Unilever cuts fabric problems by 50% with NetWisdom

Multinational Unilever has cut fabric errors in half and now manages annual data growth of 50% on its 5 PB SAN Virtual Instruments' NetWisdom product.

Multinational consumer products manufacturer Unilever claims it has cut incident tickets on its 5 PB Fibre Channel SAN fabric by half and now manages data growth of 50% per annum with no extra staff after implementing Virtual Instruments' NetWisdom monitoring product.

NetWisdom has given the company's storage team better insight into its SAN operations than management products from incumbent vendors Hewlett-Packard and IBM did, according to Mike Royle, Unilever's IT director for enterprise services.

The initial problem was resolved quickly and we had confidence in the landscape as a result, with tickets down by 50%.
Mike Royle
IT director for enterprise servicesUnilever
Unilever – which has yearly turnover of £30bn-plus and around 179,000 employees – makes food and household goods. It has one of the world's largest SAP implementations and stores 5 PB of data at two mirrored data centres in the north of England. It uses HP EVA and XP storage systems supporting HP Alpha and Proliant servers and IBM DS8000 storage to IBM P Series servers. The whole storage infrastructure is 95% virtualised behind IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC) storage virtualisation devices. In addition Unilever has fabric switching from two vendors, Brocade and Cisco.

Royle said Unilever implemented NetWisdom because it encountered SAN fabric errors that were difficult or impossible to resolve, and with storage capacity at 5 PB and growing at 50% per annum he wanted to be certain that the fabric was configured optimally so that scaling capacity did not compound existing issues. Royle said it was also difficult to pinpoint the cause of error messages in his virtualized storage environment.

"It all started with a specific error message – 'bad switching fabric' – which was so generic it really was difficult to determine what was causing it," he said. "It caused a number of servers to lose connectivity intermittently, causing degraded application performance and downtime.

"Some systems had issues we couldn't evaluate and we didn't want to go any further in developing the infrastructure with these issues arising."

After weighing his storage vendors' SAN management products, HP Storage Essentials and IBM Total Storage Productivity Suite, Unilever implemented four Virtual Instruments' NetWisdom devices. These tap into the company's 16 IBM SVCs to provide visibility into Fibre Channel frame header information. This gives storage teams an idea of traffic patterns that affect disk subsystems and switches right down to individual port and spindle level. Within six weeks of installation, Royle says the Unilever storage team identified specific switch bottlenecks and load balancing issues.

The "bad switching fabric" error was found to be a "slow draining device" problem with a switch which caused traffic congestion. "We isolated it down to four possible devices and swapped them out until we found the one responsible," said Royle.

Royle says NetWisdom offers more heterogeneous support than his storage vendors' products. "There just wasn't enough detail available from those vendors' products," he said. "We were looking for something we could retrofit and that would work with IBM and HP. Their tools tend to be specific to their environments and don't tap into Fibre Channel whereas NetWisdom works across the landscape."

Royle hopes to gain a 12-month payback on the investment through resolution of persistent issues. "But overall the key benefit is that it allows us to buy better, smarter," he said. "The initial problem was resolved quickly and we had confidence in the landscape as a result, with [service] tickets down by 50%."

NetWisdom has also allowed Unilever to get better utilisation rates from its switches by moving traffic though underutilized ports.

"It's helping us make use of what we've got instead of requiring further capital expense. We know when not to spend more because we can see what's going on with switches, ports and spindles," Royle said.

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