Headquartered in Maisons-Alfort, France, Fives Stein is a leading engineering company operating in the steel and glass industries, a subsidiary of the Fives global industrial engineering group. Fives designs and supplies process equipment, production lines and turnkey plants for the world’s largest industrial groups in the aluminium, steel, glass, automotive & logistics, cement, energy and sugar markets. Fives Stein also maintains other offices in France, as well as in the United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, China, India and Russia.
To succeed at a global level in the highly competitive engineering area of the steel and glass industries, it is critical that all aspects of the company’s operations perform at high levels. This includes employee productivity and performance and financial efficiency.
For several years, Fives Stein has used PerfectDisk in a limited capacity — on its Exchange server as well as a handful of other servers. While the IT organization understood the benefits of PerfectDisk on all Windows machines (different server types, PCs, physical and virtual environments), the focus had always been on what it believed to be the most critical servers in terms of performance.
Late last fall, Raxco introduced the PerfectDisk Enterprise Suite, and like many SMBs and large enterprises, this changed Fives Stein’s thinking and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. The power of PerfectDisk could be unveiled across the organization — all servers, all PCs and laptops — every physical and virtual device throughout the company — at a low, set cost with no hidden surprises, no time-consuming license tracking and no hidden yearly surprises.
For a company that pays close attention to and expects excellence from every piece of its business, the PerfectDisk Enterprise Suite was seen as a potential big winner for Fives Stein. Employee productivity could be significantly improved and expensive hardware purchases could be delayed, all with a large positive impact on the bottom line. So Fives Stein upgraded its handful of licenses to the Enterprise Suite, at a surprisingly low cost, and the benefits began rolling across the company.
Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Jérôme Bongrand, Networks & System Manager for Fives Stein, to discuss the company’s experience with upgrading to the PerfectDisk Enterprise Suite:
Joe Abusamra: How many resources is the PerfectDisk Enterprise Suite covering now?
Jérôme Bongrand: Right now, approximately 40 physical and virtual servers, as well as almost 600 end user machines. The operating systems range include Windows 2003, Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. But the truly great thing now is that as we grow, all our physical and virtual servers will be covered, as will any end users.
Joe: How did the setup go?
Jérôme: First, let me say that the Enterprise Console is a must have. The learning curve is very short — in fact, within an hour you’re a guru. This product is all you need to deploy, manage and have a clear picture of what is going on across all your systems. Unlike most management consoles, the resource load is practically nothing. Therefore, I could use any low end machine — no hidden cost here.
Joe: Okay, that’s good to hear — but the goal is to improve performance and lower costs by optimizing your drives through defragmentation and the prevention of fragmentation. Let’s go through your organization’s systems and discuss, starting with Exchange.
Jérôme: We are still on Exchange Server 2003 with more than 1,200 mailboxes, in 3 storage groups and 4 banks by group. PerfectDisk lowered the I/O latency (after some weeks) from about 80 milliseconds — yes, real values here — to less than 6 milliseconds, greatly improving end user experience on the responsiveness. The added feature to perform an offline defrag — even fully automated with the scheduler — is now in our yearly maintenance plan. When I started using PerfectDisk Exchange back in 2009, the options we considered were to buy a new server and upgrade Exchange to a new version. After the first offline defrag of the storage group, I’ve never heard again that we should move our Exchange server. Four years later we have again to question ourselves whether we should upgrade to a newer version, not because of old hardware and performance but ‘just’ for added software features. The 4 years using PerfectDisk on those servers were really a cost savings and we can now plan safely to buy new servers — but they will not need to be so powerful and so costly due to PerfectDisk.
Joe: How about your file servers and others — have you seen results there?
Jérôme: For file servers we have one Windows 2003 clustered on an EMC CX300 fiber SAN, about 15 terabytes. Here also, this is pretty old and PerfectDisk does a great job, even on volumes with as low as 100 MB free! I’ve never seen another product able to defrag a volume with near zero free space. It takes time when there is no free space, true, but it runs in the background and nobody ever notices that it is running.
We have several EqualLogic SANs with about 60 terabytes of raw capacity. With PerfectDisk’s OptiWrite feature, my Windows servers are now running as fast as when they were new, with their optimal I/O performance regained since we put PerfectDisk on them via the Enterprise Suite.
Joe: I know Fives Stein is doing a lot with virtualization now, and a key licensing benefit of the PerfectDisk Enterprise Suite is covering all your virtual devices. What can you tell me about PerfectDisk’s impact on Fives Stein’s virtual environment?
Jérôme: In a virtual environment, we’ve also found PerfectDisk to be very seamless. The product deploys easily to the guest machines just as it does on the physical ones. Importantly, we’ve found the fact that the guests are aware of the host it runs under is a great value. We don’t have to worry about concurrent defrags running on multiple hosts or guests at the same time on already heavy-loaded I/O volumes. Again, the job gets done, it gets done quickly and efficiently.
Joe: In the past, you’ve run PerfectDisk on a handful of your servers. You’ve now discussed how you been able to see more value by deploying PerfectDisk on even more servers. Since the Enterprise Suite covers every Windows device in your company, you’ve also been able to now have PerfectDisk running on all your end users’ computers as well. How has that worked out?
Jérôme: Our end users have high end stations running specific software known to rely on very fast disk subsystems, but they also fragment hard drives like hell — engineering 3D software, simulation software applied to mechanical and fluids problem solving, etc. PerfectDisk Professional was deployed to some workstations only, to be able to have real baseline comparisons. Without a doubt, workstations with PerfectDisk were more responsive than those without, and the fragmentation stayed very low, resulting in very minimal re-imaging of workstations. Previously, we had to re-image every 3 to 6 months at least, and that is now gone away — a huge hidden cost and time saver. For our day-to-day desktops, our users are no longer complaining about slow PCs. If there are any issues, resolution is much quicker, because we no longer have to defrag a user’s drive and wait to determine the real bottleneck.
Joe: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jérôme: Well, outside the product, I can say that having to contact Raxco technical support once was a great experience. I had a very unusual situation, We have guests on a clustered Hyper-V — Hyper-V hosts hosted on a VMWare HA hypervisor — this led me to ask Raxco tech support which product should I use on my guests, and what product should I use on my Hyper-V. This lab was done to evaluate running Exchange as a guest.
Two mails later I had a very complete and accurate answer, and a very detailed explanation on the different approaches, along with the pros and cons that I could understand. Very professional service, and very fast response — not an automated email like other big brands that take days to came back to you with more questions than answers. You know them, I’m sure.
Joe: It can’t be all good! What are the downsides of this Suite?
Jérôme: I’ve searched for this, and they are really hard to find. One that I can think of is that reclaiming thin provisioned space can be tricky. It worked differently than I expected on our EqualLogic SAN — you need to be careful when using the zero free space feature. However, your new product PerfectStorage looks like it will address thin-provisioned space reclamation much better. The second point is that the reporting could be improved. However it’s sufficient for normal granularity and trends.
Joe: Thanks very much for your time, Jerome.
Jerome: Thank you. I really believe that the PerfectDisk Enterprise Suite is a must-have suite — inexpensive, high value, straightforward, without hidden costs — very good and very clear pricing and licensing models. This suite should be in the toolbox of every serious corporate system IT manager.