Storage System Facilitates Transition from Print Publishing to Electronic Publishing

The Julian Samora Research Institute was founded in 1989 at Michigan State University to research relevant social, economic, educational and political conditions of Latino communities nationwide. It started out a decade ago, publishing small books and some reports. Since then, it has increased both its research and publishing volume ten times over. Up until three years ago, the institute could get away with publishing a book on paper, and then filing it away. Danny Layne, who divides his time between network administration and publishing production, recalls, “If we needed to print a book, we’d pull it out of the file and then put it away.”


To keep up with the volume of research it had to publish, the Institute found itself producing more electronic files. These files kept getting larger and more complex. Researchers, who are students at the University, broke down chapters into multiple files. One book could consist of 20 different files. Charts and graphs were also generated electronically, as were PowerPoint presentations. Books had to be published in hardcopy and also made available via the institute’s Web site. Says Layne, “ To this end, we were generating new types of files that we never had before.”


Disk space on a desktop personal computer couldn’t handle the volume being churned out. Layne asserts that they didn’t want to start adding large hard disk drives to their desktop PCs. “If one PC’s disk drive failed, then we’d have to restore files from a previous backup tape and recreate what we lost. That’s inefficient.” So, with some technology funds from the government and the university, the institute decided to buy a central storage system to house all its publications and all the files for its Web site. Since the institute has a small computing staff and limited resources, the storage device had to be highly reliable, easy to set up and maintain, and able to accommodate more storage space as needed, with the addition of more disk drives. “Our search for a storage solution brought us to Winchester Systems in Woburn, Massachusetts,” recalls Layne.  “We purchased a FlashDisk external RAID storage system with seven 9-GB disk drives.”


As it appears to a user, a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) storage device functions as one big disk. Data is spread across a number of individual disks, which arise from the redundant manner in which data is stored. If any single disk in the array fails, the unit continues to function without loss of data. The redundant information can be a copy or a mathematical model of the data that was stored on the failed disk.


How It Works

Layne says that three years ago they had virtually no storage — just a few desktop PCs. “In this short time, the FlashDisk has allowed a small research department within a large university to turn itself into a publishing powerhouse on a small purse. Some of the other departments on campus are in awe of our storage system. And there are good reasons for it.”


Two side-by-side Dell PowerEdge 2200s — one Windows NT and one Linux — plug directly into the FlashDisk. It provides fast, highly reliable RAID 5 storage to multiple servers with different operating systems. This feature eliminates the expense of buying storage for each server. Layne states that managing one storage system is easier than managing two or three of them.


The Windows NT server, which connects to the Intranet within the building, functions as a central repository for all active publications and for the databases used to inventory and to track these publications. The FlashDisk allows each researcher to have his or her own storage space apart from the desktop. Using either a Windows-based PC or a Mac, researchers can access both Windows NT and Mac files stored on the FlashDisk. Cross-platform programs allow researchers to share both types of files on the FlashDisk. Overall, it provides the researchers with fast access to a large bank of files — everything from text to graphics, regardless of the format — over an Intranet. When a book is no longer to be published, it gets archived to a CD-ROM or a DVD.


Meanwhile, the Linux server, which connects to the external network, contains all of the institute’s 700 Web files. Each day, the Web site gets about 3,000 hits, translating to about 100,000 hits a month. Layne partitioned the FlashDisk’s total disk space into four segments or partitions: one partition is for Linux and three are for the Windows NT server. Setting the space aside on the FlashDisk to store the Linux files, as well the Linux operating system, turned out to be easier than Layne anticipated. He says, “We just followed the FlashDisk’s instructions in the manual, made one telephone call to technical support, and we were up and running.”


Room to Grow

While the FlashDisk provides a large amount of storage space, Layne says that the institute’s publishing volume has a healthy appetite for more. “We’re planning to upgrade our 9-GB drives to 18-GB drives to double our amount of storage. We can do this inexpensively because Winchester Systems will give us credit toward a trade-in on the drives. The service folks at Winchester Systems must feel like the repair people at Maytag. The FlashDisk has never broken down.”


Money from the University will allow the institute to produce audio and video clips for its Web site. Says Layne, “We’ve already tested accessing and storing multimedia on the Flash-Disk. Everything worked fine.”


Contact Information:
Winchester Systems
Woburn, MA
(800) 494-6797

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.