HP Services sticks with the familiar

When performance issues became a concern for HP Services and it seemed as though its infrastructure was stretched to the limit, the company went looking for a way to increase capacity.

HP Services, the outsourcing division of Hewlett-Packard Co., had already implemented a Veritas Software Corp. backup solution in 1999. Doug Carter, manager of platform architecture with HP Services in Toronto, said although he wasn’t involved in the decision-making process for the original solution, HP wanted to stick with Veritas as it revamped HP Service’s storage infrastructure.

“It was a, ‘keep what we have invested in’ decision,” Carter said.

HP Services had built a strong knowledge base in Veritas’s products, and starting from zero knowledge on another system would have ended up costing the company more, he added.

HP had smaller StorageTek tape silos and drives, but it needed something stronger. This led to a mishmash of hardware, including StorageTek for SAN connectivity, Cisco’s 6509 server to give gigabit capacity for backup over the LAN, n-class HP servers and Sun Microsystems’ 450s as the main servers. Management of all these hardware systems could have been a problem, but the Veritas management solution would serve to umbrella all these systems.

Veritas is very heterogeneous, according to Fred Dimson, general manager of Veritas Software Canada Inc. in Toronto. “In (HP Service’s) outsourcing role, they come into contact with several outsourcing platforms that need to be managed. We were able to give them a single point of management for that backup environment. Then it expanded to some of the clustering areas and being able to keep these systems up and running in a high-availability mode,” Dimson said.

Dimson said Veritas and StorageTek (the hardware vendor and reseller for the project), provided the ability for HP Services to go out to clients and, no matter what the client is running on, their systems can be brought under common management at HP Services’ end.

Carter noted that the actual building of all the hardware pieces was relatively straightforward. The project started in Sept. 2002 and by Jan. 2003 all the parts were up and spinning.

The problems started when they tried to turn it all on. “The issues weren’t in the devices speaking to each other, but when you start doing backups and tuning the Veritas application that serves to manage everything. That was tricky,” Carter said.

He called HP Services’ previous experience with backup and storage “vanilla.”

“But when you start working with parameters within all these different parts, the SAN, gigabit stuff and replicating data, there’s hundreds of parameters that need to be tuned,” he said. “We turned it on and we were getting this great performance and so we just merrily continued installing stuff and hit a parameter where the vanilla stuff we knew stopped working.”

It took the team, HP Services people, Veritas consultants and a StorageTek group two months to learn what the thresholds of the system were and how to cross them, Carter said.

Other possible pitfalls of which they had to be aware while implementing this new storage infrastructure were upgrades and patches. “In most places, backups aren’t sexy,” Carter said. “You’re not getting any real return for the end user unless they have a disaster.”

HP Services has since taken the knowledge gained from the project and is applying it to its own customers, according to Carter.