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Storage connects network: product lifecycle management effort necessitates collaborative solution.

As one of the world's fastest-growing athletic shoe manufacturers, New Balance Athletic Shoe focuses on function over fashion. While it has grown substantially over the past 10 years from $210 million to $1.3 billion in sales--the company's new-product development and sustainable business growth initiatives demand a first-class IT infrastructure of high-end enterprise applications that foster collaboration and enhance productivity.

The shoemaker's most recent challenge was architecting a data storage area network (SAN) to accommodate a new product lifecycle management (PLM) solution used globally. The SAN also had to support customer relationship management (CRM) and financial systems, plus dispersed product, manufacturing and sales teams using the PLM solution. Most importantly, this PLM solution had to enable the design teams to work collaboratively using a standard toolset.

The company's IT staff decided to consolidate SAN islands into a single, enterprise-wide resource that New Balance's global business groups could access. They wanted to scale this SAN without losing control over specific applications, the demands of which change by the day, if not the hour.

"We quickly determined our previous storage network could not scale to support our global initiative," says Pierre Baudet, business systems manager at New Balance. "Each of the key business applications--PLM, sales, CRM, financial and manufacturing--has unique data needs based on product development goals, financial reporting requirements, seasonal fluctuations, backup policies and even time of day."

Baudet explains that the existing SAN fabric architecture could not intelligently establish and monitor specific network connections, nor could it prioritize critical applications to handle increasing SAN congestion. Bottlenecks and impeded application performance ensued.

The new PLM solution from MatrixOne, called the eMatrix Collaboration Platform, is a multimillion-dollar investment that lets New Balance digitally design, analyze and manage its products from birth to retirement. The software allows more than 500 users in North America, Europe and the South Pacific rim to work together in collaborative virtual workspaces across global, cross-functional project teams.

The data needed to coordinate and manage collaborative organizational information, responsibilities, schedules, deliverables, product information and business processes, however, is often the same data needed to manage sales, bill of materials, supply chain and even marketing initiatives. The PLM solution draws product engineering and design data from the same pool of storage that the marketing, sales, CRM and financial systems draw upon. Traditional storage networking solutions would not allow this kind of data consolidation without degrading application performance during peak traffic loads.

New Balance wanted to avoid creating isolated SAN islands around each of its applications. Islands segregate and limit data availability, defeating the purpose of a shared storage network infrastructure. Instead, it designed a unified storage network backbone that allowed it to prioritize each of the applications at different times (for example, during monthly or quarterly financial cycles or nighttime backups), so that at no time would the demands of any one application slow the flow of data to any of the others.

SAN congestion was another issue the company wanted to avoid. Many SAN fabric-design practices call for oversubscription ratios as high as seven to one. In other words, for every seven ports used for host or storage devices, one port should be allocated for connecting to tuber switches. While this guideline is helpful in determining port count needs, it does not factor in the specific data access needs of New Balance's applications, and would limit the SAN's ability to scale.

The combination of the "many to few" nature of SANs, combined with high oversubscription ratios, often results in the storage network being a bottleneck to overall system performance during peak traffic loads. One design guideline that can reduce this bottleneck is to not oversubscribe to the same degree (e.g., use 3-to-1 oversubscription instead of 7-to-1 oversubscription). This method, however, would significantly increase the SAN's costs.

"We determined oversubscription was both economically inefficient and couldn't keep pace with traffic growth, resulting in poor performance," Baudet says. "By architecting a storage network backbone, we could avoid the high locality and oversubscription dependencies typical of SAN islands, and instead deploy a tiered SAN architecture with some hosts and storage devices attached directly to the storage network backbone."

New Balance wanted a storage backbone that would function like a true utility--an "always on" resource that would be flexible, predictable and reliable enough to ensure 24/7 availability across the global enterprise. A storage network backbone system from Sandial Systems provides the connection-level intelligence to maintain discrete control over storage network traffic across the unified infrastructure. Sandial switches allow the staff to maintain flexible, dynamic connections to the data pool, while guaranteeing the required service levels for each business application.

Once the backbone was in place, New Balance could then install new fiber cabling, implement patch panels for troubleshooting, identify the most efficient use of disk-per-application requirements and determine the best way to provide access to that disk via logical unit number mapping and masking. The team also needed to secure redundancy with dynamic load balancing and a caching engine front Array Networks, and integrate Veritas backups, as well as backup from an ADIC Scalar 1000 LTO tape library, and accommodate Veritas' applications and Oracle Cluster Server applications.

"Our utility approach creates on-demand dedicated connections between storage devices and the servers requesting the data," explains Baudet. "The backbone's ability to recognize one connection as distinct from another connection, even when they're traveling over the same physical path, allows us to manage the storage infrastructure proactively, based on business priorities, instead of reactively, in response to network issues."

The storage backbone's ability to collapse disparate SAN islands into a unified infrastructure scales to the point where the company can wring the maximum from its investments in a variety of business applications, beginning with the PLM solution.

Baudet says one overarching lesson the team learned is that any SAN assessment should start by aligning the storage network with business priorities, not the other way around. "Simply supporting applications with islands of information is not enough. It is now possible to build a scalable, dynamic storage environment that is not only flexible enough to support global business efficiencies, but folly capable of reducing time to market and increasing profitability for the enterprise."

For more information from Sandial:
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Title Annotation:LAN networks: storage; New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc.
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Previous Article:WLAN management.
Next Article:Data replication solution.

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