helped to accelerate virtualisation and reduce strain on IT teams.

According to David Thomas, head of IT for Stevens & Bolton, the company was looking for a storage solution that would provide resiliency, so that it could failover if there was a problem with the hard drives, but that would also allow it to support a fully virtualised environment. Thomas was parachuted in to lead the project in 2008.

“We knew that we had to store not just our data on the central storage system but also the operating systems of those servers – so more than we had ever done in the past,” he said.

The problem with the existing HP solution was that it didn't have the resiliency that was needed. It had a single controller, so an additional network card could be added, but the controller acted as a single point of failure.

“The product had gone end of life about 18 months after it was purchased,” explained Thomas, “so it wasn't a very wise investment to start with.”

Thomas said that he had been warned by a several vendors – specifically the document management system vendor – against virtualising and putting all the company's eggs in one basket on a storage area network.

“They were from a traditional background, where if they had a dedicated piece of tin for their server they felt more comfortable,” he said. “They didn't like the idea of sharing infrastructure.”

However, the vendors eventually agreed to support applications in the Dell Compellent SAN environment, as long as it could be recreated in a physical environment if there were any issues.

Stevens & Bolton has now virtualised about around 95 percent of its environment, and reduced the total number of physical servers by more than half. This was achieved by taking snapshots of the of the server drives on the old SAN and then creating new servers in a VMware environment, while provisioning disk space on the Dell Compellent SAN for the snapshot to be restored to.

The company also replaced the core of the network with a faster Cisco 3750 switches, which laid the foundation for iSCSI Ethernet, as well as refreshing the workstation build, installing scripting automation and updating the document management system and software applications to the latest most stable versions.

Thomas claims that, since installing Dell Compellent storage, the company has noticed faster data access speeds and a 25 percent reduction in backup times, as well as the ability to recover data within minutes.

“With the Compellent solution you not only have dual network cards to back each other up in the VMware environment but you also have dual controllers, and they are cross-connected, so that every part has a back-up part,” said Thomas. “If one fails, there will always be one to take its place.”

IT teams are also able to access their systems remotely through a web interface, allowing them to manage or make adjustments wherever they are.

“We actually have a two-page document that anyone from the help desk team to the more senior team members, including the trainer, could quite easily follow step-by-step and install a server or indeed a virtual workstation, so it's a very intuitive, well thought out interface,” said Thomas.

Stevens & Bolton is still in the process of finishing the virtualisation project. However, the number of calls to the IT helpdesk reportedly fell by 60 percent within the first 6-12 months of implementing the solution. The 60 percent reduction was due to faster Cisco 3750 switches, refreshing the workstation build, installing scripting automation and updating the document management system and software applications to the latest most stable versions.

The company has also now acquired some additional Compellent replication licenses, that will allow it to replicate data in real time to a to a data centre operated by IT services firm, Atlanta Technology.

“Atlanta's moto is 'Back in 60 minutes', so once we've finished this project, if we suffer a major outage to our site, we could invoke the Atlanta service and within one hour our users would be able to remote into that environment, and work as if they were sat at their desks,” said Thomas.