Magazine Article | August 1, 2001

SAN, Linux Keep Company Running

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Replacing faulty disk drives and righting Web server crashes is no way to spend your precious IT time - especially for a small company. A SAN (storage area network) running on Linux might afford you time to - perish the thought - take a break.

Integrated Solutions, August 2001

Armed with a screwdriver, the CEO of 10-K Wizard Technology was once again helping the company's CTO swap out a faulty disk drive on one of the company's Web servers. At a six-employee company, every employee has to be a jack-of-all-trades to some extent. But with apologies to Martha Stewart, having a non-technical CEO replace constantly failing disk drives "is a bad thing."

For 10-K Wizard (Dallas) and countless other small businesses with equally small IT staffs, system downtime is not an option. Despite its small size, 10-K Wizard processes streams of news feeds and SEC filing data every day and customizes and disseminates that news to its customers. For example, online business news and reference site Hoover's Online ( employs the services of 10-K Wizard to handle news feeds for it. "If you're using Hoover's Online and looking at news items, then you're probably hitting our servers. We power the back end," comments Kee Kimbrell, CTO at 10-K Wizard. In all, the company has about 20 such clients and processes about 100,000 documents per day. With hundreds of thousands of daily users accessing the data stored on 10-K Wizard's servers, the company's Windows NT-based storage system was starting to buckle under the pressure. "Every Web server required a ton of disk space, and that got expensive. Then, the hard drives would go down. We couldn't afford to run everything on RAID 10 (redundant array of independent disks), so we had to spend a week to rebuild the data sets," recalls Kimbrell. "It was a nightmare."

SAN Is Affordable For Small Enterprise
Ultimately, two technologies would change the way 10-K Wizard did business. First, the company made a commitment to switch from Windows NT to Linux as its OS (operating system). Having a background in UNIX, Kimbrell was able to make the switch to the open-source Linux with little trouble. Like UNIX, 10-K Wizard found Linux to be more scalable than Windows NT, and the company's Web servers have experienced zero downtime running on the Linux platform. Additionally, Kimbrell liked the fact that his company now had access to the code of the OS it was using. "Switching to Linux was the best thing we ever did," adds Kimbrell. "I wish we would have made the move earlier."

The company may have been happy with its new OS, but now it had to solve the storage problems that plagued it. A SAN (storage area network) seemed like the obvious answer with its ability to cluster individual storage systems and allow data to be shared among the Web servers. As always, pricing was a big factor in the decision-making process. And while the company was ecstatic with its Linux platform, now it had to find a SAN solution that was compatible with that OS. "I spoke with a few SAN vendors, and I was really sold on the technology," remembers Kimbrell.

After a three-month search, 10-K Wizard finally landed on a SAN solution from XIOtech (a Seagate company based in Eden Prairie, MN) called MAGNITUDE. The hardware's open standard protocol allowed the system to operate in 10-K Wizard's Linux environment with no problems. In fact, 10-K Wizard's new Linux servers and a couple of remaining Windows NT servers are all integrated with MAGNITUDE. The MAGNITUDE system at 10-K Wizard is equipped with 32 disk drives at 50 GB apiece, which equates to a 1.7 TB system capacity. The entire system is running at RAID 10, which allows data to be simultaneously written to two disk drives offering redundancy and fault-tolerance. "Being sensitive to price, we designed our own 64-bit clustering system that saved us money and allowed us to take advantage of the clustering capabilities of the SAN," says Kimbrell.

Linux Addresses Scalability Concerns
With its SAN and Linux platform in place, 10-K Wizard has a system that meets its goals of scalability and also operates under the constraints of a small business with a small IT staff. The company currently has five Web servers, but that number will likely grow in the future. "If we have to increase that number to 10 Web servers, we need to be able to quickly slap those boxes on with no problems. Now, we can do that," says Kimbrell. "The Linux Web servers give us a lot of scalability. One Linux Web server can easily do the work of three NT servers - no doubt about it."

Now that scalability and system reliability are no longer problems, no one is happier than 10-K Wizard CEO Martin Zacarias. He can finally put the screwdriver away and run the business.

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