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Issue of April 2004 

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A different approach to storage

BPL Mobile is one of India's premier mobile phone service providers with a subscriber base of over 1.4 million, spread across 209 cities. A well-planned IT infrastructure that includes a unique network design provides the support required to carry on its business of communication.

Being a part of a customer-oriented business industry, the company had to constantly innovate and offer value-added services to its customer to have an edge over the competition. And this was only possible by staying updated and innovating on existing and new technologies.

Consolidate and network

The company has four distributed data centers at Mumbai, Pune, Coimbatore, and Cochin. Cisco routers are used for interconnecting these locations and the Head Office in Bangalore over point-to-point leased circuits from BSNL. The WAN extends to the branches and franchisees in all circles in which the company operates.

The company realized that it needed to consolidate the data center operations into a common data center, and deploy networked storage.

Prakash Paranjape, Chief Information Officer, BPL Mobile Cellular Ltd. explained, "It was imperative to consolidate the diverse attached storage/internal storage to a common centralized storage for better manageability and improved uptime."

He further explained that the need-based allocation of storage resources to various applications was imperative to ensure the appropriate storage for various applications. Due to these needs the company decided to install an integrated NAS and SAN environment.

The right approach

To begin with the task of deploying an efficient storage infrastructure, Paranjape said that he had to evaluate the existing setup in detail, and look at the needs and future expectations before creating a new design.

The company first reviewed the existing storage capacities of various applications, evaluated the business value of the data, and identified the applications and data that should have storage provisioned from the networked storage. The next stage was to identify the business applications that needed to be consolidated for the new architecture.

Other aspects like computing the total usable capacity for the networked storage, and grading the total storage requirements into online, nearline, and offline storage were taken into consideration.

Currently, the company predominantly uses HP RISC servers running HP-UX for the Mumbai operations. Mumbai uses a VA7400 storage array from HP and a Brocade SAN fabric.

"Currently we have about 1.5 TB storage provisioned from this array for all core applications. Apart from this we have DAS systems and internal storage for other applications," said Paranjape.

The other locations (Pune, Coimbatore and Cochin) use Alpha Servers and MA8000 storage arrays provided by HP/Compaq. Critical servers running core applications are connected to the SAN over Brocade SAN Fabric. Storage for other servers is provisioned from DAS and internal storage.

The new mix

According to Paranjape, storage for mission critical business applications will be provisioned from SAN and Fiber-based drives. The less critical applications that need to be available online on ATA drives and the data shared across applications will be provisioned from NAS.

This distribution when deployed, will ensure cost effectiveness. SAN storage—which has a relatively higher cost per TB—will be used for storing business-critical, high business value and high-performance demanding data.

Paranjape said, "It is a differentiated approach to storage, where rather than providing same grade of storage solution for all types of storage requirement, we have allocated different storage solutions depending on their critical relevance to the business."


After the needs and the approach to the new storage architecture were defined, the company evaluated storage solutions from various vendors on the following parameters:

  • Scalability
  • Performance
  • Management features
  • Performance monitoring and tuning features
  • Ease of configuration and tuning of storage
  • Online upgrades and the ability to carry out non-disruptive upgrades
  • DR features
  • Vendor skills for DR and storage management
  • Open standards and future roadmap

The tools

The following hardware and software components would make up the storage network architecture.

  • SAN-based storage for core applications
  • NAS-based storage for data that can be shared by multiple downstream applications
  • Centralized backup and retrieval systems
  • Software tools for storage management

Seeking benefits

The storage solution is expected to be deployed soon.

The new architecture is expected to offer benefits like improved operational efficiencies in terms of enhancement in performance throughput, higher availability, and better manageability.

The cost of ownership will be lowered since the cost to manage distributed environments will be lowered. The service levels will be improved and assured, and the storage resources will be utilized optimally.

Mumbai has been using the existing storage solution for the past two years. And the other locations have been using MA8000 based SAN for the past three years. "We are now in the process of moving over to the consolidated storage," said Paranjape.

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