With two dozen Family Centres located throughout a six-county radius, the Central Florida YMCA has had to grow more than its facilities to accommodate the 200,000-plus people it sees walk through its doors each year. The YMCA is tasked with ensuring it is a safe and nurturing "Third Place" outside of an individual's work/school and home life, and it has developed a wide range of programs to suit its varied members.

Such programs now include activities from baseball to aquatics, stress reduction, topical health screenings and health awareness classes. In an effort to give its members access to as many programs as possible, the Central Florida YMCA developed an "All-Y" membership pass allowing them to use any one of its centres.

This brought in its wake a simple but very difficult challenge for each and every one of its centres: verifying the identity of members coming from other Family Centres. Member photos at a member's originating Family Center were easy for local YMCA staff to look up; they were on the local PC's hard drive. They had been originally scanned at the member's registered Family Centre, before being stored at the same centre on a Windows-based HP7100 PC.

When a member traveled to the corporate headquarters or another Family Center, however, YMCA staff ther couldn't access the member's photo. Instead, they resorted to verifying membership via the member's demographic data found on the central member database; slow and time-consuming.

IT Director Edil Vicenty wanted to do this better and have, ideally, the member photos from one family centre available at any one of the others.

Global namespace technology

Sencilo, a YMCA system integrator, brought Attune System's Maestro File Manager (MFM) product to Vicenty's attention.

He learned that Maestro could, because of its Global Namespace functionality, be used to let authorized YMCA staff access any member's photo, regardless of where it originated. He also found out about the breadth of its automated file management, monitoring and reporting it could perform on the 24 local and remote servers. So the fancy-seming global namespace technology didn't come with a jump in sysadm responsibilities and workload.

MFM is built on the Windows platform with native support for the CIFS protocol, and has broad integration with Windows' features ranging from Active Directory to Cluster Server, and numerous other elements such as Opportunistic Locking (Oplocks).

"I liked what I saw," said Vicenty. "The system showed such versatility. It used a superior file manager with all the network-attached storage [NAS] characteristics and a single point of management. The fact that it had 100 percent compatibility with Microsoft products also stood out in my mind."

Vicenty also liked the fact that the YMCA could deploy Maestro with little to no risk to its current data structures and processes, then expand its use later, if it chose.

Vicenty took the plunge and decided to deploy Maestro at the YMCA's corporate headquarters.

Setting it up

To tackle its primary issue, the MIS team decided to use MFM to set up a Global Namespace (similar to a virtual pathname or logical file share) such as \\Members\Photos. This allowed authorized staff members to access all member photos.

Unlike static path names and file shares linked to the underlying server or filer where the data is stored, MFM's Global Namespace allows organizations to use a logical path name or file share that does not reflect the location of the underlying data. This same logical path can be used, regardless of whether or not there are changes to the underlying physical server or storage layers.

Vicenty explains how this works: "With Maestro, we were able to place all the photos, located in all the sites, into one share folder. Then, via scripting, Maestro combines all the photos logically so that they are now available to users across the entire enterprise. MIS can now supply all members' photos to any users that need to see them, at anytime, from any location."

Another benefit of this approach was its ability to replace a four-hour, semi-manual, weekly process the MIS team used to perform in efforts to protect and copy all scanned member photos.

To minimize risk and changes to the underlying environment during the deployment, the MIS team opted to keep the original processes and pathnames for storing images at each local Family Centre as well.

That way, staff could still perform local photo lookups or choose to access the collective \Photos share.

Better file management

Another area where Vicenty's team found welcome help was in Maestro's ability to monitor, analyze and report on the various servers, file shares and files under its care.

The MIS team had already begun to experience the difficulties of how best to proactively monitor and manage all 25 server resources—located at both the YMCA's central headquarters and each of its Family Centres. Team members struggled with a "cumbersome and tedious" manual process of managing files.

With Maestro, however, the team were able to take advantage of its reporting and monitoring features, including automatic charts that let them quickly see the relative health or issues associated with each server's storage volumes' capacities, CPU utilization, memory utilization and throughput.

Likewise, Maestro was able to offer easy, automatically reporting on the file data itself. Not only could it identify and report on the different types of files stored on each server, based on their filename or file type, but it also provides detailed summaries about how long since they have been accessed, the amount and location of duplicates, et cetera.

Vicenty said: "The MIS staff gained a robust tool to manage data, share folders and files of all types. All file management is now stream-lined. We have logs, statistics, better analytics and an opportunity to create virtual storage pools with virtual layers of data manipulation."

Vicenty thinks that Maestro's rich feature set will also save the YMCA on future capital investments as well: "Maestro provides visibility to very critical processes, such as performing file inventories, qualifying data pools, conducting inventories of share folders and manipulating data upon request," he said. "I do not have to invest in other appliances or applications to accomplish similar functionalities."

Vicenty intends to expand use of Maestro to discover non-authorized share folders and run automated policies to transparently migrate older, infrequently accessed files to a lower-cost storage tier, without affecting end users or clients. He is also exploring its use to retrieve and secure human resource (HR) data.

Vicenty' summing up is that: "Maestro is a cost-effective product that brings your enterprise operation to a more tactical and strategic way of managing files and backups. It can redefine better storage processes and a better outcome in your file management lifecycles."