HDS, EMC out as Suncorp cuts storage costs by 40% with NetApp cloud play

Suncorp has created an internal cloud based on vSphere and NetApp products and says it is approaching 65% storage utilisation, has trimmed storage costs by 40% and will likely not need data centre space it built for future use.

Financial services company Suncorp has performed what Paul Cameron, the organisation’s Executive General Manager for Business Technology Infrastructure, calls a “heart and lung transplant” and consolidated its storage fleet from four vendors to two.

The lucky two remaining are NetApp and IBM, with HDS and EMC missing out after a program that Cameron characterised as aimed at “reducing vendors, reducing technologies and virtualising [as far as we could go] to the point where it was not affecting any business models.”

Suncorp, which offers banking, insurance, investment and superannuation to individual consumers and small to medium businesses, embarked upon this program in response to the diversity of its technology environment, which had come about partly because of natural evolution and partly through acquisitions.

“We kicked off four years ago when we rationalised the desktop and all the supporting infrastructure,” Cameron recalls. “We deployed a locked down desktop and brought the storage centrally. Then we acquired [financial services company] Promina in 2007 and started again.”

The new start included a plan to build new data centres to a new design. As the project to design this new infrastructure unfolded, Cameron says “things got nasty with the storage.”

“Like everyone else we had IBM, HDS, NetApp and EMC,” he says. “So we thought: ‘What are the problems?’”

The answers from the Suncorp team were that its storage infrastructure was complex to operate, poorly utilised, physically distributed and unreliable.

“We had low credibility on restores,” Cameron says, revealing that the company endured a 40% failure rate for backups.

Storage costs were rising 100% a year and users were unhappy as provisioning new storage was slow, partly due to the vagaries of Fibre Channel.

“Business people would ask us to provision 2TB knowing they needed 100GB,” he says, just to ensure they could scale without waiting.

Suncorp has since consolidated its data centres and, having closed its Chatswood, Sydney, facility this week, now operates three and plans to close another facility shortly.

70% of the company’s storage now resides on NetApp FAS6070, FAS6080 and FAS6030 devices, which operate as IP SANs. IBM storage equipment and Brocade fibre channel networking kit remain in place as some Suncorp applications were designed with fibre channel in mind and rebuilding them

No product, no worries?

In late August, NetApp announced that much of the technology in its new data management tool Data ONTAP 8, was based on work it did at Suncorp and Telstra.

For Suncorp’s Cameron, NetApp’s on-the-job learning was not a problem.

“I come from the school of thinking that you do not screw your partner,” he said. “I am outcome-focussed. If there was some peripheral benefit to the partner, so what? I would rather get the outcome.”

for IP is too costly. Cameron is, however, eyeing off fibre channel over Ethernet as a way to further reduce complexity.

Cameron adds that his team is “on track to achieve 65% storage utilisation,” a ratio he feels is about as good as it is possible to achieve. Along with improved utilisation, Cameron says faulty backups have fallen to 4%, thanks to the snapshot technology acquired from NetApp.

Another indicator of the project’s success is a fall in the amount of data centre space the company requires.

“We planned our new data centre to occupy 2000 square metres but we have filled 500 thanks to aggressive virtualisation of storage and servers,” Cameron says, adding that he cannot foresee when the company will need all its space and is leasing out unused capacity.

Cultural change

Cameron said cultural change has been as important to the organisation as the move from physical to logical.

“We have applied agile methodologies right across the whole IT department. “Every project manager has to run projects in an agile sense and we have established an agile academy that has been really important to make sure people go about solving problems in an innovative way.”

A services model now pervades the IT group, too.

“We are overlaying a services model on the infrastructure group, which provides a shared service to 20,000 seats. We say: ‘I will give you a server or piece of storage and we overlay that with services’. Users ask for an application with certain qualities and ask us to provide the service. That is quite a cultural change.”

Cameron told SearchStorage ANZ he believes Suncorp’s new IT structure could not be achieved without virtualisation, which the company sources from VMWare’s vSphere.

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