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Solution Provider Helps SM&P Dig Deep To Expand Storage Capacity

When local utility companies need help locating a cable or wire or pipe in the central United States, they may call SM&P Utility Resources, a $130 million company that specializes in facility-location services.

When SM&P needed to expand its storage capacity to support an ever-growing list of location-search requests, it also turned to outside help,Technology Integration Group, a San Diego-based solution provider specializing in Hewlett-Packard equipment.

Technology Integration is no stranger to the utility vertical market. The solution provider's largest customer is Sempra Energy, a San Diego-based electricity and natural gas giant. In addition, Technology Integration's Indianapolis office works with local Indiana-based utility companies.

Similarly, SM&P is a long-time partner of utility companies. Whenever someone calls a local gas, water, phone or electric company to request the location of buried lines or pipes before digging, personnel from companies such as SM&P are called out--armed with utility maps and sensitive detectors--to paint the ground near the lines so they are not cut accidentally.

The strain on computing resources for this facility-location business is enormous, said Ryan Hyman, IT director for SM&P, based here. The company handles between 12 million and 15 million location requests per year, all of which require work tickets that must be electronically stored, he said. The company had depended on hard drives directly attached to its Compaq Proliant servers for this storage but had reached a point where it was difficult to support expansion, Hyman said.

In July, Hyman called Kim Hudson, senior account executive at the Indianapolis branch of Technology Integration and a friend for the past five years. Hudson responded with proposals to build a SAN based on HP's StorageWorks products.

SM&P and Technology Integration originally considered the older EMA series of arrays for the technology behind the proposed solution. However, Hudson said her HP sales reps were concerned that SM&P might outgrow the product, and the solution provider proposed using the most recent array--the EVA--instead.

The difference in price between the arrays was not insignificant, said Chris Ferry, vice president of U.S. East for Technology Integration. "Budgetwise, we were right on the bleeding edge of the evolution between the EMA and the EVA ... but HP was aggressive in teaming with us," Ferry said.

Hyman said he opted for the EVA line because of its ability to virtualize storage internally. "It's amazingly simple to use," he said. "It's almost scary. If you have ever worked with [HP's older EMA [line, you'd know it was like using Unix compared to Windows."

By late August, HP had prepackaged and preconfigured SM&P's EVA solution and delivered it to the customer site. The preintegration work was a big time-saver, Hyman said. "We just rolled it off the pallet like a Christmas present," he said.

There were some delays on HP's part during the preparation of the EVA array, said Todd Fedderman, engineering manager at Technology Integration. However, HP, along with Technology Integration, provided a total discount of 20 percent. HP also donated an engineer's time to ensure adequate support and waived the integrator's lack of the appropriate SAN certifications in its Indianapolis branch office. "I must admit that this was the most pleasant experience I have had working with a manufacturer," Fedderman said.

SM&P only encountered a couple of problems with the EVA implementation, said Hyman. The EVA's virtualization software did not work properly at first, but a Technology Integration technician tied the problem to a Microsoft operating system service pack. The second problem could have been avoided by measuring the size of the door at SM&P's site, Hyman said. "We had to take the wheels off the EVA to bring it through," he said. "It's not light. It weighs about 1,000 pounds."

The EVA is already running some of SM&P's databases, and tests show performance three to five times faster than the current production storage, said Hyman.

However, Technology Integration expects to spend more time working on the installation, said Hudson. Among other things, SM&P is considering whether or not to move its storage equipment to a remote hosting facility as part of a disaster-recovery program.

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