Guest Blogger

One Company’s Secret Sauce to Reducing Storage Costs and Improving Performance

Pee Dee Electric Cooperative (“Pee Dee Electric”) is a non-profit, electric cooperative located in Darlington, South Carolina that supplies electricity and other services to more than 30,000 consumers. With a core competency of selling and transmitting power, its goal is to provide excellent, unbroken customer service. To do that, the cooperative must have a high-performing, reliable IT infrastructure.

Oracle is the foundation of Pee Dee Electric’s meter data management (MDM) solution. This database stores every consumer’s meter data, every hour per day, in the MDM database. This information is displayed to the customer (member) via the web so that any household served by Pee Dee Electric can track daily electricity usage. The system also “forecasts” usage based on past behaviors. Protecting and easily accessing this information is critical to the success of the business.

How Slow Can Data Storage Go?

Prior to a software-defined storage (SDS) solution, Pee Dee Electric’s older storage area network (SAN) platform from EMC (specifically, an EMC CX3) was under-performing. Initially the SAN had done what it was supposed to do–serve as a local file storage system and archive. But as time passed, the increasing slowness of the storage being served from the SAN began to be a real problem.

The IT department at Pee Dee Electric had also implemented a server virtualization initiative where multiple Tier-1, mission-critical databases and applications were virtualized. The disk drives that made up the SAN enclosure simply could not keep up with the demands of the virtualized servers. The Oracle database and Microsoft Exchange (responsible for the entire email system) were both negatively affected, indicating that the storage platform could not perform at a fast enough speed for these business-critical databases.

Accessing and Protecting Mission-Critical Data Storage

The IT department knew it needed a virtualized storage solution with better performance, one that offered shared and centralized storage that could enable virtualized desktops for users. Without lightning-fast performance on the storage side, the organization knew its end users would be frustrated and less productive.

The IT team compared multiple vendor offerings and learned that with DataCore, Pee Dee Electric could get twice as much storage and better performance. In fact, for the cost of one EMC SAN, Pee Dee Electric was able to deploy synchronously mirrored, virtualized storage servers and achieve the high availability objectives they were looking for. As a result, the cooperative had more storage, better performance, as well as fault tolerance not possible with the single EMC SAN.

Beyond high availability, there were other benefits to a virtualized storage infrastructure. As performance has increased, so has productivity improvement. In addition, a software-based approach to storage virtualization has drastically reduced costs by enabling the IT team to virtualize existing storage devices, eliminating the need to pay upwards of $500,000 for a traditional, hardware-based SAN to support the Oracle-powered MDM solution.

Now, rather than just “serving” virtualized storage to Oracle, Oracle itself is virtualized as a virtual machine (VM)- albeit on its own server and not one running multiple VMs. Another VM is attached to this database and runs the algorithms needed to conduct electricity usage “queries” against the Oracle database.

A Virtualization Platform for Today

How it works today: The IT environment consists of two, synchronously mirrored DataCore SANsymphony storage servers plus a third, replicated node for disaster recovery (DR) offsite. The third storage server has various LUNs running off of the node at the DR site. Ten terabytes of storage space is replicated across the mirrored sites. Eight gigabit Fibre Channel connectivity runs on the backend (from the storage to the DataCore host). Six VM hosts run on a mix ofGen6 and Gen7 HP Proliant DL308 servers that are attached to the storage. Three of these support the core environment. The additional three support the VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) environment. The three copies of DataCore SANsymphony software each run on HP Proliant DL380 Gen8 servers. Running on the backend of each of these virtualized storage servers are HP storage arrays.

The systems that have been virtualized include a maps database, all of the organization’s document imaging, file storage, and two web servers handling customer traffic. SOL is virtualized and runs the outage management system, an automated system that provides alerts and updates and manages the information of members who are coping with power outages. In addition, once the current billing system is upgraded, Pee Dee Electric’s entire billing system (another Oracle-based database) will also run on the DataCore virtualized platform. Performance-wise, benchmarks and testing confirmed the virtualized servers perform significantly better than they did previously in a physical environment—better IOPs and more throughput than EMC.

Another benefit? Not only did DataCore have the features and functionality that Pee Dee Electric need, but as portable software it was also easy to deploy, especially for off-the-shelf hardware. It was obvious that becoming software-defined on the storage side made just as much sense as it did for servers and desktops. Plus, with DataCore, Pee Dee Electric is not locked into a specific vendor for storage hardware devices.

SDS Benefits beyond Performance, Hardware Independence and High Availability

The system now stands at over 200 virtualized servers and desktops as a combined total and has no performance or latency issues, even though the scope has grown far beyond what was originally envisioned.

This SDS approach from DataCore also helps Pee Dee Electric turn its long-term disaster recovery and business continuity (BC) strategy into reality. One year after the initial deployment, the IT team added a third DataCore storage server using asynchronous replication to the virtualized IT infrastructure located thirty miles away. By addressing the core business objective of business continuity through redundancy and fault tolerance, Pee Dee Electric has now realized the overall high availability and business continuity it sought from its IT infrastructure—and demanded for its customers.

Read the Full Story

Get the full Pee Dee Electric case study here, including feedback from Robbie Howle, Pee Dee Electric’s Cooperative IT Manager!


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