When a company grows, its IT storage solution needs to keep up. But with budgets in tow, an upgraded solution often requires a creative, resourceful—and often times, risky—approach.
That’s exactly what Daniel Weissenborn, solution architect at ClearPointe, learned first-hand when it was time to upgrade ClearPointe’s solutions. He knew it wouldn’t be an easy fix and that he would need to break free from the limitations of its storage area network (SAN).
In the past, IT managed services provider ClearPointe relied on a single instance of Operations Manager to monitor servers and applications for all of its customers. But as its customer base grew, the solution wasn’t performing well enough to handle demand.
“At one time, we could do everything under the sun with the solution we were using, but as our customer base grew, getting instances together in one place was becoming more of a challenge,” says Weissenborn.
To address the issue, ClearPointe decided to re-architect its infrastructure to reap the benefits of a cloud environment (see the Figure). It created customer-specific Operations Manager instances running in individual virtual machines and then used Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 Service Manager to coordinate and manage hundreds of these instances. However, the company quickly learned that its new solution performed slowly with ClearPointe’s existing SAN storage infrastructure, which also wasn’t completely cost-effective.
Figure. Shown here is a scale-out of a hyper-converged model for more compute. It represents just one way a space can be scaled to meet any performance or redundancy requirement for small to medium to enterprise deployments.
Once Weissenborn began digging into alternative options, he discovered a new SAN would cost $370,000, as well as tens of thousands of dollars more for a new network, backup infrastructure and additional elements. This amount far exceeded ClearPointe’s budget of $300,000 for new storage infrastructure.
Instead, Weissenborn turned to the operating system he had already deployed, Windows Server 2012 R2, with its range of software-based storage features.
Since ClearPointe already licensed the operating system, these features were free. “If we had to pay for all of these, the price would have easily exceeded $1 million,” Weissenborn says.
Despite the clear cost-effectiveness of this solution, Weissenborn says the concept was met with resistance from many of the company’s design engineers. They weren’t sold on the idea of replacing SANs with software-based storage. Weissenborn knew the only way to convince them would be to demonstrate the virtualized storage approach in action.
Weissenborn enlisted the help of the local Microsoft account team to set up a small test storage environment running Windows Server 2012 R2 in a ClearPointe lab over the course of eight months. The test environment showed remarkable results, Weissenborn says, and it was then just a matter of scaling the design to meet production performance requirements.
In the meantime, Weissenborn gathered quotes on a new SAN in case the team voted to continue with its traditional approach. As it turned out, the cost of a high-quality SAN would have been six times that of what a virtualized storage approach would be, and features like tiering would cost tens of thousands of dollars more.
Once everyone was onboard, ClearPointe set out to build a production software-defined storage infrastructure and create a set of industry-standard scale-out file services servers. After implementing some more tools and fine-tuning things, what the company created turned out to be “the fastest virtualized storage platform they’d ever seen,” Weissenborn says.
In the end, by replacing its SAN infrastructure with a virtualized storage solution, ClearPointe increased storage performance tenfold, gained greater storage scalability and reduced costs by a factor of six. Furthermore, Service Manager response times went from 10 to 15 seconds to 1 to 3 seconds. There was also plenty of room to grow, since ClearPointe only populated 30 percent of its three storage enclosures. In addition, it found on-site warranty support that was guaranteed to arrive within four hours to ensure everything would continue to go on without a hitch.
The experience was a true lesson in leadership, according to Weissenborn. “You can’t be a leading technology provider if you’re always playing it safe. You can’t be afraid to implement new technologies and take a risk on something that checks all the boxes for your needs.”
“If you’re always following behind others that took the risk first, you’ll never be a technology leader,” he adds.
Renee Morad is a freelance writer and editor based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Discovery News, Business Insider, Ozy.com, NPR, MainStreet.com, and other outlets. If you have a story you would like profiled, contact her at [email protected].
The IT Innovators series of articles is underwritten by Microsoft, and is editorially independent.