BACKGROUND: Rockford Industries is a 14-year-old specialty finance firm that has experienced a very high growth rate of about 35 to 40 percent annually for the past few years. We primarily handle financing in the medical and medical-related equipment area for direct care providers in the healthcare industry as well as for the general business community. We are known for providing fast and flexible point-of-sale financing for the purchase of equipment generally priced at $250,000 or less. Our customers tend to be dentists, physicians, physical therapists, outpatient medical facilities and non-physician medical providers. To succeed in this market we need to be able to deliver fast, flexible, innovative and convenient financing services. This translates into a need for high-availability, high-performance, highly automated servers and data storage systems.
PLATFORMS: Windows NT servers and network running Visual Basic, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Exchange Server and a set of proprietary applications.
PROBLEM SOLVED: We had three related problems. First we had to provide high system availability to ensure that our users could always access the data in response to business requests. Second, we needed to ensure the best possible system performance because our customers demand fast service. Third, we needed fast, easy, plug-in scalability because we are growing so fast. For instance, we needed to be able to add more disk capacity very quickly, just by plugging in new disk drives.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The StorageWorks system provides external storage for databases, data marts, Web servers, server consolidation, e-mail and other applications that require scalability, performance and high availability (provided through RAID). The integrated Fibre Channel technology consists of a new industry-standard interconnect and serial I/O protocol. The solution is modular and supports the use of existing SCSI hard disk drives. Installation and configuration is painless, and Compaq provides rich setup and administrative tools. The Fibre Channel array kit houses either 1.6" or 1.0" hot-pluggable disk drives. The integrated RAID controller uses Compaq's SMART-2 technology and comes with 64MB of battery-backed cache.
STRENGTHS: We turned to StorageWorks Fibre Channel storage subsystems because we could solve all three problems with one system. Especially when compared to traditional SCSI technology, it gives us top performance and easy, plug-in scalability. It also provides extensive high-availability capabilities. Another strength is the ease of administration.
WEAKNESSES: What makes things so easy is that everything plugs into a single hub which is easy to set up, configure and administer. But the hub itself becomes a potential point of failure. The fibre optic cable itself could break, which would be another single point of failure. However, Compaq is working with us to address this concern.
DELIVERABLES: StorageWorks provides an external RAID controller, sixth-generation RAID technology, 100MB/s Fibre Channel arbitrated loop (FC-AL), the Fibre Channel storage hub with support for up to 11 Fibre Channel arrays, 80GB storage units and administrative software that lets us partition the storage between Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange.
VENDOR SUPPORT: We worked with Compaq through a systems integrator that specializes in clustered systems. The systems integrator set up a demonstration and then provided the entire system. We have had excellent support from both Compaq and the systems integrator. Compaq also provides a prefailure warranty, which allows for the replacement of drives before they actually fail when using Compaq Insight Manager administrative software.
DOCUMENTATION: The system comes with comprehensive paper and electronic documentation. The installation, however, has gone so well that we haven't had any reason to dig into the documentation, but it is available and looks pretty good.
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