Guest Blogger

Success Story: Non-Stop Business Operations at Popular Convenience Store Chain

Thorntons, Inc. is a 40-year-old company based in Louisville, Kentucky that operates 162 gasoline and convenience stores, car washes and travel plazas across six states – Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.

When the chain first opened in 1971, its business operations were conducted via paper and telephones. Today, Thorntons relies upon a robust wide area network (WAN) and backend IT systems in order to stay competitive and to support everything the business needs to function and adapt to rapid growth.

This convenience store chain does not shut down for any reason, so store operations are regarded as “mission-critical.” This write-intensive enterprise has many transactions across many locations occurring at every hour of the day–including point-of-sale (POS) information, employee hours and shift activity data–keeping the store operations continually available is the only acceptable option.

Constant Hardware Upgrades and Change-outs

Before embracing virtualization, Thorntons was similar to most companies in the way its IT needs were handled: racks and cabinets full of servers. The company had different servers for different applications and storage resources were spread out across all servers, in the attempt to make resources more usable. To keep up with changing requirements and new technology, the company had to change out and upgrade the hardware every three or four years, which was not efficient or sustainable.

Software-Defined Storage to the Rescue

Years of this reliance on physical servers drove home the need for virtualization on the server-side, and server virtualization has been in place at Thorntons since 2007. At that time, the virtualized environment was VMware hooked up directly to a Dell Compellent SAN. Over time, the disk space became over 80% full. As a result, performance of the SAN began to suffer, negatively affecting the response times for other systems.

Thorntons deployed high-performance software-defined storage (SDS) from DataCore in early 2011, and the IT team reconfigured its storage area networks (SANs), replacing the primary storage with a different model. The IT team was then able to combine their older Dell Compellent boxes and use them to create a true disaster recovery (DR) and back-up site.

The new virtualized storage infrastructure, which is located at Thorntons’ primary data center, consists of DataCore SANsymphony SDS running in front of an X-IO ISE SAN. One SANsymphony software-defined storage system runs in front of the X-IO SAN, while another copy runs in front of the Dell Compellent SAN at the DR site. The systems are synchronously mirrored, whereby the primary site is connected to the DR site with an eight gigabit fibre channel and two fibre channel switches. The DataCore SANsymphony SDS hypervisors deployed as two synchronous mirrors gives Thorntons a flexible approach to backup and recovery if an outage should occur—and does so with accelerated performance.

Two for One: SDS and Disaster Recovery

Now all of the volumes are synchronously replicated, with the system configured so that all of the ‘reads’ come out of the primary SAN and ‘writes’ go to both the primary and the secondary SANs. Whenever any data is written to a database – or do anything on the system – it is written to both sides. This ensures all of the data volumes are well protected. Even with writing to two SANs in separate locations, DataCore SANsymphony SDS delivers high-performance and functionality.

The repurposing of the Dell Compellent SANs to the DR site was made possible only with SANsymphony serving as the software-defined storage platform. If not for the ability of SANsymphony to increase the speed and performance of the existing SANs, new equipment would have been needed on the DR side too. You could even say that the deployment of SANsymphony software-defined storage basically paid for Thortons DR site. Another key benefit of virtualization has been in making backups far more streamlined and easier to manage.

Performance, Capacity, Recovery – All with Reduced Risk

The Thorntons IT team develops a lot of its own proprietary applications in-house, including a POS system, giving the company real agility in the market with the ability to customize the system to suit its immediate needs. DataCore software-defined storage has not only given the IT team at Thorntons peace of mind with high availability and performance, backup and recovery – the team now has more time to focus on their core functions – to develop and deploy new technologies on the fly to further help drive the business.

Read the Full Story

Get more details on the Thorntons case study here, including feedback from the senior network engineer!


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