Users turning to virtualization to ease storage costs

Maturing technology quickly boosts capacity for Bank of America unit, health center

SAN DIEGO -- Storage virtualization technologies are showing signs of maturity and becoming an appealing option for some large companies looking to make better use of installed physical resources to keep up with escalating storage demands.

In interviews at this week’s Storage Networking World conference, sponsored by Computerworld and the Storage Networking Industry Association, several IT managers talked about how storage virtualization is cutting technology and management costs at their firms.

Gary Berger, vice president of Technology Solutions at Banc of America Securities Prime Brokerage, said that his company began looking at virtualization technology in 2005, when it found it was unable to fully utilize a fragmented IT environment running in multiple data centers.

At the time, the company’s storage system was plagued by management and performance problems, which Berger said were caused by silos of direct-attached storage, coarse whole-disk allocation issues and overprovisioning.

The subsidiary of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America Corp. provides the bank’s hedge fund clients with access to its hosted Microsoft Exchange, archiving, IP telephony, file sharing, VoIP and disaster recovery services.

The unit built a virtualized storage platform for the hosted service about a year ago using technology from IBM and 3PARdata Inc. to carve physical disks into 256MB chunks, improve I/O throughput and enable streamlined thin provisioning.

Prior to implementing virtualization, Berger said the company’s past storage systems failed four or five times a month. The virtualized system hasn’t failed since it was installed a year ago, he said.

“It was important for us to leverage this technology,” Berger said. “You can imagine what we can do with it from a hosting perspective.”

Since adopting the virtualized model, Berger said, the company’s storage administration costs have been cut by 95% and the need for more storage capacity has been reduced by 50%.

He also credited the service delivery and disaster recovery replication capabilities gained by using virtualization with further cutting IT costs.

The University of California, Davis, Health System, based in Sacramento, implemented a virtualized storage system late last year as part of an effort to keep up with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) electronic medical record (EMR) requirements.

Alejandro Lopez, storage manager for technical support and information and communication services, said the regulations require that the health center use a storage system that can securely house and move medical images and records.

The health care operation’s virtualized system includes an IBM AIX-based mainframe connected to IBM's Shark ESS 520 and FAStT storage servers, Lopez said.

Last December, it began using the native virtualization capabilities in a newly installed Hitachi Data Systems TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform to virtualize tape on the mainframe and storage systems, Lopez said. The system now lets the IT operation store 4TB of cardiology images and PDF documents, previously held on optical disc systems, in the virtual AIX environment, he added.

“By moving to cheaper storage [through virtualization], we saved about 40% in costs associated with the entire process,” said Lopez.

He said he began the project looking to store only 500GB of the data, because he wasn’t sure if storage virtualization would meet his needs. However, he said, the initial success convinced him to quickly shift the rest of the images and documents to the virtual system.

Lopez noted that he talked about the project to a number of users at SNW, held here, and concluded that several of them didn’t fully understand the concept.

“I think there’s a misconception by people who think of virtualization as a solution instead of as a tool. Every vendor has in their mind what virtualization means. At the end of the day end, users are confused,” noted Lopez.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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