HR outsourcing firm switches to Compellent Storage Center

After outgrowing its Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. LeftHand iSCSI SAN, human resource outsourcing firm AlphaStaff switched to Compellent’s Storage Center and stuck with iSCSI for simplicity while adding solid state drives (SSDs) to eliminate latency problems.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based AlphaStaff handles its client companies’ payroll and benefits processing, which puts a great deal of emphasis on its ERP system. That led it to implement a LeftHand Networks SAN in 2004 before HP acquired LeftHand. That iSCSI SAN served the company as it grew from handling HR functions from 6,000 to about 80,000 employees, according to vice president of IT operations Jack Rahner.

During that time, Rahner said, AlphaStaff also went heavily with VMware. “VMware came into its own as more of a product for the masses,” he said. “I never considered it production-ready for high-end applications such as ERP at first, but VMware made believers out of me and tons of people.”

The move to VMware for production data plus “a tremendous explosion in data” prompted Rahner to look for a larger SAN system two years ago. At that point, AlphaStaff had 60 TB in its Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta data centers. Rahner said he thought it was easier to build out his HP/LeftHand storage than replace it, but eventually ran up against performance limitations.

“We made the right choice at the time with LeftHand but we were starting to get to the point where we could not scale,” he said. “It had nothing to do with iSCSI, but our problems were with latency.”

Rahner decided to look around, but didn’t like what he saw from the larger storage vendors.

“We looked at HP’s EVA, NetApp and others,” he said. “HP hasn’t had a new thought on the SAN market for quite some time. I used to like NetApp because it challenged EMC, but NetApp hadn’t come out with anything new in awhile. NetApp’s attitude was like EMC’s, ‘We’re NetApp, we don’t have to bend, we’re the best.'”

Rahner said he was impressed by Compellent’s technology, especially its Data Progression automated tiering software. “The idea of block level tiered storage automated by algorithm was too much of no-brainer,” he said.

Before taking the plunge, though, Rahner and a few of his engineers went to Compellent’s Eden Prairie, Minn., headquarters and spent a week testing Compellent’s performance on AlphaStaff’s ERP system.

“Switching SAN vendors is like changing wives in a way, all your eggs are in one basket,” he said. “So we did an extensive evaluation. We saw a 60 percent average increase in performance over LeftHand, and Compellent’s ease of use became quickly evident. It was cheaper megabyte for megabyte than what NetApp and some higher-end HP systems were offering.”

That performance was with iSCSI SAN, which meant AlphaStaff wouldn’t have to switch over to Fibre Channel. “I knew I wouldn’t have to have a dedicated storage engineer,” Rahner said. “If I could get on the SAN quickly and use it, anybody could.”