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Nancy Feig
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Renasant Bank Chooses a SAN From EqualLogic to Keep Up With Growing Storage Needs

Slow response times and an expanding network set Renasant Bank on a search for better network storage, resulting in the implementation of a storage area network (SAN) from EqualLogic.

Four years ago, Tupelo Miss.-based Renasant Bank ($3.6 billion in assets) ran a distributed network. "Every branch had a local Novell [Waltham, Mass.] server, and [Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft] Windows 95 was the operating system on every PC," says James Hayes, the bank's first VP and network operations manager. "The decision was made to abandon our current distributed network structure and move to a centralized network structure using Citrix [Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.]."

According to Hayes, the bank installed about 600 Wyse (San Jose, Calif.) thin clients (along with about 150 updated Windows XP PCs) and a Citrix server farm. Because a single file server hosted all users' profiles and documents, however, "We noticed a lot of slowness during log-ons and when opening documents," he recalls, noting that it would take an average of five minutes for a user to log in.

So three years ago Renasant added a Dell (Round Rock, Texas) network-attached storage (NAS) server, which "worked for a little while," Hayes says. But then the bank added 150 new thin-client users through mergers, and the NAS no longer was sufficient, he adds.

So two years ago Hayes began searching for a scalable, consolidated storage system, focusing on storage area networks (SAN). He approached the bank's Dell representative, but the vendor's proposal "was more than we thought we needed," Hayes says. "We didn't have the budget to do that."

Fortunately, the bank's IT auditor, Horne CPA, recently had installed Nashua, N.H.-based EqualLogic's SAN and recommended the solution. EqualLogic's interfaces, ease of use and cost were a better fit for the bank than other available solutions, Hayes says.

Renasant initially purchased a single SAN array -- EqualLogic's PS300e iSCSI (Internet small computer systems interface) storage appliance, which provided 7 terabytes of storage -- in February 2006 for its Tupelo technology center at a cost of $60,000, according to Hayes. When it was time to install the disk array, or "brick," Hayes set aside two full days for the implementation, but it actually took less than four hours. "We cleared our schedules for two days, but by lunch it was done," Hayes says, adding that by that afternoon the staff was already making data snapshots.

The bank added a second brick, a PS400, early this year, gaining an additional 10.5 terabytes of raw storage. For an additional $75,000, "It gives us some room to grow," Hayes says. He adds that Renasant plans to add another PS400 brick sometime this year for disaster recovery, noting that it takes less than 30 minutes to install additional arrays.

According to Hayes, the SAN is connected to most of the bank's internal systems, including its Microsoft SQL database and Exchange Server, and hosts all of the bank's current documents. Both existing arrays, he says, are managed in real time by intelligent, automated load-balancing software.

"We have been extremely pleased with the responsiveness of the system," Hayes says, adding that there no longer are bottlenecks when employees log on to their computers. "It just works."

Hayes explains that the bank now is able to take snapshots of the data stored on the SAN twice a day; for compliance purposes, one snapshot is copied to the bank's old NAS. The data snapshots, he says, have accelerated file recovery significantly. "In the past we had to go get the tapes," Hayes says. "With the snapshots, we just bring the file out of a snapshot and bring it back." While restoring a file took up to four hours before the EqualLogic system was installed, it now takes just 15 minutes, he adds.

Institution: Renasant Bank (Tupelo, Miss).

Assets: $3.6 billion.

Business Challenge: Consolidate storage and implement scalable solution.

Solution: EqualLogic's (Nashua, N.H.) storage area network (SAN).

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