Alstom gets staff to do housekeeping

Storage hardware may have fallen in price but throwing additional disk at growing storage needs doesn't solve things - you have to find a way to manage the situation.

Storage hardware may have fallen in price but throwing additional disk at growing storage needs doesn’t solve things — you have to find a way to manage the situation.

Before it instituted a storage management policy and tools, energy and transportation logistics company Alstom New Zealand didn’t know when it would run out of server space. As a result a couple of servers crashed on the company because they couldn’t store any more data.

The easy answer would have been to add more storage, but that would have meant spending up to $20,000 per server on additional disk and tape, says network manager Laz Brown, noting that increasing disk space necessitates a bigger backup window and time needed for failure recovery.

In addition Alstom faced the geographical challenge of managing 35 servers spread across a wide area network between Australia and New Zealand. The WAN runs from the bottom of the South Island to Auckland and crosses the Tasman. Servers reside in offices in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales as well as in Auckland.

The company’s Windows NT servers consist mostly of Compaq ProLiant 2500s and 1600s and are used to store files for about 700 staff. Lotus Domino servers handle email and workflow applications, which track various transportation projects. Disk capacity on file servers ranges from 20GB to 70GB.

Alstom had no corporate or IT controls preventing employees from storing what they wanted on the network.

“Some employees thought nothing of storing the contents of personal CDs or the entire contents of a laptop. Most of these employees didn’t realise the implications of what they were doing,” says Brown.

With corporate support, the plan was for the IT department to put in a policy and procedures to limit the amount of space individuals and departments were given. It would also monitor the characteristics of the files everyone stored in their respective space.

The department then spent several weeks test-driving various storage resource management products before deciding to go with StorageCentral SRM from W Quinn Associates in the US. Soft Solutions, the local reseller, provided technical support.

Prior to installing StorageCentral SRM, the email server would grind to a halt because it had no place to store the mail it was receiving, says Brown. “We would spend several hours deleting files manually, after ringing around different people trying to find out which files were no longer required, sometimes having to make the judgement calls ourselves. This isn’t how we wanted to operate.”

The software enabled Alstom to audit its servers to see what was on them, and to monitor usage while everyone groomed their home directory file space.

“For example, we ran several StorageCentral SRM reports — duplicate files, files older than a year and files by type — to see what space we could free up immediately.

“Next, we allocated a maximum of 50MB for an employee’s home directory and between 500MB to 1GB for a department’s shared directory. We, however, gave personal assistants and managers about 100 to 200MB for home directory space. Using StorageCentral SRM’s learn mode, we automatically applied the appropriate allocation for each directory.”

Each employee was sent a memo outlining the rationale for a network storage policy and the procedures for carrying it out. “We told employees first to go through their home directory and remove any non-business files and files such as copies of desktops, which didn’t need to be kept on the server.”

Employees now have access to CD burners for archiving files and have to keep up with this housekeeping procedure to stay within their allocated space limit.

Brown says most staff acknowledged that storage had to be managed and that this policy was a fair way to do it. Some had gone through the frustration of trying to store files when there wasn’t any available space.

As employees tidied up their storage space, the IT department continued to run StorageCentral reports to see if any directories — 50MB or larger — contained non-business files. “We gave some people a larger space allocation if they clearly needed it.”

StorageCentral SRM enforces the allocated space of employees and departments. Whenever a home directory or shared directory reaches 90% of its allocation, the system sends the employee an email alert about freeing up space to stay with the allocated amount. “Whenever an allocation reaches 100%, an employee can store what he or she is working on and then must free space before saving any more files,” says Brown.

He says employees have responded well to staying with their allocations. “Every now and then I’ll get a call from an employee asking for more space. We’ll gladly provide space if they can justify the need for it. But first we’ll run a report to make sure they aren’t adding files without first doing some housekeeping.”

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