SAN consolidates storage

When its backup and batch processing cycles started cutting into employee productivity, insurance company uses a SAN.

SAN consolidates storage
NTL breaks up bottleneck with SAN

When its nightly backup and batch processing cycles started cutting into employee productivity, awards winner National Travelers Life Insurance Co. used a storage area network to ram through the computational roadblock.

by Michael Alexander

This is the first of three profiles of the winners of searchStorage's Storage Innovator Awards, which were presented at Storage Decisions 2001 in Chicago last month. The Storage Innovator Awards program is sponsored by Hewlett-Packard Co.

The IT staff at National Travelers Life Co. (NTL) knew it had a "major league problem," says Steve Block, senior systems administrator, when its backup and batch processing cycles started running from overnight into the next day. When the West Des Moines, Iowa-based company's employees arrived some mornings, they had to wait for processing to finish before they could start work. "That happened a couple of times a month, and we were getting a lot of pressure because of it," Blocks says.

NTL went shopping for a solution to its data-throughput bottleneck. After evaluating offerings from several storage providers, NTL settled on a Compaq Corp. StorageWorks Modular Array 8000 configured as a storage-area network (SAN), SANworks Enterprise Volume Manager and other Compaq storage products. The SAN serves as a shared storage pool for NTL's Compaq ProLiant and IBM servers running Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Server. The company has about 1T byte of stored data.

"We didn't really think about a SAN right away," Block says. The life insurance company began by looking at centralizing its storage with networked-attached storage. With some of its databases growing at 20% a year, NTL wanted to get a better handle on its storage requirements--one that went beyond merely buying new disks or cabinets every few months.

Once its IT staff consulted with Houston-based Compaq's sales engineers, Block says, it became apparent that a SAN could not only be a foundation for consolidated storage but also could alleviate the processing bottleneck. "We knew up front that it was going to be costly," Block says. "But for what it got us, it was cheap." NTL paid about $200,000 for the SAN hardware and software.

Compaq SANworks Enterprise Volume Manager (EVM) enables NTL's admins to create a four-member mirror and to allocate two mirrors to backup servers and two mirrors to production servers. Where it was once forced to wait for backup to finish before it could start the batch cycle, NTL now runs the backup and batch cycles simultaneously. By offloading the disk I/O, the jobs are completed about 30% faster too. Block estimates the company now gets six to eight hours of additional productivity per month from 100 employees, which translates to 600 to 800 hours of increased output each month.

SANworks EVM's Web browser interface couldn't be easier to use, Block says. "When the operators are ready to split off a mirror member or merge a mirror member, they point and click. We scripted the jobs, and the script runs in the background. It's automatic."

Block admits he had some apprehension when NTL made the transition to a SAN about a year ago. "I went into it kind of concerned about merging a mirror while production was running or splitting off a mirror while users were on line. But as it turns out, it works exceptionally well."

As for those employees who used to wait for overnight-into-day processing to complete before they could start work, they haven't said a word, and that's a good thing. "Users have an expectation of being able to come in and do their jobs, and we're meeting their expectations," Block says.

For additional information about National Travelers Life Co., visit its Web site.

For more information on Compaq, visit its Web site.


>>Read more about the Storage Innovator Awards.

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