How National Instruments Improved Their Development Process with Perforce Helix

Helix has provided National Instruments with a single standardized solution as well as a consolidated storage solution that can keep up with its developers.

Key Factors Why National Instruments Chose Perforce Helix

Speed and ease of use

Flexibility

Cut cost

"Perforce is one of the most important software applications in use at National Instruments today.

With so many different groups relying daily on Perforce, we really appreciate the flexibility of the system."

Profile

Headquartered in Austin, Texas, National Instruments has more than 3,400 employees and direct operations in approximately 40 countries around the world. Leveraging the PC and its related technologies, National Instruments virtual instrumentation solutions increase productivity and lower costs through easy-to-integrate software, such as the NI LabVIEW graphical development environment, and modular hardware, such as PXI modules for data acquisition, instrument control, and machine vision.

The Challenge: Fragmented Version Control and Storage Infrastructure

The company was using a number of different version control platforms, including Microsoft Visual SourceSafe (VSS), ClearCase, and various open-source version control solutions. As the company's development requirements grew with six separate development facilities spread around the globe, the need to standardize on one cross-platform versioning system became evident.

Additionally, National Instruments had been using a variety of direct-attached storage (DAS) devices. As the organization's data demands continued to grow, however, a better, more strategic storage solution was needed. "What we needed was a consolidated storage solution that could keep up with our growing version control data requirements," explains Jeff Mery, systems administrator for National Instruments.

The Solution: Standardize on Perforce Helix and Network Appliance Clustered Storage Solutions

"We selected Perforce Helix based on four key factors: speed, ease of use, flexibility, and cost," explains Steve Lysohir, Perforce administrator at National Instruments. "At first, we used Helix primarily for software development, but today we are using it as an enterprise-wide solution in a number of different departments. We are also starting to deploy the solution on the hardware side of our business."

National Instruments not only uses Helix for software and hardware engineering activities, but also relies on the flexible versioning solution for a variety of applications in diverse departments such as IT operations, web development, documentation, language localization, customer education, and the sales/marketing departments. NI uses Helix to store source code and digital assets such as binary files and Word documents.

"Helix is one of the most important software applications in use at National Instruments today," emphasizes Lysohir.

This critical application required a highly flexible and robust storage platform. The company found that the flexibility and modularity of Network Appliance™ unified storage solutions offered the high performance and large capacity options that their geographically distributed product development environments required. National Instruments initially deployed clustered NetApp storage systems to support its Helix environment and later upgraded to a NetApp fabric-attached storage (FAS) cluster.

Today, 90 percent of all file serving throughout the entire company is handled by NetApp storage.

Business Benefits: An Easy Yet Powerful Solution

Flexibility and ease of use are very important considerations for the company. "With so many different groups relying daily on Helix, we really appreciate the flexibility of the system," continues Lysohir. "Each group typically has its own unique requirements and development methodologies. Because Helix is flexible and easily customizable with scripts, it readily accommodates each group's development style. The system's open architecture has turned out to be a value for us."

As performance and capacity needs continue to grow, the National Instruments NetApp storage infrastructure can be expanded independently of the computer infrastructure. New hardware can be implemented easily and quickly — and storage capacity can be expanded without downtime.

Equally important to the company are the power and performance of Helix. "We have been very impressed with how well Helix has been able to handle our extensive distributed and concurrent development environment," continues Lysohir. "We calculate that we're averaging about 100,000 commands per 24-hour period on our main server."

In particular, National Instruments has been impressed by the product's robust branching capabilities. "With the powerful branching features in Helix, we can manage multiple software releases," adds Lysohir.

"When we migrated to the high-performance NetApp FAS cluster, we decided to take another look at alternative storage solutions," explains Mery. "We conducted a series of benchmark tests and were pleased to confirm that the NetApp systems outperformed all the other solutions we were looking at."

National Instruments decision to integrate NetApp into its Perforce solutions has been very successful, not only from a performance standpoint, but also from a reliability standpoint. "The simple fact is, our NetApp systems rarely go down," says Mery. "And that's extremely important for a company such as ours. For example, the time right before a product release is a very critical time period. If we lose data at this crucial juncture, we might miss out on our market window altogether."

And when it comes to service and support, Lysohir has this to say: "Helix support has simply been excellent. They've been able to expertly handle anything and everything we've thrown at them."

The Bottom Line

Together, Helix and NetApp are assisting National Instruments in increasing performance and throughput, boosting development productivity, and reducing administrative overhead to the point that the company requires just a single versioning system administrator. The net result for National Instruments has been the lowering of overall development costs coupled with accelerated time-to-market for the company's virtual instrumentation solutions.

"With Helix, our company has been able to improve our development process across the board," concludes Mery. "And thanks to NetApp, we've been able to increase data reliability, availability, and scalability."