• United States
Contributing Writer

Escape from D.C.

Apr 05, 20044 mins
Computers and PeripheralsData CenterIBM

Disaster-recovery plan leads to data center consolidation of servers and storage.

Howrey Simon Arnold & White • Washington, D.C. • When Brian Conlon proposed to the executive committee that the international law firm should consolidate more than 160 servers in 11 offices, including its headquarters in Washington, D.C., in a remote facility, the clincher was six simple words: “three blocks from the White House.”

At the time, Howrey had 160 Intel-based servers and four IBM RS/6000s, three-quarters of which were housed in the basement of headquarters. When the office closed, as it did after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, each day of downtime cost the company $2 million in lost revenue. When he joined the firm as CIO 15 months ago, Conlon quickly realized, “it was not a safe place for servers to be.”

Intro: Extreme server makeovers

Beyond the Superdome

PeopleSoft upgrade drives consolidation

The big box theory

Conlon chose a site 50 miles west of Washington for Howrey’s new data center location. But rather than simply relocate all those Intel servers, he decided instead to refresh the aging technology and at the same time simplify it. He took the Microsoft .Net applications running on the Intel machines, replaced many of them with their Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition counterparts and implemented a new consolidated platform to run them on: four four-processor, clustered Sun V880 Sun Fire servers running an Oracle database. Storage also was consolidated on a Sun StorEdge 9980 SAN. Conlon chose BMC  Software’s Patrol to manage the environment.

“A lot of the legal applications are .Net-based,” he says. “But time and attendance, our collaboration applications and our document management system are Java-based.”

In all, he cut the number of Intel servers in half. Another 10 will be retired when e-mail is moved to the Sun cluster.

Conlon also plans to retire the RS/6000s when he installs a new practice management  system on the Sun servers. The data center also houses four smaller Sun V880s, and four V20s for Web servers and a testing and development platform.

All of Howrey’s 10 offices connect to the data center over a T-3 or T-1 WAN  and a diverse-carrier Internet connection, so that if either line goes down, data is rerouted through the other.

Conlon says he now has the ability to prioritize which applications get more processing power, based on their IP address on the network. “All the document management servers get high priority on the WAN, as well as on the servers,” he says.

He also says he is happy with the high-availability capabilities made possible through clustering. However, he admits that so far, the data center is more of a “secure bunker” than a true disaster-recovery site because he does not yet have a replication site set up. “It cost $2 million just to get the first data center,” Conlon says.

An unintended benefit of the server consolidation has been the ability to turn applications into revenue generators. Its large litigation support application involves tens of millions of pages of images. Now that the firm can carve out 10T bytes to support those images on the SAN , it can charge clients for image storage. As a result, “this particular application pays for itself,” Conlon says.

The same is true for several other applications. Because its document management is centralized – which Conlon says is unusual for law firms – it can charge internal and external counsels for the ability to collaborate in electronic workrooms and share documents. And because the offices no longer need to support document management, this centralization also has led to more cost savings, at least $200,000 per office, per year.

Previous architecture:
160 Intel servers in 11 international offices.
Four IBM RS/6000s at headquarters.
.Net infrastructure.
Consolidated architecture:
80 Intel servers, soon to be 70.
Four four-processor, clustered Sun V880 Sun Fire servers running Oracle. (The RS/6000s will be retired when the company moves to a new accounting system.)
Four Sun Enterprise 220Rs for Web serving, testing/development.
Sun StorEdge 9980 SAN.
J2EE infrastructure.
Consolidated applications:
Document management, billing, imaging and collaboration tools.
Main reason for consolidation:

Howrey wanted to relocate its data center to outside of Washington, D.C., for better disaster recovery and

Elimination of data center downtime. (One day of downtime equals $2 million in revenue.)
Ability to create new sources of revenue by centralizing applications.
Savings of at least $200,000 per office, per year, by centralizing document management.
Lessons learned:
As part of its consolidation effort, Howrey also centralized its storage with a SAN. However, “a SAN is not something you plug in and walk away from,” says Brian Conlon, CIO at Howrey. He is looking for a managed service provider but is discovering this type of expertise hard to find.