One of Those Days

It is the rare day where I wish I could leave the ranks of the analyst community and re-join the user community. Today was one of those days.

Over the last couple of years I have carefully watched the emergence of the new NEC HYDRAstor product. During that period of time, I have had the unique opportunity to be involved in its development as both an end user and an analyst. As an end user and storage engineer, I was part of a group of people NEC interviewed regarding what they would look for in the ideal backup and archive appliance. Then as an analyst, I again evaluated the NEC HYDRAStor because NEC asked me to write a white paper describing the value proposition of the technology.

But at the end of the day what I think and write about on a specific technology are largely immaterial if the product doesn’t deliver on its promises. So that is part of the reason I was looking forward to speaking to one of NEC HYDRAstor’s first end users, Gregg Paulk, the IT Manager for the Anderson Center for Autism in Staatsburg, NY.

What makes Gregg’s scenario unique is that when he started his job he did not have to deal with the traditional baggage of most IT managers – established FC SANs, IT staff, procedures, etc. When he started at the Anderson Center for Autism, it had 3 servers, no network and employees communicating with each other using personal email accounts. So he had to start from scratch in building an IT infrastructure.

Over the years he built up a Windows infrastructure with 200 workstations and 20 servers but the larger dilemma Gregg faced was managing the mountains of documents that the Anderson Center for Autism possessed. Currently its 2400 square foot basement, its records room and the tractor trailer parked outside his office are full of documents. He realized the situation was at critical mass after watching his staff walk through three foot snow drifts during the winter months to retrieve documents and literally finding a rat’s nest in the documents in the tractor trailer. To fix this, Gregg needed to start small and grow.

His requirements played directly into the strength of the NEC HYDRAstor architecture. The base HYDRAstor configuration comes with two accelerator nodes (servers) and four storage nodes. The accelerator and storage nodes can be scaled independently so more nodes can be added to the configuration without disruption and existing nodes can be taken off-line for maintenance or upgraded to new nodes. This configuration gives Gregg the flexibility to store as much data as he needs on the NEC HYDRAstor without running into upper performance or capacity limits or requiring new IT staff to manage it. It also offers deduplication and so far in using the HYDRAstor, Gregg can document data reduction rates of 17:1 and hopes to achieve ratios of 35:1 once he loads HYDRAstor’s GA-level software onto his unit as Gregg initially started out as a beta client.

So does this whole story sound a little bit “pollyannish”? Sure – why else would NEC provide Anderson Center for Autism to me as a reference account? But I’ve been in situations similar to Gregg having worked as a systems administrator for a police department and know a little about non-profits, no budgets and unrealistic management expectations so I understand Gregg’s pain. Having walked in his shoes, just having the prospect of access to a product like the HYDRAstor would have seemed like a dream come true – even if it only worked half as well as NEC promised me it would.

Sure, it still remains to be seen how well NEC holds up in enterprise accounts with hundreds of TBs, service level agreements, skeptical systems administrators and high performance backups on the line. But at first blush it appears that for companies that need to start small, scale up and can stick with a single vendor, at least one early customer is giving the NEC HYDRAstor a thumb’s up and making it sound enjoyable to be an IT manager again.

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