Interactive Prospect Targeting Limited (IPT) is a large, publicly-held direct marketing company that employs over 150 staff including in-house teams of designers, programmers and production consultants, all based at its central London offices.

Its clients include an array of household names, including Dixons, Sky, Carphone Warehouse, Virgin Money and Vodafone, to name just a few out of dozens. And it delivers 150 million opt-in emails delivered every quarter for 100 clients -- with capacity for up to 12 million a day -- driven by 80 servers with off-site back-up attached to 22TB of storage.

But according to Dermot Skinner, the company's chief technical and data officer, it's got data storage problems. "We have huge data growth and the challenge is that we needed to move to a new system which not only had the capacity we needed, but was also easy to setup and use."

So when iSCSI SAN specialist EqualLogic recently announced a new storage array, the third in its series of Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) products, Skinner decided to take a look at this option, as one among many, to replace the company's mainly localised storage pool.

After considering all the options, IPT deployed EqualLogic’s storage virtualisation as part of its VMware installation. For Skinner, the combination of VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 (VI3) plus storage virtualisation offered the flexibility that IPT wanted.

Skinner said that IPT looked at number of vendors but felt most comfortable with VMware. "We've worked together with VMware for last 12 months. It's meant that we've managed to cut down the number of physical servers -- mainly Dell 2950s -- which saved cost and made them easier to manage. The servers generally run a mix of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Windows, with 90-100 virtual machines on top.

"Virtualisation also improved our resilience and disaster recovery options, and meant could grow with our data."

"We bought 20TB of SATA and 5TB of SAS storage," he said. "Having a SAN means you can bolt on additional storage bricks as you need them. We reserve half the storage for VM snapshots and 20 per cent for redundancy. We replicate the data from one SAN group to another for disaster recovery purposes.

"The EqualLogic software does the storage management for us. It decides where to put the data depending on usage based on our business policies."

"When we started looking at SANs with VMware, their software only supported fibre SANs, so we were only able to make use of consolidation," Skinner said. "But with iSCSI support -- which took VMware a year longer to add into the product than they said -- it meant we could then use automated failover in VI3, which is a very powerful tool, and is good for redundancy and high availability."

Challenges -- of course there were some. Skinner said: "We found that finding the right skill sets and learning the nuances of VMware were issues, as was moving from VMware 2 to VI3. We didn't find version 2 of the software very user-friendly, where VI3 is much more of an enterprise-level tool."

When it came to installing the SAN, Skinner's main problems were finding enough downtime. "Some we took offline, some we took copies and then switched over -- it depends on the application," he said.

What did IPT get out of the new system? "The advantages are that management of the system is much easier. It's very centralised and you don't have to micro-manage it. We'll be using disaster recovery and HA features, and can move VMs according to load. We've yet to investigate the high availability aspects of this."

And there have been savings. "We need fewer people and our data centre costs are lower, such as power, since we need fewer servers -- and of course our hardware costs are lower. With the SAN, we can also locate the storage in different areas and do it with fewer staff."

Skinner was clear about his choice of vendor. "We chose EqualLogic because if we have a problem, we go straight through to technical guys," he said. "We also liked the architecture and the storage management -- it's reliable and scalable, which is good for us since we're very dynamic. We're experiencing huge data growth and the SAN can expand easily with no hidden costs such as licensing. It's all laid out.

"The key thing is that our Web sites offer efficient access and storage to our customers."