Headquartered in St. Michael, MN, J&B Group is a family-owned perishable production and distribution company. The company offers retail and food service customers a combination of wholesaling, branded products, customer food service cutting, cold storage, and transportation of meat, poultry, and deli food products. J&B Group’s premium offerings include No Name Steaks ® and Midwest Pride ® products. (www.jbgroup.com)
Refresh storage to complement virtual infrastructure and maximize uptime In 1979, ensuring product freshness was relatively simple. The founded of J&B Group stored all of the company’s meat products at the neighborhood butcher shop, made his own sales calls, and then covered local deliveries out of a single company truck.
Thirty years later, keeping food fresh and ensuring optimum food safety from supplier to customer requires a bit more planning. J&B Group now owns over 400,000 square feet of combined plant space and refrigeration capacity in excess of 3.6 million cubic feet. The company employs nearly 750 people and maintains a modern fleet of more than 75 delivery trucks that collectively log some 4,400,000 miles annually. Every week, J&B Group trucks deliver millions of pounds of product to 3,000 customers across a 10‐state region in the U.S. Midwest. Remarkably, with food freshness ever paramount and excellence in food safety a foundational attribute of the company, the much‐expanded J&B Group still moves product from warehouse to retailer loading docks in less than 12 hours in most cases.
How does it happen? Chuck Ballard, Network and Technical Services manager for J&B Group, credits the company’s service-oriented workforce and a supporting IT infrastructure that delivers dial‐tone information services. “Getting product from the J&B Group facilities to our customers involves a highly orchestrated distribution process that depends a great deal on our IT systems. If any one of our systems fails, we risk delays that could cost the company orders, product, and, ultimately, customers. In the perishable business, where product turnover is critical, it’s all about uptime.”
Protecting uptime was one of the drivers of a storage‐technology refresh. An aging SAN with limiting performance, scalability, and backup/recovery issues no longer effectively supported the availability and data management requirements of the more than 600M company. Ballard’s team outlined key objectives for a new storage architecture: 1) high availability and fast backup/recovery to ensure business continuance; 2) rapid provisioning and scalability to support a server‐dense dense VMware environment; 3) multiprotocol support for a diverse application mix; 4) functionality and flexibility to support new on‐demand virtual services, including a virtual‐desktop infrastructure; and 5) efficiencies.
Standardize on NetApp for availability, functionality, and flexibility
With direct experience on a multitude of storage platforms, Ballard considered solutions from numerous suppliers, including Compellent, EMC, Hitachi, IBM, NetApp, and Nexsan. “NetApp met all of our requirements for availability and functionality. But most convincing was the unique flexibility afforded us with the NetApp architecture.”
To design and deploy the NetApp solution, the J&B Group engaged VMPowered, an authorized VMware consultant, and Northland Systems, a NetApp partner and provider of IT solutions. Ballard comments, “This team provided invaluable assistance in developing specifications and bringing the solution online in our production environment. They understand our business and the availability requirements we must address, and we count on them to deliver solutions that work. J&B Group considers them essential technology advisors and true partners in the company’s success.”
The J&B Group now runs all critical systems on 80TB of NetApp storage. A NetApp high‐availability FAS3040 system provides storage (via CIFS) for Windows® file shares and (via FC) to the VMware enterprise environment that consists of some 58 virtual servers and over 30 VDI clients running on 4 ESX hosts.
Applications in the virtual‐server environment include Microsoft® Exchange Server 2007, Office Communications Server, SharePoint® Portal Server, and SQL Server®‐based applications, including UPS Logistics Technologies Roadnet and Cadec DeliveryTracker fleet management software; Priya, by Advanced Food Systems Technologies (AFS) warehouse management; and Performance Point reporting. The FAS3040 also provides storage to some two dozen physical servers, including an IBM pSeries running AIX‐based applications such as business‐critical AFS ERP software. NetApp also provides storage for the J&B Group virtual‐desktop environment built on the Quest Software vWorkspace framework.
To ensure maximum uptime and business continuance, the J&B Group utilizes NetApp SnapMirror® technology to replicate data (at regularly scheduled intervals or synchronously as updates occur, depending upon the application) from the NetApp FAS3040 to a NetApp FAS2050 that serves as a disaster recovery system. On both systems, J&B Group leverages a combination of FC, SAS, and SATA drives to optimally address reliability, performance, and cost objectives across the mixed‐application environment that the NetApp solution supports.
