Scalable storage boosts business agility
A leading Internet-based medical-claims clearinghouse, Navicure focuses on making management of accounts receivable simple and profitable for physician practices. In the process, Navicure frees up staff time so that its client organizations can concentrate on patient care.
The company also takes responsibility for storing vast amounts of data. “Being in health care, we comply with HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] regulations requiring us to maintain data for seven years,” says Donald Wilkins, IT director of Navicure. “As we add customers and our production environment grows, so do our development, testing and disaster recovery environments. Our need for storage space is constantly expanding.”
The company’s claims-processing platform relies on Oracle® Real Application Clusters (RAC) 11g database software running on Oracle Solaris OS–based servers. Navicure first launched the platform using outsourced Fibre Channel storage, but the storage couldn’t expand quickly or cost-effectively enough to meet the company’s needs.Navicure worked with Dell Certified Partner Virtual Data Products to replace the outsourced storage by deploying Dell™ EqualLogic™ PS Series iSCSI (Internet SCSI) storage area network (SAN) arrays on premises. “We had our first EqualLogic SAN up and running within 30 minutes,” Wilkins reports. “Other storage vendors told us we would need to attend three or four days of classes to set up and use their systems, but we completely familiarized ourselves with the Dell EqualLogic PS Series array in a very short time, without training, as its user interface is very straightforward.”
SAN grows as needed
Since its initial Dell EqualLogic deployment, Navicure has rapidly expanded its storage infrastructure, adding three or four arrays per year. Today the company runs 34 EqualLogic arrays, with a total of over 400TB of capacity.
The company has been able to expand its EqualLogic environment as needed. “We don’t have to deal with forklift upgrades like we would with a traditional, frame-based SAN,” explains Wilkins. “As we add new arrays, we might move some of the older products down the line, from tier 1 to tier 2 or to our disaster recovery site. But the Dell EqualLogic arrays are never really outdated; we can update their firmware and keep them in the pool. The first model we bought seven years ago is still in service. In fact, we have one of almost every model that EqualLogic has ever produced, and they’re all running side by side.”
The result is an agile and cost-effective storage infrastructure. “We’re continually adjusting our IT plans to accommodate growth projections for the business,” Wilkins says. “We don’t have to lock ourselves into a certain storage technology for six or seven years. Having a shorter-term perspective enables us to adapt more quickly as new technologies become available.”
The Dell EqualLogic platform also enables Navicure to improve storage performance as it expands capacity. “With a traditional SAN environment, you’re stuck with the controllers you have,” Wilkins says. “Adding capacity might actually degrade performance. But with the EqualLogic architecture, adding new arrays gives us better performance for the SAN overall. Knowing we’ll get additional performance and throughput when we add storage capacity is icing on the cake.”
Storage enhances virtualization
Navicure recently upgraded its legacy server infrastructure to Dell PowerEdge™ R710 servers with Intel® Xeon® processors, running VMware vSphere® 4.1 virtualization software. “Because we can drive more memory densities on the PowerEdge R710 platform, we can run about twice as many virtual machines per physical host,” Wilkins says. The company’s Oracle database continues to run on a dedicated cluster of Solaris OS–based servers, but most of the company’s other major applications, including Microsoft® Exchange Server 2010, run on Microsoft Windows Server® or Red Hat® Enterprise Linux operating systems in the virtual environment.
Wilkins and his team use Dell EqualLogic firmware to further streamline management of the VMware environment. “We’ve taken advantage of the EqualLogic firmware’s ability to integrate with vSphere 4.1 and offload some administration tasks to the array,” Wilkins says. “It has reduced our time to complete [VMware vSphere] Storage vMotion® operations by at least half. That’s important to the business. Our IT staff always needs to do more with less.”
For data protection, Navicure uses VMware® vCenter™ Site Recovery Manager (SRM) software, which works with the storage-level snapshot and replication capabilities built into the Dell EqualLogic arrays. Dell EqualLogic Auto-Snapshot Manager/VMware Edition (ASM/VE) takes point-in-time snapshots of the virtual machines for local protection, and the Dell EqualLogic Auto-Replication feature replicates them to another EqualLogic array at a disaster recovery facility. In the event of a hardware failure at the production site, SRM is designed to automate recovery of the virtual machines. These capabilities enable Navicure to achieve a recovery point objective (RPO) of one hour for most virtualized applications and a recovery time objective (RTO) of one hour as well.
NAS added with minimal overhead
Navicure is transitioning from Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) iSCSI connections. In addition, the company plans to implement a Dell EqualLogic FS7500 scale-out network attached storage (NAS) appliance for its file shares. Wilkins anticipates benefiting from the cross-platform accessibility and expects the Dell EqualLogic NAS to add little administrative overhead. “We will be able to manage the network attached storage through the same SAN HQ interface as our Dell EqualLogic SANs,” Wilkins says. “This integration with the Dell EqualLogic group and the management capabilities were the main reasons that we selected the Dell EqualLogic FS7500 NAS.”To learn more about the EqualLogic product line: qrs.ly/ef2c3v1