Network attached storage saves files and money
The Contra Costa County (Calif.) clerk-recorder’s office has begun using network attached storage (NAS) instead of a server to maintain the county’s public records. The NAS system cost $375,000 less than a new server and requires less maintenance than the county’s previous data storage equipment.
Located in the San Francisco Bay area, Contra Costa County’s population reached 930,000 in 2000, making it the ninth most populous county in California. The Clerk-Recorder is responsible for maintaining records of residents’ vital statistics and real property documents and issuing marriage licenses, notary licenses and passports.
The county creates digital images of each of those documents and organizes them in a database. The office uses a county recorder computer application that requires one server for the database and another for storing the images.
“There was a lot of work involved in maintaining two separate servers,” says Jeana Pieralde, network technician. “I spent about three hours a day cleaning out user directories, rebooting the system and performing backup operations. Backup was especially difficult because it took three days — usually from Friday night to Monday night. If something happened to interrupt the process, such as a power outage, we couldn’t do our incremental backup on Monday and [we were] left without a complete copy for a day or two.”
In addition to requiring extensive maintenance, the servers were reaching storage capacity. “We operate on a first in/still here basis,” says Barbara Chambers, assistant county recorder. “Because we are always adding records and never deleting any, we are faced with the need to continually expand storage space.”
About a year ago, Chambers mentioned the problems to the office’s computer application consultant, Jim Maclam. Maclam considered purchasing another server and storage space, but he found they would cost a total of $500,000.
Maclam began investigating NAS, which uses a dedicated storage device, typically an optimized server with a large amount of RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks) storage capacity. The device is attached directly to the network rather than to the server.
In April 2001, the county replaced the server that stored record images with an NAS system from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Auspex. “The installation process went very smoothly,” Maclam says. “We worked closely with [the company] to engineer the whole thing so that it was up and running in a single day.”
The NAS was configured with 500 GB of storage, but it can be expanded up to nine terabytes to handle the county’s storage needs for many years to come. The NAS also has an attached digital linear tape (DLT) system that has reduced the time needed to backup files in the system.
“The DLT tape system backs up 100 GB per hour, making it possible to complete the backup process in only about three hours,” Pieralde says. “The NAS itself requires almost no maintenance at all. Being used to the need to reboot Unix servers monthly, I asked [the company] how often their box needed to be rebooted. I was pleasantly surprised when they told me only once every five to 10 years.”
“The NAS system has met all of our requirements,” Chambers says. “It eliminated the need to purchase a far more expensive server while providing a much higher degree of expandability. We haven’t had a single incident of downtime since the NAS was installed.”