REVIEWER: Rod Lucero, chief information architect for Conseco Finance.

BACKGROUND: Conseco Finance is the fourth largest diversified finance company in the U.S., managing $39 billion in assets.

PLATFORMS: EMC Symmetrix, Windows 2000, VMware, Citrix Metaframe UNIX, NetWare.

PROBLEM SOLVED: With more than 70TB of storage capacity supporting $39 billion in assets, protecting the company's rapidly growing, mission-critical data was our number one concern. At the same time, shrinking budgets (as well as Chapter 11 status) signaled an urgent need to cut costs and improve efficiencies across the enterprise. The mandate: Do more with less. DataCore's SANsymphony delivered cost-effective disaster recovery, taking advantage of existing networking protocols. In addition, the consolidated and automated multiple high-end storage arrays across the enterprise dramatically simplified management and allocation of our data.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SANsymphony consolidates management of several arrays into a common network storage pool and automatically provisions capacity to hundreds of servers ­ dramatically reducing our workload and need for downtime. Taking advantage of this "virtualized" pool of storage, the software boosts the utilization rate of our existing storage capacity, extending our IT investment and allowing us to postpone future purchases. By using existing IP WANs and a tiered storage approach for remote mirroring, SANsymphony further reduces the financial burden of protecting data with a reliable, cost-effective disaster recovery strategy.

STRENGTHS: We've been able to measure the strengths of this product in terms of money and time saved. With a storage environment consisting largely of high-end, high-price hardware, the costs related to capacity upgrades can quickly eat up our already tight IT budgets. By increasing the capacity utilization rates from approximately 55 percent to 80 percent, we've been able to dramatically increase the efficient use of existing storage investments, without purchasing new hardware ­ freeing up capital for other important IT projects contributing to the corporate goals given our current financial status. Another key strength is the ability to replicate business-critical data over long distances ­ in our case, to a site hundreds of miles away. We are able to do self-assured disaster recovery, using existing storage and connectivity. In addition, the product offers a tremendous boost in performance, dramatically easing administration and management time. In one key example, a database process that previously took four days now only takes an hour.

WEAKNESSES: Improved capacity utilization and automated storage provisioning are two key benefits of SANsymphony. However, at the time of purchase, to use these features we had to choose between using the high-availability features of our arrays or those of the SANsymphony software ­ we couldn't combine them in quite the way we wanted to. DataCore has since released ­ and we have implemented ­ an updated version of the product that allows us to leverage both the arrays' capabilities and the software's functionality to our best advantage.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Initially, we were searching for a disaster recovery solution that would ensure data accessibility during and after a massive server consolidation initiative. With its unique and cost-effective approach to disaster recovery, DataCore's SANsymphony quickly made the short list. We soon realized that the software could deliver benefits above and beyond mirroring and replication. Won over by its ability to deliver eased management and automatically improved utilization, we made the decision to go with SANsymphony. The software is now an integral part of the company's storage management solution.

DELIVERABLES: SANsymphony allows us to protect and mange our critical applications and information and provide 24x7 data access to our employees and customers. The cost and man hours saved ­ already in short supply ­ from benefits such as increased utilization and eased management can be put toward other critical projects, boosting productivity and helping overall business performance. As an added bonus, the open, heterogeneous approach taken by DataCore allows us to add any hardware to the storage network, giving us immense flexibility for future technology purchases.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We continue to be very pleased with DataCore's technical and customer support. Their knowledgeable staff has always responded to our needs in a quick and enthusiastic manner.

DOCUMENTATION: DataCore's documentation is very good. The support area of Datacore's Web site is excellent. This is the first support site I have found that really works well.

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