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Law firm bolsters remote data protection DR with iSCSI, solid state and VDI

After a Milwaukee-based law firm added iSCSI SAN arrays for remote data protection, they reported a significant improvement in DR speed

After losing data for three days in a Florida office following a 2005 hurricane, law firm Quarles and Brady re-thought its remote office storage strategy to improve its disaster recovery plan – adding EqualLogic SAN arrays in all remote offices. With a combination of technologies including iSCSI, solid state drives (SSDs) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) protecting its remote offices, the firm has been able to recover from any subsequent disaster within a matter of hours.

 “I’m confident within four hours I can get any business server up and running, providing I don’t lose staff,” said Rich Raether, the law firm’s manager of network engineering.

That wasn’t always the case. The firm’s Naples, Fla., office was down for days following Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The Milwaukee, Wisc.-based Quarles and Brady has lawyers working in seven offices in the United States and one in China.

Before Wilma hit, the firm had EMC storage systems in its data center, but used small servers and no shared storage in its remote offices. Raether said the DR plan back then was to overnight LTO tapes via UPS from remote offices to Milwaukee. When Wilma hit, his users from the Naples, Fla., office went to hotels or other safe sites but had no data.

That’s when he began looking for better remote office storage. He said he evaluated systems from EMC Corp., NetApp Inc., and LeftHand (now part of Hewlett-Packard Co.) before selecting EqualLogic (which has since been acquired by Dell Inc.). Raether said he liked EqualLogic because he could quickly provision volumes, and the array’s base price included all of its management software.

Raether said now he can failover within 45 minutes from any disaster, with the help of EqualLogic’s array-based replication plus Riverbed Technology Inc.’s Steelhead WAN optimization devices and VMware Inc.’s Site Recovery Manager (SRM).

He said when tropical storm Fay hit Florida in 2008, he used SRM to replicate data and shut down the local server in Naples. “We mounted VMDKs [Virtual Machine Disks] on the host in Milwaukee, brought up servers, re-IPed them and restored Naples,” he said. “The restore took 45 minutes. The Naples office was closed for two days, but when our attorneys came back, the data was there.

“Anybody can do failover, failback is tough. EqualLogic has automatic failback built into the array. It took 15 minutes to fail back,” he said.

Quarles and Brady now has 43 EqualLogic arrays holding more than 500 TB of data. “We have just about every EqualLogic flavor,” Raether said. The most recent addition was a PS6010XVS 10-gigabit Ethernet (GbE) hybrid array with half of the 16 drives filled with solid state and the rest SAS disks.

“If I had my way, I’d put everything on SSDs,” Raether said. “People say the drives wear out, but I have a warranty. If my drive fails, Dell’s replacing it. We put databases on SAS, and temporary and log files on SSDs. We get a performance improvement of almost 100 percent.”

The SSDs come in handy for the firm’s VDI implementation. Raether said his firm has about 450 Windows 7 virtual desktops using Citrix XenDesktop. He said that lets the lawyers stay connected to all their documents wherever they’re working from.

“Our primary use for VDI is letting our attorneys connect remotely,” Raether said. “Our applications sit on the VDI backbone, which is right in the data center on top of the servers so the performance is much faster. Attorneys like it because they can disconnect from their VDI session on their desktops, go to Starbucks, jump on their laptop and pick up their session where they left off. All of their documents are open, right where they left off on their desktop.

“For instance, attorneys in our Chicago office can leave Chicago at noon, get to Milwaukee at two in the afternoon, sit down at a guest office and bring up their desktop where it was when they were sitting in Chicago. A meeting rolls around, they check into a hotel, log in remotely – boom – they have the same desktop. We’re starting to extend it to iPads with the Citrix receiver client.”

He said the firm experiences VDI boot storms between 8 am and 9 am, but the virtual desktops usually boot in less than 15 seconds.

Quarles and Brady eliminated Fibre Channel last year when the firm replaced its last EMC boxes. The firm still uses EMC’s Data Domain data deduplication backup targets in its Milwaukee and Phoenix offices.

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