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Candy-maker sweetens IT setup with VxRail, PowerProtect

Warrell Corp. treated itself to a new IT infrastructure to drive its candy manufacturing, adding hyper-converged backup appliances and cloud DR from Dell EMC.

The term digital transformation has different meanings to different people, but to Clifton Dorsey, it meant doing a complete reboot when he joined Warrell Corp. to run its IT team in late 2018.

Dorsey found the candy manufacturer in Camp Hill, Pa., operating with a "hodgepodge" of outdated, often unsupported hardware. That included an aging disk SAN and an unreliable tape system for disaster recovery.

"I reset everything," said Dorsey, who is now a vice president heading a four-team IT shop to serve close to 200 employees.

Clifton DorseyClifton Dorsey

The reset process covered parallel tracks for primary storage and data protection. Both searches led Warrell to Dell EMC gear -- VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) on the primary side, and PowerProtect integrated backup appliance running Avamar software connected to AWS for cloud DR for secondary storage.

When looking to upgrade the candy-maker's IT, Dorsey said he decided Dell EMC would be the best fit because of its breadth of products. He upgraded from a Dell EqualLogic SAN to Dell EMC VxRail and from tape and disparate disk backup to PowerProtect DP4400 appliance.

Dorsey said he had most experience with Lenovo servers before joining Warrell in late 2018, and began his HCI search with Lenovo servers running Nutanix software. However, he decided Dell EMC made more sense, largely because VxRail is built on VMware vSAN HCI software and Dell PowerEdge server hardware. The Warrell team was already familiar with VMware.

"I didn't have to re-teach my team a new interface," Dorsey said. "We already knew VMware, it was an easier transition. We had everything running in three or four months. I believe it would have taken a lot longer if we had to learn a new interface."

Warrell bought its EqualLogic SAN before Dell acquired EqualLogic in 2007, and the array and its hard drives were out of support. And that system supported the candy-maker's SQL databases and ERP system. Warrell acquired a five-node VxRail E560 all-flash system with space for 15 TB of capacity per node, and added five more drives in early 2020.

"The VxRail project let us migrate off of old unsupported hardware to all-flash disk," Dorsey said. "So we didn't have to worry about our databases running slow, the speed of our ERP system increased because we went from disparate disk drives to flash. It's a huge difference when SQL can actually do what it needs to on solid hardware."

On the backup side, Warrell had been using Veeam software, but Dorsey said SQL backups often failed -- mainly because aging hardware was not compatible with the backup app. He switched to PowerProtect for better efficiency, and he also liked the tie-in between VxRail and Dell EMC backup products.

"It was a challenge, but when we finished, we had full solid backups we could believe in," he said. "I would describe our backups now as stable, reliant. We went from not having complete backups running over 12-plus hours to getting 100% backup within four hours."

Dorsey said his new Dell Cloud DR system replicates data from his backup appliance to AWS, and automates and orchestrates workload failover and failback. He's not locked into AWS, and is considering switching to Microsoft Azure because Warrell has a large Office 365 footprint. Previously, Darrell had around 400 TB of data sitting on tape that would have to be restored in a disaster.

"Luckily we have not a disaster since switching, but we have tested our new system many times," he said.

The first test came when migrating to the VxRail. Dorsey said his team put PowerProtect agents on its old server running VMware venter server, backed it up to PowerProtect and restored to the Viral.

"We were able to migrate 104 servers within a couple of weeks," he said. "PowerProtect literally saved us hours and potential data corruption because we weren't sure how we were going to get the VMs over there without corrupting some of them. So it worked out really well."

Warrell completed its upgrade in late 2019, just in time for the COVID-19 impact on IT. Dorsey said since the upgrade, Warrell's network has been much better equipped to handle employees working from home -- although many have to be on site because of the nature of the business. "Candy can't be made at home," Dorsey said.

"We don't have to worry about our system being stable enough," he added. "We had everything in place when COVID hit. I have zero issues with our VPN or file sharing. That's been a huge relief. If we had not done this project before COVID, [working from home] would have been a struggle."

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