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User cases

IP SAN-shouldering storage workloads

Many Indian enterprises have shown keen interest in deploying IP SANs, and a few have successfully done so. We consider some companies who use IP SANs to take care of their storage workloads and the various benefits from these implementations. by Soutiman Das Gupta

Mindful of IP in the SAN

A growing BPO organisation, Wipro Spectramind (Wipro) had to deploy a suitable networked storage infrastructure to keep a grip on the changing business and IT environment. The size and volume of stored data was growing at a fast pace, and new devices were being added every other day.

The company decided to deploy a SAN in order to organise its information assets better. It chose IP SAN technology because it was based on IP and easy to manage, required no extra manpower training, and was cost-effective.

Growing business and IT

"To cater to the needs of the growing business and data sizes, we regularly added new servers. In addition we had to deploy more tape devices, which were attached directly or networked, to ensure that the growing corporate data was backed up reliably and within shrinking backup windows," says Rajiv Gerela, General Manager, Technology, Wipro.

The delay in retrieving data often hampered the effectiveness of frontline executives. Faced with data management issues and mounting storage costs, the company decided to look for a centralised and virtualised storage solution, which would not only allow Wipro to easily provision additional storage on the network but also enable data backup and restore in a near-online mode.

The move to IP SAN

The company chose to move directly to IP SAN instead of playing safe with the tried and tested FC technology.

The storage infrastructure is built around Intransa's IP 5000 solution, which is a modular block storage array. The current storage capacity is 1.5 TB, scalable to 24 TB. There are two Pentium 4 servers with 1 GB RAM running Windows 2000. The switching infrastructure uses Gigabit Ethernet.

"The solution allows us to take snapshots at a point in time on alternate volumes and thus helps reduce incremental tape backup requirements," explains Gerela.

Mission-critical applications

The IP SAN infrastructure runs a number of applications that are mission-critical for the company. They are:

  • MIS for different functions or processes
  • Employee databases
  • Billing databases
  • Intranet knowledge-based sites for different processes
  • Mail store
  • File server

MIS and billing databases are the most critical applications since they are used for revenue tracking. The intranet knowledge base is critical for effectively training new recruits, while the mail or file store is important for business-critical data such as mail, client communications, and performance scores.

IP SAN-ity

The use of the IP SAN has benefited Wipro in several ways. The cost per MB of storage is low. "We are now able to dynamically grow and provision our storage to individual hosts and expand volumes for individual applications or users with no disruptions or downtime on the server. This is a significant improvement over our previous DAS configuration," reveals Gerela.

There is no need for additional manpower that is trained in FC technology since the existing workforce is adept at IP. The company also saves on additional disks required for multiple DAS set-ups. From now on, each time the business needs to add more storage capacity, all the administrator needs to do is mount a new set of disks. The infrastructure also allows fast backups and restores, saving valuable time.

In future

As business grows and new devices are introduced to the network the company does not need to change its information storage infrastructure much. The infrastructure has the flexibility to increase usage to any new application or server requirement. Any new investment is only incremental in terms of hardware and costs.

"We will no longer need to provision new DAS set-ups, saving a lot on the extra disks required for each such setup to get the required RAID levels," explained Gerela.

Insured against information loss

Insurance major HDFC Standard Life was successfully growing its business in the highly competitive insurance arena. Since the business of insurance traditionally relies on the ability to process large volumes of data, the company decided to harness its data with a content management system on a SAN.

It deployed a unified storage solution, which had a combination of an IP SAN and a Fabric Attached Storage (FAS) system. The solution gave the company flexibility and control of its information assets, along with the means for rapid backup and restores.

Eliminate the islands

The insurance business generates enormous volumes of data, including client data, financial data, policy applications, claims paperwork, and medical records. The company initially deployed individual local storage servers to support PDF and TIFF document images, workflow databases, and other application and user data.

But this approach became increasingly inefficient as the company's customer base expanded. Some servers were pushed to capacity, while others remained under-utilised. Moreover, increasing storage capacity by adding new servers directly increased server administration and management costs.

"Relying on isolated storage resources threatened our business growth and flexibility," recalls Sunil Rawlani, CIO, HDFC Standard Life. "The inability to share data across systems required manual processes to update information in multiple areas."

This led to the slowing down of the co-ordination process among policyholders and agents. A central repository for all of the unstructured data was needed to give customers, policyholders and shareholders online access.

Running the SAN

After evaluating various storage options, HDFC Standard Life determined that a unified storage solution would best address its storage consolidation, performance, and management requirements; and FileNet's advanced content management and business process management solution would be best-suited to manage all disparate data and facilitate online access.

The company replaced its existing DAS servers with a NetApp FAS system to support its Windows 2000 environment. An IP SAN from Network Appliance provides private network access via an iSCSI Logical Unit Number (LUN) to a FileNet Image Services server and supports scanned document images stored in both the FileNet repository and FileNet database storage.

The NetApp FAS system simultaneously provides high-speed NAS for other types of FileNet images, application data, and Oracle database volumes used for workflow management in the TIBCO Staffware Process Suite. Thus, the same NetApp system is used in both a NAS and SAN configuration to meet the different storage needs of different kinds of data, illustrating the benefits of deploying unified storage.

IP SAN benefits

From an operational standpoint, one of the major benefits of the solution is the ability to increase storage capacity on demand, thereby ensuring a high degree of scalability to meet growing business and application needs.

The IP SAN storage solution offers important flexibility, including the capability to switch protocols and share files across multiple application environments-without storage infrastructure changes.

The solution has facilitated simple, rapid backup and restoration of damaged or accidentally deleted files and databases using NetApp's Snapshot technology. This creates point-in-time copies of only incremental changes since the last backup. The process that once involved recalling tapes from off-site storage, loading tape data, and restoring files has been reduced to an almost instantaneous drag-and-drop operation.

"One of the keys to success in the insurance business is the ability to seamlessly control and manage enormous volumes of data," asserts Rawlani. The company now spends less time managing its storage infrastructure, leaving more time and resources to strategise for future needs.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at

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