Law firm uses NexGen hybrid array to keep cases moving

Ohio law firm uses a NexGen solid-state, HDD hybrid storage array to provide the IOPS needed to keep its litigation and e-discovery practices moving.

Chief Information Officer Rich Wills said he doesn't consider his law firm on the cutting edge of technology. But rapid data growth pushed Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL (KMK) to buy a hybrid flash array from startup NexGen Storage Inc. when traditional hard drive arrays failed to keep up with his IOPS requirements.

"We're a law firm," Wills said. "We don't really do new stuff. Cutting-edge [technology] and law firms do not necessarily exist in the same technology plan."

However, data growth and e-discovery are common in law firms, and that was the case with Cincinnati, Ohio-based KMK.

The 100-lawyer firm has an active e-discovery practice, and it needed a storage system with the capacity and IOPS to handle the large amount of documentation involved in litigation support and e-discovery processing and case review.

The NexGen n5-150 hybrid flash array KMK acquired has a total of 99 TB of usable capacity and can handle 150,000 IOPS. NexGen's hybrid storage system utilizes Fusion-io solid-state flash PCIe cards in its arrays. (NexGen was acquired by Fusion-io Inc. in April.)

Following a four-year virtualization spree, KMK's servers are about 90% virtualized. Wills acquired two Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) systems from a large vendor. He used one array as the firm's primary storage and the other became a disaster recovery target about 60 miles away.

After the server consolidation project was completed, KMK beefed up its litigation support department and e-discovery practice by installing FTI Consulting Inc.'s Ringtail e-discovery platform for electronically stored information review and case assessment.

Wills said KMK takes in up to 500 GB of data per day through e-discovery, and his traditional SANs weren't meeting his performance needs. E-discovery documentation involves a complex file structure with thousands or millions of small, high-resolution images and text documents.

"As you can imagine, storage started to explode," he said. "We [found] ourselves having slowness issues in both our production environment and litigation support environment. So we really did a deep dive to figure out just what the heck was going on, and what was going to solve our problems.

"When it was all said and done, we realized that we were underpowered in terms of IOPS capacity," Wills said.

The IT staff discovered 50,000 IOPS were needed to meet their users' performance needs, to support another e-discovery project to begin this summer, and to support a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) project slated for later this year. The firm also needed something the small IT staff could handle without a lot of intervention.

So the law firm purchased two more SAN arrays from the same large storage vendor, but even that could not produce more than around 4,000 IOPS. So Wills investigated just about every well-known enterprise storage technology, including Hewlett-Packard Co.'s 3PAR products and Hitachi Data Systems Corp.'s NAS. He also looked at NexGen, whom one of his IT staff members had spoken to at VMworld. Wills was impressed by how much NexGen tried to understand his unique environment and his needs. However, Wills was cautious about trusting a new company, even if he was impressed with its hybrid storage approach. When NexGen talked to him about three-year and five-year support plans, he asked, "How do I know you're even going to be around?"

Wills said he is usually cautious regardless of how long the vendor has been in business.

"If you've been in the [IT technology] business for a long time, you rarely run across something that works as advertised, so you expect the worst and hope for the best," he said. "You get gun shy a little bit; you do worry a little bit no matter what vendor it is."

But after NexGen built a testing environment that showed Wills it understood his unique needs, and after he traveled to Colorado to meet the NexGen staff, he bought a NexGen n5 150 hybrid array, he said.

"They spent a lot of time really understanding what we do and how we do it," Wills said. "What the environment looks like, what our plans were over the next 18 to 24 months with VDI, and with our e-discovery [practice]."

Wills said the installation in January took a matter of hours with a NexGen staff member on-site. KMK started moving production applications to the NexGen n5 150 slowly, starting with a few Microsoft SQL Server and Exchange databases.

In late March, KMK started using the n5 150 fully as a production platform. Wills said he's using about 40 TB of the 99 TB, and that includes the testing and development environment for the second e-discovery project that's expected to go into production this summer.

Wills said there have been no hiccups or failures since the n5 150 has been in service. He plans to start testing his VDI environment late this year, and he will use the NexGen system for both the testing and development phase, as well as for the production environment.

He said he's talked to NexGen about adding replication and snapshot technologies to the array, and NexGen put those features on its roadmap.

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