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Network-attached storage cloud gives firm flexibility, data protection

Dave Raffo

A Chicago law firm that first turned to cloud storage to clear capacity for a temporary project now has three network-attached storage (NAS) appliances attached to a public

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cloud for its main primary file storage.

Matt Donehoo, director of information systems at Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney (SMSM), downloaded a Nasuni Filer virtual appliance late last year when a document review for a new case required him to add storage capacity quickly. Instead of buying more disk for his on-premises storage-area network (SAN) and NAS, he moved approximately 6 TB of older data to the cloud with the Nasuni software.

“We said let’s take older backups and data that hasn’t been touched in years and get it off expensive disk and put it on a more cost-effective solution,” Donehoo said. “While doing that, we said the interface is great, it’s simple to use and performance is surprisingly fast.”

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SMSM had aging EMC Clariion CX3-20 SAN and Celerra NS-120 NAS storage, and Donehoo was faced with either replacing them with on-premises storage or expanding to a full-blown network-attached storage cloud. So the law firm began putting live data on a Nasuni Filer and found performance kept up.

A Nasuni Filer provides NFS and CIFS capabilities similar to a traditional file server, but caches frequently accessed files on the appliance and moves others to a public storage cloud. Nasuni Filers in different locations can access the same live volume through a golden data copy in the cloud.

Donehoo said his biggest concern was how the Nasuni Filer and cloud would treat files created by SMSM’s data management system. “Our [data management system] consists of three components -- an index, the database and files,” he said. “The question was what the indexer will do when it looks for files and the files are in the cloud.”

Satisfied with how Nasuni handled his files, Donehoo expanded to three Nasuni Filer hardware appliances, with 4 TB of local cache on each. “We take data that’s not getting touched and slowly start trickling it out to the cloud,” he said.

The firm puts all new documents created and stored on its document management system on Nasuni, including current litigation support documents. SMSM has two Nasuni Filers in its Chicago office and one in New York. Donehoo said using the cloud lets the firm scale quickly and makes it easy to share data at multiple locations. SMSM has more than 150 lawyers and offices in seven cities.

Nasuni and the cloud have also become SMSM’s data protection, relieving the need to buy a dedicated backup box and a second storage system to place off-site for disaster recovery (DR).

"I wanted to avoid the situation where once you buy something, you’re buying it twice because you need one for DR,” he said. “Now I have full backup and DR in the cloud. We’re happy with the security Nasuni offers. We hold the [encryption] keys to data; no one else can see it, including Nasuni.”

SMSM’s data resides on the Amazon S3 cloud, but that is Nasuni’s call. Unlike other public cloud appliance vendors, Nasuni customers don't have direct subscriptions with the cloud providers. Nasuni handles that, and bills the customer for the cloud service. “I like the idea of one point of contact,” Donehoo said.

The legal industry has its own cloud services, including one from LexisNexis. Donehoo said it costs less to use Nasuni and the public cloud for files, but his firm may expand to other cloud services for other types of use cases.

“This is opening up conversations for cloud services for other things, for example our virtual machine [VM] environment,” he said. “Nasuni doesn’t want to get into the game of backing up databases and VMs, [so] we’re looking at other companies for that. Now we just need file storage. We put it in the cloud for backup, and keep a local copy. We’re still in the security blanket phase of the cloud. Knowing that box is there in my data center helps me sleep at night.”

The law firm’s IT team did run into resistance at the start about moving its files to the cloud. “We have a tech committee, and the concept of the cloud was obviously scary because they didn’t fully understand it,” Donehoo said. “I reminded the partners that we’ve been on the cloud for awhile -- for two years we had a Mimecast cloud service for our email and spam filter. We’re just taking the next step.”


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