Online bank Egg increased data capacity and transfer speeds with its San strategy. And that was just for starters. Mark Vernon reports
As the world's largest pure online bank with almost 3.5 million customers, internet bank Egg has come a long way since it was launched in 1998. And storage is a major concern, not only because good management of data is key to customer relations and business development, but because new regulations are forcing companies to strengthen auditing and accounting procedures. Consolidation is a must.
"Previously Egg managed storage within individual teams and so there was no single view of the bank's storage needs," explains Neil Haskins, a consultant within Egg Technology Operation's customer technology centre.
"Egg's Assurance Centre has visibility of all platforms. It includes various toolsets to monitor and manage storage as well as the newer San technology. This has moved accountability from the local groups to a global function with full knowledge of all the factors that influence storage needs."
The bank was responding to a wider business demand. "Our future vision is to achieve true utility for all our resources, be that processing power, network bandwidth, storage and even people. This on-demand way of working could not be achieved with our previous approaches to storage," he says. This meant a more strategic view of storage was needed and, in particular, the move to Sans.
Egg is also aware of the importance of managing data efficiently over the course of its whole life since this directly affects the customer's banking experience. The San fits with this requirement too, as does compliance.
"Compliance is always an area of concern as, being a bank, Egg has numerous regulatory requirements," says Haskins. "Egg Technology recognised the need for a more technologically focused approach to governance."
The most immediate advantage San solutions bring is greater capacity and data transfer rates. Organisations can store all of their data in one place with easy access to it as well as treating storage much more like a utility. Many of the deeper benefits of San follow on from this. For example, rather than achieving resilience by duplicating all data, if there is a component failure the San can be rapidly reconfigured to route around the problem area.
A San is a significant storage investment and Egg engaged a number of trusted partners to investigate. "Acquiring the right technology was one thing but bringing about the mindset needed to make people disassociate themselves from 'their discs' and think about storage as a managed service was harder," he says.
The transition is going well. Some platforms still have islands of direct access storage devices but more are taking advantage of the San. "It has taken us about two years to get to where we are today," Haskins says. "Most of that time was taken up with high-level discussions and justification. Once decisions were made, our partners were quick to respond."
The bank's spend on storage has increased dramatically, as it went from a platform- to a San-based purchasing strategy. Haskins points out that this is not to say storage is a bottomless pit. "Upfront costs have been within budget and we are now able to reap the benefits of some good commercial conditions."
Another issue was education:developing the right skillsets and accessing San expertise. The San meant on-the-job training had to be accelerated and partners were used to ensure best practice while maintaining in-house skills development via a shadowing process.
The key benefit to date is the ability to place a value on storage. In practice this means being able to respond, gauge and deliver storage directly to the huge number of projects the company rolls out during the year. This in turn means IT is more closely aligned to the business. "We have already bought a second San technology, the back-up is being improved and we are about to engage along a virtualisation piece," says Haskins.
His advice to others embarking on a move to San is to work with trusted partners. "Egg is not afraid to move into new and leading technology but at the same time it is not reckless," he says. "We have highly skilled technologists who, with our partners, have introduced best practice to data management."
Neil Haskins, a consultant with Egg Technology, is speaking on heterogeneous storage network management at Storage Expo 2004 on 13 October
This article is part of Computer Weekly's Special Report on storage produced in association with Cisco Systems