REVIEWER: Bill Manning, director for technical services at Plumbers & Pipefitters National Pension Fund.

BACKGROUND: More than 200,000 union plumbers and pipefitters depend on the Plumbers & Pipefitters National Pension Fund to track their employment data, financial records, eligibility data and pension distributions. The fund, based in Alexandria, Virginia, works with more than 300 local unions nationwide and expects to expand this base by 500 percent in the next five years ­ making the need for highly reliable and scalable data architecture crucial to long-term success and customer satisfaction. Historically, many union locals managed their pensions themselves, but as the record-keeping and fund distribution became more burdensome, central fund managers such as Plumbers & Pipefitters provide a much- needed alternative. Plumbers & Pipefitters now manages more than $5.6 billion in assets.

PLATFORMS: DataCore's SANsymphony storage virtualization software manages the fund's storage area network (SAN), which currently manages the fund's 22 Windows NT servers and RAID arrays, representing 850 gigabytes of capacity. The fund will upgrade to the Windows 2000 platform and integrate its Solaris servers into the SAN later this year.

PROBLEM SOLVED: For more than 32 years, the fund has been amassing critical data that is constantly growing ­ as more members join and more local unions enroll to leverage the fund's operational efficiencies and expertise. Because Plumbers & Pipefitters collects and stores data for decades before beginning to pay out pensions, having the facilities to accommodate an ever- increasing amount of data and securely hold that information for a long time is imperative. In the past two years, we've quadrupled our storage capacity, and added and reconfigured several server-attached RAID arrays. Our SAN solution, particularly DataCore's SAN management software, provides the flexibility, scalability and security that we require, along with an interface that's extremely easy to use.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: DataCore's SAN-symphony has met all of our needs: high levels of data protection and security, simplified management, SAN scalability and flexibility, and the ability to leverage our existing hardware investments. SANsymphony's N+1 redundancy protects everything in the virtualized pool without consuming twice the capacity. We can easily partition storage volumes within the virtual pool and allocate available capacity as needed with a simple drag-and-drop. The graphical interface is very intuitive and presents the data in a familiar way.

STRENGTHS: SANsymphony's virtualization approach consolidates our storage resources into a pool where available capacity can be allocated with just a mouse click, reassigning it to wherever capacity is needed. We're already seeing positive return on investment from our SAN since we can use our existing storage hardware. We will be able to easily scale to meet our growing capacity needs with hardware from any vendor ­ eliminating storage-related application downtime and helping our IT staff be more productive. Our critical data assets are secure because the software ensures enterprise-level data protection through a fault-tolerant architecture that eliminates single points of failure.

WEAKNESSES: The administrative interface includes some sophisticated functions that are not evident without prior training.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We examined several SAN solutions, but were hard-pressed to find one that would allow the flexibility we wanted within our budget. Our systems integrator, Selenetix, learned of DataCore's SANsymphony and immediately saw the potential to solve our storage management dilemma. Selenetix conducted extensive evaluation of the software with a variety of stress tests, what-if and fail-over scenarios in its lab and came back with a unilateral endorsement of DataCore's technology. After experiencing how easy it is to redirect I/O, add and move storage, it was clear that this solution was exactly what the fund's growth required.

DELIVERABLES: SANsymphony allows us to seamlessly add or reconfigure our data storage on an as-needed basis. As we grow, we'll be able to integrate any new SAN offering from other hardware vendors into our network, easily and cost-effectively. We have a solid infrastructure that will continue to support our data storage infrastructure as it grows ­ even exponentially ­ for several years.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We've had very positive experience with DataCore. Training was comprehensive and informative, and customer support has been very responsive.

DOCUMENTATION: SANsymphony's reference material is thorough, informative and well written and organized, although we rarely need to reference the product documentation.

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