Shepherd Chemical Mixes a Winning Storage Strategy

By Samuel Greengard

There’s no simple formula for operating a specialty chemical company. One thing that’s common to all businesses in the industry, however, is the need to accommodate a large volume of data. Not only is it necessary to store data about various products and formulas, but there’s an ongoing requirement to handle business data, including documents, records, databases and e-mail messages.

Shepherd Chemical, a Norwood, Ohio, specialty chemical firm founded in 1916, is a leading supplier of inorganic metal salts and organic-based metal chemicals for a wide range of manufacturers. These products are used to produce plastics, batteries, paints, inks, petrochemicals, polymers, electronics and tires. The firm operates four plant sites in North America and Europe and boasts more than 200 employees.

Five years ago Shepherd Chemical moved from an older group of storage devices and systems to a storage area network (SAN) running on storage solutions provider X-IO‘s technology. “At the time, we had run out of storage space and we had to find an alternative that provided the performance, reliability and cost points we required,” explains Jerry Wessel, systems administrator at Shepherd Chemical. The company also wanted to virtualize its infrastructure and improve its recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives.

With only two network administrators on staff to handle the firm’s IT functions, a high level of functionality and reliability is imperative. The SAN, which currently runs at about 98 percent utilization, mostly supports North American operations at Middletown and Norwood, Ohio. This includes SAP servers, SQL servers, Exchange servers, remote desktop servers and an array of other tools and applications.

But the demands on the network and storage infrastructure don’t stop there. The IT environment must also support a growing array of mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones. The firm uses five servers running VMware with direct attached storage as the IT foundation. Overall, the SAN contains just more than 4.2 terabytes of data, and about 80 percent of the environment is virtualized. The volume is currently growing at about a 20 percent annual rate and this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, Wessel says.

Shepherd Chemical currently relies on onsite backup to disk along with tape for offsite backup. However, the company is currently looking to upgrade the SAN devices from X-IO’s ISE 100 series to the vendor’s ISE 200 series over the next few months. Part of the initiative revolves around providing expanded storage space and continued high performance. The current space constraints are holding up some projects, Wessel admits. Moreover, “we currently have three remote desktop servers running on virtualized SANs. Nearly half of our internal access to the network is conducted over thin clients, so it’s imperative that those end users have a high performance experience while accessing the server.”

Shepherd Chemical is also moving toward consolidating data centers using WAN links between facilities. That would improve overall disaster recovery and boost recovery time objectives, Wessel says. “We would be running all of our virtual servers on the SAN infrastructure and replicating them in real-time,” he explains. “By eliminating tape we would get rid of many of the bottlenecks associated with restoring data. Currently, we can restore to a certain point on disk and then we have to revert to tape. We strive to create a real-time backup and recovery environment that provides block level replication and a recovery hot site.”

Assembling the right mix of systems and technology is paramount at Shepherd Chemical. Storage is at the center of the IT puzzle. “Business demands are growing and storage serves as the foundation for running the business in a way that meets today’s demands,” Wessel says. “We are constantly working to improve performance.”

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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