Weather Channel improves forecast with tiered storage

The Weather Channel is seeing results from a cost-saving strategy that includes new SATA drives, a tiered storage architecture and cheap Linux servers.

Faced with rapid data growth and the pressure to produce 24-hour weather information, The Weather Channel has implemented a three-tier storage model and switched to cheaper servers running Linux. The result has been a 70% increase in storage utilization.

Up until last summer, The Weather Channel -- which produces national, regional and local weather-related television programming to 88 million households and backs up 1.5 terabytes (TB) of data per day -- had three tiers of storage on one high-end Hitachi 9980V Lightning array.

The company's storage capacity has more than tripled in the last two years. To keep up, The Weather Channel increased its Hitachi 9980V array from 15 TB to 26 TB. But storing all their data on Fibre Channel drives proved to be too expensive. Another problem was that backing up directly to tape on Quantum P3000 tape libraries was a slow process because of frequent media errors.

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The company decided that it needed to set up another tier with separate hardware and cheaper storage.

SATA savings

"This was around a year ago, and SATA was just coming out," said Kevin Gungiah, director of systems administration at The Weather Channel. Last June, The Weather Channel bought a Xyratex 4200 SATA array. "We're using that for tier-3 storage," said Gungiah, adding that tier-3 is for backup, recovery and archiving of data that no longer impacts production.

The Weather Channel bought 32 TB of SATA capacity for $90,000. Gungiah estimates that 32 TB of Fibre Channel would have cost approximately $1 million. The company is currently adding a Hitachi 9585 Thunder array for tier-2, which Gungiah describes as the place for "non-critical applications that can exceed one day of downtime."

The Weather Channel's present architecture is disk-to-disk-to-tape. It is using Veritas NetBackup 5.1 for disk caching, which has helped with the bottlenecks that came with backing up from Fibre Channel drives directly to tape. But The Weather Channel's goal is to eliminate tape entirely once the tier-2 Hitachi 9585 array is fully implemented. "We are working on a disk-to-disk-to-disk strategy," said Gungiah. "We are a private company and our retention periods are not so long that we need tape for archiving."

The Weather Channel has also seen cost savings by switching to lower cost Linux servers. Gungiah said that the combination of cheaper hardware and the efficiency of Veritas' Storage Foundation suite for management and NetBackup 5.1 for backup has reduced server TCO by 90%.

The Weather Channel's cost-cutting crusade is still in motion as it implements the Hitachi 9585 array for tier-2 storage and migrates all its servers to Linux. Gungiah said they plan to eliminate tape from the environment and be "all Linux" by the end of this year.

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