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Finance firm gets Violin all-flash arrays for performance databases

Finance sector services provider sidestepped existing NetApp storage to get all-flash arrays for high performance and 100% fault tolerance for Oracle-based apps

A subsidiary of a high-profile provider of services to the finance sector has deployed Violin Memory all-flash arrays for key apps based on Oracle databases.

The provider, which wishes to remain anonymous, deployed the Violin 6000 and 7000 series all-flash arrays at two datacentres in the British Isles. It employs more than 15,000 people worldwide.

The organisation also replaced all its Fibre Channel storage interconnects with iSCSI at the same time.

The Violin all-flash deployment supports the roll-out of services that require extremely high storage performance and 100% fault tolerance.

The head of IT infrastructure said: “We needed storage that is 100% fault-tolerant and as high performance as possible to support a significant Oracle database that stores financial data and undergoes a large amount of churn, retrievals and record insertions on an ongoing basis.

“We looked at what was out there. We didn't need much capacity [1TB] but we did need the best performance. At the time [2012] there were not a lot of options. It was an Oracle database, so we looked at Oracle’s Exadata appliance, but we had other databases we wanted to run on it, so we weren’t sure.”

Read more about flash storage

But why invest in new, standalone all-flash storage when the business had other systems (largely NetApp) it could have used?

The IT chief said: “We were building out new datacentres, so we took the decision to go all-flash for very high performance and leave NetApp for general storage. We had once tried to run the same app on general storage and not got good performance.”

And why not some kind of hybrid flash setup, with SSD and spinning disk?

“We could have found deeper, lower-cost storage, but we needed to ensure maximum performance.”

Violin arrays

Initially the company deployed a pair of Violin Memory 6000 series all-flash arrays with 7TB usable capacity. Later, that configuration was duplicated at the second datacentre while 11TB of capacity was added in a Violin Memory 7300 array.

Violin is one of a number of pioneer specialists in all-flash storage. Its 6000 series arrays were among its first-generation products. These lacked advanced features such as data deduplication, synchronous and asynchronous replication, continuous data protection (CDP), WAN optimisation and thin provisioning. But these have been added to the 7000 series following an upgrade to the Violin operating system.

Flash capacity in Violin arrays comes in the form of VIMMs, or Violin Intelligent Memory Modules, from Toshiba. VIMMs comprise silicon on bespoke cards that carry all the software to do striping, data protection, wear mitigation, etc.

Performance

The key benefit for the organisation is that the Violin all-flash arrays meet its critical performance requirements.

“The benefit is performance – that’s it,” said the IT infrastructure chief. “And we get total fault tolerance. There is no single point of failure.”

Violin arrays are Fibre Channel and iSCSI connected, but the company decided to take the opportunity to ditch Fibre Channel and move to iSCSI storage networking so it could cut costs by having a common networking infrastructure in its datacentres for servers and storage. iSCSI runs on Ethernet cabling.

“Use of iSCSI simplifies things and reduces costs. Previously we had Fibre Channel switches and a lot of very specialised Fibre Channel configuration that needed specialist expertise we didn't have a lot of.”

“Deploying iSCSI could have been simpler but once it was up and running we had no issues. I’m still waiting for any of the DBAs to tell me there’s a difference.”

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