A Half Million Dollars in Savings – Good; A Fully Supported Storage Solution – Priceless

At a time where vendors are positioning savings “guarantees” to draw attention to their storage offering, it is refreshing to see a storage user actually tout substantive savings just by switching to 3PAR. This was accomplished recently done by CEDAR Document Technologies who announced it saved a half a million dollars, improved performance, experienced a 5x increase in transaction volumes and avoided $250,000 in administrative costs just by switching to 3PAR’s InServ storage systems. But to find out just how things were going with CEDAR now that it had used 3PAR for awhile, DCIG checked it with its Director of Service Operations to see what other benefits it was deriving from its 3PAR storage systems.

CEDAR Document Technologies is a service provider of print and electronic customer communications–helping customers communicate better with their customers. In general, CEDAR takes customer data that would normally be taken to a print or mail shop and instead decomposes it into XML, reformats the data, enhances the XML with rules or additional elements, and then manages different delivery channels including postal mail, secure push, email, portal, text, etc. as well as manage the archival of these documents.

As CEDAR’s customer base began growing, not only in quantity of customers but in the amount of data being received on a nightly base, their current direct attached storage was unable to handle both the amount of data and the processing required. Small and legacy customers were not the issue; it was the new customers that began sending anywhere from 50-100GB of data.

CEDAR needed a new storage infrastructure that would continue to grow as the company took on these larger customers. 3PAR was heavily looked at and ultimately chosen because they were the only vendor that could through its virtualization layer supply storage that would continue to expand and provide the performance needed to meet CEDAR’s rapidly growing customer base as well as let them remain agile as their operating environment changed. Here’s what DCIG learned after talking with Anthony Tarone, Director of Service Operations for CEDAR document technologies.

DCIG: Can you first give us an idea of what your customer base looks like in relation to the amount of storage you purchased from 3PAR?

Tony:
As a service provider CEDAR deals with lots of data. Our smaller customers may only send us a few MB a day which is somewhat unnoticeable in the grand scheme of things. However a mid-size customer may send us 10-20 GB of data per night which, after going through a multi-step workflow process, explodes out to 60-70 GB. Then our biggest customers may send us 50-100 GB of data per cycle which can see similar explosions in data growth.

Prior going to 3PAR, CEDAR used to process this data with direct attached storage and use NFS for file sharing. It was good for our smaller customers but we needed a new infrastructure for the new breed of customer we were acquiring to handle the greater processing capacity and scalability on the storage layer that their data loads created. Back then we only had 8TB of direct attached storage. Now, after rebuilding our entire infrastructure in a collocation site, we have 54TB in production and 24TB in development, all of which is 3PAR.

DCIG:
How has the move to 3PAR impacted your total cost for a storage solution? We’ve read in the press release about the half million dollar reduction in total storage costs but how did you achieve this?

Tony:
From a purchasing standpoint, the initial quotes we received from other vendors were well above and beyond what it cost for the 3PAR solution. Using 3PAR, we not only were able to get storage requirements but our corporate development, and QA environments as well.

Additionally we have not spent a penny on professional services with 3PAR, and it is not because we have not done anything. 3PAR’s support team is absolutely outstanding, especially their higher level support at corporate as well as their sales engineer here in Atlanta. If we ever have any questions, are trying something out, or have a problem we can, depending on his availability, count on our local SE to pop over, have some lunch with us, check our configuration, maybe consult with top level support teams, and get us an answer.

3PAR does this all from a good customer service standpoint and they’re not hitting us with a quote for professional services every 15 minutes. Further, as a service provider our main goal is to first build in availability throughout our infrastructure; with 3PAR we have not had a single issue or outage since deployment 2 ½ years ago. This is priceless.

DCIG: It sounds like a lot of your cost savings came from the upfront purchase of the unit as well as decreased support costs. What about performance and the need to manage all that storage?

Tony: That’s exactly right. I’m not getting hit with professional service fees. As far as management goes, we’ve been able to manage the storage with our current staff. I haven’t had to hire a SAN administrator or any dedicated staff because 3PARs tools are easy enough to manage that we’ve been able to do everything with very little training from our SE.

The performance has been exceptional and even improving as we add more customers because of the way 3PAR spreads chunklets out across disks to the point where I still haven’t been able to justify or have a real need to pay for fiber channel disk which are vastly more expensive then the ones we have now. Because of 3PAR’s technologies and virtualization, I’ve been able to use their Nearline fiber channel ATA drives (FATA) and serial ATA drives (SATA) for all of my production services without impacting performance, SLAs, or creating any real risk of any sort.

DCIG: That brings up an interesting point. You took a risk where many data centers would have opted for the higher priced regular FC drives. Have you noticed any increase in costs or service problems associated with the nearline drives you selected? Aren’t they supposed to fail more often?
 

Tony: The drives have actually been quite nice. 3PAR support can proactively detect when a drive is failing and coordinates everything. 3PAR moves data off of the offending magazine, schedules someone (usually the next day) to come out and replace the magazine, and then redistributes the data back over it. The drives haven’t been an issue at all. Best of all there isn’t a fee for the disk swap. That is all part of the annual support, and it’s my understanding that as long as we keep it under support 3PAR will keep changing disks out. The whole process has been very seamless, painless, and literally a non-event for me.

DCIG: Have you done any upgrades to your existing system and have the upgrades gone as anticipated? Also, have you performed any dynamic upgrades?

Tony:
We’ve done some upgrades although I’m more old-school and usually only do those within my dedicated maintenance window; I just try to be safe. In fact we have an upgrade coming up where we will be cross connecting all of our redundant power which used to be on a single power plant.

3PAR is a part of that because we have a 30AMP hardwired into our 3PAR unit. We’ll be working with 3PAR on the maintenance window. Our local 3PAR SE (support engineer) will coordinate 3PAR activities so that when we unplug it they’ll be checking it out, getting some alerts from our system, and managing the process. 3PAR has always been completely accommodating to our schedule by either having their people onsite or on the phone with us. They have never forced us to fit into their schedule.

DCIG Final Thoughts:
Purchasing a storage solution
is more complicated than just answering questions about capacity and up-front costs. Organizations need to take a hard look at what their problems are, investigate competing solutions, identify the benefits and understand other hidden storage system costs, such as maintenance, support and the timeliness of responses to customer questions. After talking with CEDAR, it became quite clear that 3PAR saves money and delivers a better storage solution which is always good. However 3PAR’s continuing willingness to step up to the plate and provide exceptional ongoing customer service and support makes CEDAR’S decision to select 3PAR over competing solutions appear priceless. 

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