Financial firm uses Compellent SAN for server virtualisation project

CMA selects Compellent Storage Center SAN over EMC Clariion, HP EVA and NetApp FAS products to support VMware server virtualisation project that saved £300,000 in six months.

Financial services organisation Credit Market Analysis (CMA) implemented a Compellent Storage Center storage-area network (SAN) to support a VMware server virtualisation project that saved the business £300,000 in its first six months through shared storage and simpler administration. The Compellent product narrowly pipped NetApp offerings, and EMC and Hewlett-Packard (HP) products were also rejected.

CMA -- which operates in London and New York, and is now a subsidiary of Chicago Mercantile Exchange -- develops solutions that enable traders to graphically manage stock quotes in real-time. CMA's market analysis activities create large volumes of highly sensitive data that require secure and reliable storage. The operating environment comprises Windows, Microsoft.NET and Ubuntu Linux servers running Microsoft SQL, MySQL and Exchange email, as well as CMA's QuoteVision and DataVision applications, with many of the latter hosted for CMA's clients.

The Compellent interface was easier to use, and that was something we were looking for as we're not 'SAN people.'
Ryan Sclanders
IT infrastructure services team managerCMA
Before the virtualisation project began, CMA had approximately 100 physical servers and all storage was directly attached. It was a difficult environment to manage, and had little or no resilience, according to Ryan Sclanders, CMA's IT infrastructure services team manager, who initiated the virtualisation and shared storage project when he joined the firm two and a half years ago.

"When I got here it was an environment of entirely physical servers with DAS, and we needed to rebuild the infrastructure," he said. "We had no redundancy whatsoever and needed a safe, stable environment that performed well."

The server virtualisation project created 250 virtual servers hosted on six HP machines. Shared storage was implemented at the same time, with dual Compellent Storage Center SANs running 14 TB on three tiers at the main data centre at Telstra's London Millharbour collocation facility and 19 TB for email and test environments, as well as disaster recovery (DR) provision at the firm's Cannon Street offices.

The first tier comprises 15K rpm Fibre Channel (FC) drives and is home to information in CMA's SQL databases; the 10K rpm drives in tier two host database logs, less frequently accessed database information and VMware images for the virtual servers. A third tier of SATA drives with FC interconnects are used for data warehousing. Tiered storage is automated using Compellent's Data Progression tool, which moves data at block level between tiers of storage based on frequency of access.

Sclanders had the option to select some iSCSI connectivity, but decided against it. "We have iSCSI capability but we're not using it. It's an unknown quantity to us at the moment. We only have 1 gig Ethernet, so we'll stay away from iSCSI until it's more proven and we have more time to look at it."

Sclanders reckons CMA saved £300,000 in the first six months of going live. Much of this was due to space, power and management time savings in moving from 100 physical servers to just six. But some costs were also saved by implementing shared storage, which cut disk purchases, and saved power through tiering and simpler storage administration.

Sclanders selected the Compellent product from a shortlist that included EMC's Clariion CX series, NetApp's FAS2000 series and HP's EVA4000 hardware.

EMC Clariions were rejected based on their difficulty in managing provisioning, Sclanders said. "At the time, they still used the old method where there was no virtualisation and you had to allocate LUNs [logical unit numbers] to specific disk. We weren't prepared to go through the calculations to set up disks to each server," he said.

Sclanders thought the HP EVA4000 interface was good and liked its use of virtual volumes. But, he said, "We were going to go for that when a friend recommended looking at Compellent. The Compellent interface was easier to use, and that was something we were looking for as we're not 'SAN people.'"

While the NetApp product came closest to beating out Compellent, the contest came down to price. NetApp's initial quote came in £30,000 higher than Compellent's; the gap was reduced to £10,000 before CMA decided against it.

Are there any changes Sclanders would like to see in the Compellent product? "They could improve the reporting," he said. "We get an Excel spreadsheet, but for a person who's not a 24/7 SAN person, it's hard work translating it into language the business can understand."

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