H&R Block covers all the bases with a SAN

When you’re in a seasonal industry, flexibility is a necessity, and H&R Block’s storage infrastructure is no different.

The tax preparation firm employs a SAN to handle its live data, primarily so it can adapt to changing business demands, says John Vondette, senior network administrator

based in Calgary.

“”We have a number of our production servers that run off the (IBM) FASt500,”” he says, “”and when we implemented that, we also needed a better backup strategy, so we put in place one of IBM’s 3583 tape libraries and it’s running Tivoli Storage Manager.””

This is H&R Block’s second tax season with the SAN in place, says Vondette, but the IT department wasn’t given clear direction from the business side of the organization on what should be influencing its storage infrastructure strategy.

“”We weren’t getting clear feedback from them, so we needed some flexibility,”” he says. “”We were given some very nebulous business drivers, (so) as an IT department we decided it was going to be a good idea to go with the SAN.””

If the business requires more storage, it’s not a problem, Vondette says. “”I can plunk it into the SAN and add it fairly easily.””

He says it’s highly probable H&R Block was one of the first companies in the Calgary area to put in a FASt500, and there was some trepidation at the prospect of adopting a SAN.

“”It was a newer technology,”” Vondette says. “”No one here had hands-on experience with it.”” Vondette says the firm spent a lot of time with IBM and its partner, Mainland Information Systems, going over the pros and cons of the technology, specifically focusing on uptime, redundancy and potential single points of failure.

“”We had some initial installation issues,”” he says. “”It was a fairly big implementation from our company’s perspective. It was an ongoing process to migrate our existing infrastructure over on to it, and get it stable.””

H&R Block’s SAN handles all of the data required by the business and its employees.

“”We have clients’ tax data stored on the SAN behind the firewall,”” says Vondette. “”We’re using clustered SQL Server boxes for data mining and we run an in-house designed Web portal for H&R Block employees to access payroll, and roster information — all that sort of stuff.””

In addition to the operational data, the firm also has one server on the SAN dedicated to backup and recovery.

With the help of Tivoli Storage Manager, data from other servers in the SAN and nodes in the entire H&R Block network can be backed up to a disk cache or tape on a daily basis. “”When we went to the SAN idea,”” says Vondette, “”we wanted to make sure we had an industrial strength backup solution in place.””

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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