Keeping the trucks rolling
“Because we’re a major provider of refrigeration services, as well as a wholesale distributor of perishables, J&B Group often refers to itself as a vital link in the cold chain,” Ballard states. “Any system downtime can impact our ability to meet contracted response times for cold‐storage customers or retailer product‐delivery schedules. When you’re dealing with perishables and a very fluid environment, the trucks have to roll. Since deploying NetApp to complement the availability and redundancy inherent in the VMware environment, we have experienced no outages. Our objective is to ensure worst‐case recoverability of less than four hours on all of our business‐critical systems. We’ve tested and proven our ability to achieve that, even in the event of a major failure in our primary server and storage environment.”
J&B Group uses NetApp Snapshot™ technology to make frequent online backups of data across both physical and virtual environments. Ballard stresses that a snapshotfunction available with the original SAN worked only in the UNIX® environment and required applications to be quiesced during the process, a limitation that made it impractical to schedule more than three daily backups. Alternatively, J&B Group can now utilize NetApp Snapshot technology to create multiple point‐in‐time copies of any data set, even while applications run.
Ballard adds, “Because of the space efficiency and zero performance impact of the NetApp technology, we can schedule Snapshot copies all day long—and we do. As a result, we’re able to achieve one‐hour recovery time and recovery point objectives on all of our critical systems.”
J&B Group is seeing savings
Since deploying the NetApp solution, J&B Group has achieved dollar‐saving efficiencies in storage utilization, energy usage, and administration. Leveraging NetApp deduplication, J&B Group achieves an average capacity savings of 67% across VMware LUNs. “The same VMware aggregate that required 4.5TB in our old SAN uses just 1.5TB on NetApp,” Ballard reports. “We expect even greater savings in our virtual‐desktop environment. Although early in the build‐out of the vWorkspace environment, we’re moving quickly to deploy our target of 200 virtual desktops. Without NetApp deduplication and LUN cloning, we’d need 10GB per desktop, or at least 2TB overall. With NetApp technologies, we’ll use just 400GB total.”
Moving to the virtual‐desktop environment will also result in significant capital and maintenance savings. Ballard specifies, “Putting this infrastructure in place allows us to defer new PC purchases for at least two years—that’s about 120 machines. When we do buy new systems, we’ll spend just $400 each on virtual appliances rather than $1,500 apiece for traditional PCs. We’ll also eliminate the $200 in maintenance we would have spent per PC, plus the energy savings of running thin clients instead of PCs with 250watt power supplies.” Over two years this represents a significant reduction in costs.
On the administrative side, Ballard notes savings in both initial desktop rollout and ongoing PC management: “Everything is simpler with the virtual‐desktop environment on NetApp. In minutes, and with just a couple of mouse‐clicks, we can deploy and/or back up hundreds of desktops. In the past, a major upgrade could easily take a month and considerable investment in consultant services. In the new infrastructure, we can build a golden image and clone it 200 times to complete upgrades quickly, successfully, and with minimal inhouse administrative resources.”
NetApp FlexVol® technology also simplifies administration while helping the J&B Group maximize storage utilization. “It was so difficult to reclaim space on our old SAN that, when we carved up space, it was carved up for life,” explains Ballard. “In contrast, NetApp lets us easily create and resize volumes instantly as application needs change. Overall, it takes just 10% of one administrator’s time to manage 80TB of NetApp storage.”
Providing flexibility, protecting business choice
Even as J&B Group’s expanding VMware and vWorkspace environments increase the demand for services and storage resources, the efficiencies of NetApp deduplication, thin provisioning, and replication technologies help mitigate capacity requirements.
Ballard states, “We are a fast‐growing organization expecting to be a billion‐dollar company within the next five years, and we need technologies that can cost‐effectively scale as business and customer needs dictate. Since there’s no crystal ball to reveal how our IT requirements will evolve and expand over that time, it’s particularly important to deploy a storage architecture that can operate with and complement the broadest set of framework, platform, application, and connectivity solutions that the business might require.
“If you look at compatibility matrices, a lot of storage technologies drop off if you require NAS plus FC and iSCSI plus integration with your virtual‐server environment, and so on. But NetApp seems to work with everything, and it seems that every vendor supports NetApp. Standardizing on NetApp protects our ability to choose.”
Concluding, Ballard emphasizes that by helping to ensure availability of business‐critical services, J&B Group’s investment in NetApp technology also contributes to a competitive edge. “We’re in business to provide consistent, responsive service to our customers, and this solution helps us do exactly that.”