Photo Lab Adopts SAN To Improve Workflow

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Buckeye Color Lab has seen firsthand the strain that the digital photography boom can put on IT infrastructure, especially storage.

And it has inspired a new vertical-market opportunity for Chi, a solution provider in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, specializing in SANs.

While the majority of photo-processing jobs coming into Buckeye were taken with film-based cameras, almost 80 percent of that business is processed digitally, said Bob Hendrickson, COO of the North Canton-based photo processor. That compares with just 20 percent two years ago.

A professional-quality photo taken with a digital camera can occupy 4 Mbytes to 7 Mbytes of storage capacity, but the space requirements for a film-based photo converted for digital processing can average 30 Mbytes to 40 Mbytes, Hendrickson said. Buckeye processes an average of 25,000 digitally enhanced images per month, he said.

Solution provider Chi installed FalconStor's IPStor application on a small Linux-based server, which was connected to a NexSAN disk array.

Overwhelmed by the lab's surging storage needs, Hendrickson attended a seminar held early this year by Chi. Later, the solution provider's personnel visited Buckeye and determined that the color lab needed to move its photos from direct-attached storage devices to a SAN,but not for the usual reasons, said Mark Somerville, director of field sales at the solution provider.

"Backups are usually the main reason for talking about a SAN," he said. "At Buckeye, backup was not the reason because the data is not mission-critical. Instead, the focus is on workflow and moving graphics files through their network."

Before Chi came in, Buckeye processed the photos with three IBM NetFinity servers using direct-attached RAID storage totaling about 250 Mbytes. The problem was that photo retouchers needed to retain the images while they were working on them. At the same time, the lab needed to keep images for some time after they were processed in case a customer lost the photo or needed changes, he said.

Chi suggested an IP-based SAN as an alternative. The company installed FalconStor Software's IPStor application on a small Linux-based server made by a local white-box builder, said Somerville. This server was connected to a NexSAN disk array. The array, in conjunction with the storage devices from the original servers, gives Buckeye about 2 Tbytes of capacity. Also part of the solution were an Extreme Networks Summit 7i Gigabit Ethernet switch and Intel Pro 1000 Gigabit Ethernet NICs, he said.

"We were concerned about Chi being able to come in and take the system down and bring it back up within 48 hours," Hendrickson said. "They were able to do it." Because Chi assembled the solution on its own premises using FalconStor-certified components, it was able to install a fully configured SAN over a weekend, he said.

When the original drives were connected to the SAN, their performance rose 7 percent, Somerville said. In fact, the installation went so smoothly that Buckeye ordered the NAS option for IPStor, he said.

Chi's work is not finished. Buckeye is evaluating a data-mirroring addition to the IPStor software in order to keep a remote copy of the data as a backup in case the data gets wiped out, as happens from time to time when revising the imaging applications, Hendrickson said.

Buckeye may also work with the solution provider to develop a disaster-recovery plan not just for Buckeye, but for use by other color photo labs, he said.

"We didn't look at disaster recovery before, but with Chi's experience, we are now considering it," Hendrickson said. "We will discuss this with other color labs and maybe cooperate with them to spread the costs."

For its part, Chi sees Buckeye as a way to get an early jump on the color lab vertical market, Somerville said. "We've been looking at the pre-press and graphics market, where there are lots of graphics files and everybody is talking about going digital," he said.

Hendrickson said he will help Chi tackle the graphics vertical. "I'm so impressed with Chi, I'll even make presentations for them at industry trade meetings," he said.

Hendrickson said the entire IP-based SAN cost about $100,000, including all software, options and maintenance, or about one-quarter to one-third of the other solutions he had considered. Costs were kept down because Chi was able to use some of Buckeye's existing equipment in the solution.

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