BACKGROUND: LifeCare.com provides education and referral services to more than 1,100 clients, helping millions of employees and their families manage their work and personal lives more effectively. LifeCare.com helps organizations increase workplace productivity and efficiency, and reduce absenteeism, turnover and stress. Based in Westport, Connecticut, LifeCare.com employs more than 250 people.

PLATFORMS: We run the McDATA ED- 5000 Enterprise Fibre Channel Director (also OEMd as the EMC Connectrix) on TRU64 UNIX, Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 SP6, Compaq GS20 and ES 40 systems, HP LH4 Servers, HP LHPRO Servers, HP E60 Servers, DEC Alpha 1200 Servers and DEC Alpha 4100 Servers.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Our storage system was decentralized; each server had its own storage with little or no data sharing. We had 25 Hewlett Packard servers and Compaq Alpha Servers but were limited by scalability, manageability, limited fault tolerance and decreased disk speeds. We wanted to centralize data storage, manage information across multiple departments and back up mission-critical information on a highly fault- tolerant, high-speed platform. In addition, we wanted to shorten our product development cycle.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The benefits of implementing the McDATA ED-5000 switch were twofold. First, we can now develop applications online which means shorter product development cycles. This process is totally transparent to the end users, which is an added bonus. Second, the time we spend backing up data has decreased by 80 percent. Currently we're evaluating a new database product that could help us further optimize database performance. This management product, in conjunction with the ED-5000, could help us to optimize our production databases so that the performance is at the highest level possible.

STRENGTHS: The primary strengths of this product are its speed and reliability. We now have high-speed access to an incredible amount of data, and that's essential when you need to access mission-critical applications and servers. In addition, its hot-swappable design allows for 24x7 availability, which means it is nondisruptive for users. The ED-5000 has a high availability rate of 99.99 percent and comprehensive management of our data storage infrastructure.

WEAKNESSES: The biggest weakness of the product is that there is a certain amount of expense involved, especially to scale the product to your unique needs. That can require the support of your senior management team. It is not an inexpensive solution ­ but nothing good ever is.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Like all organizations evaluating systems, we did our homework. For us, the deciding factor was the partnership ­ and synergy ­ between EMC and McDATA. The compatibility of the products, the comprehensive training and the speed of their Fibre Channel solutions all appealed to us.

DELIVERABLES: VolumeLogix and TimeFinder provide a visual interface and reporting capability of system status, port assignments, server assignments, volume and physical disk assignments for the McDATA ED-5000 and Symmetrix systems. Quantifiable results include disk access speed and data retrieval increased 200-300 percent, time spent backing up data decreased by 80 percent and a dramatic increase in system reliability and manageability.

VENDOR SUPPORT: McDATA was involved from the project's inception through the installation process. We were supported by both McDATA and EMC engineers. Our regional support specialist provided tremendous assistance and made sure that any issues we had were quickly resolved. The process ran very smoothly.

DOCUMENTATION: The whole system is quite well documented, and we relied on the documentation during the install process. This is important because we're not trained as system engineers. The documentation is relatively easy to understand, but not completely intuitive, so the vendor support we received was essential.

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