To keep the lights on for millions of energy consumers, power providers must rely not only on the integrity of their power plants and transmission lines, but also on the predictive analysis of massive amounts of data. As an example, one major provider in the Western U.S. applies sophisticated business intelligence to its real-time production facility data, which enables dispatchers to efficiently schedule and dispatch power throughout the provider’s territory.
One of the energy provider’s senior system administrators is tasked with designing, specifying, and managing the storage systems that house the provider’s vast amounts of data. Recently, he began virtualizing data storage resources and consolidating the existing mix of EMC and HP hardware onto a single storage platform. His goal was to shrink the storage footprint, while continuing to accommodate the organization’s mission-critical applications.
Researching a storage product that met all of his organization’s requirements and was compatible with the existing host systems could have taken the administrator months. It would have been challenging enough to vet all the solutions on the market. But there was an additional constraint. Due to the nature of the provider’s operations, its IT staff is highly autonomous. “We maintain a fairly large team of experts internally, so we can fix all of our own hardware and troubleshoot any issues that arise,” the administrator explains. “That makes finding solutions a challenge, since many vendors and solution providers rely heavily on the ability to remotely administer or remotely support their offerings.”
To help him hone in on the right solution faster, he turned to Strategic Integrators, a technology partner that the energy provider has been working with since 2009. After a series of consultative discussions with the energy provider’s storage team, Strategic recommended the Pivot3 (previously: NexGen) hybrid PCIe-flash storage platform, which provided the necessary reliability and quality of service for virtualized SQL Server applications, as well as the large-scale virtualization the administrator was planning. Moreover, the Pivot3 storage arrays use components that can be sourced and maintained entirely by the in-house staff. “The proprietary parts of the system don’t require fixing; they just work,” he says. “Whatever does require fixing is designed around a common methodology, and we were provided with tools, so we can handle it internally.”
After a six-month proof-of-concept phase, the first storage clusters went into production, and the administrator hasn’t looked back since. He now manages three clusters of Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors, each backed by pairs of 86-terabyte Pivot3 N5-500 storage units, with a similar configuration in hot standby at a disaster recovery site. Three more clusters are slated for installation at both sites.
“Like most IT staff, we wear many hats, so we’re really busy,” the administrator says. “One of the things I rely on Strategic for is compatibility information. For example, I can say, ‘I’ve got this existing hardware, and I need these kind of network controllers; what can I buy that will make it work?’ And they can tell me exactly which ones. Or, I can send them a bill of materials (BOM), and they can verify the whole build sheet and make sure my part numbers are accurate and up-to-date. I could otherwise spend half a day just doing that.”
Strategic Integrators also acts as a liaison between the energy provider and various IT vendors. If there’s a new product version or a change in the vendor’s roadmap, the administrator depends on Strategic for the latest details. “I don’t have to call people and build relationships with each one to get the right information,” he says. “It’s just a quick email to Strategic.”
Sometimes advice needs clarification, such as when an old storage controller was flagged in a review of a new server build. That’s when the systems administrator gets on the phone with Strategic team members. “We went back and forth on what was different about that new controller and why we’d want to switch,” he recalls. “Ultimately, the new one made more sense.”
Other times, it’s best to consult in person. At a recent meeting, Strategic arranged for the administrator and his team to receive training on the deployment and maintenance of the latest version of Pivot3 software. “Having dealt with many solution providers and integrators, Strategic definitely has a hands-on approach that we really appreciate,” he says.
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