EMC SAN leads server upgrade at Statewide Super

Trouble finding disks for an old SAN saw Statewide Super look for a new array, provided by EMC. The key element of the decision? Cheap vendor finance.

When Adelaide’s Statewide Super went shopping for a SAN it also found itself shopping for new servers.

Trevor Greenfield, Statewide Super Infrastructure Manager, explains that the need for a new SAN was the start of the story because it got the organisation thinking about future infrastructure needs.

“A lot of our costs were because of decisions that were made on an ad hoc basis. Kit was bought on an as-needs basis,” an arrangement Greenfield found unfortunate because in his experience: “[People think that] If you want the best deal, buy slightly outmoded equipment rather than going for the best capital costs. But the problem is, they don’t suit your needs for long enough. You get low capital costs, but two years in the future your operational costs are higher. That’s the situation I inherited when I walked in 2 years ago. Everything had been bought as a capital purchase and nothing was leased, which was not good for taxation purposes.”

The superannuation fund’s SAN was a prime example of this problem.

“We ran into storage problems on the old SAN because nothing had been scaled just to consider current operations. It was an IBM SAN purchased at the end of [that model’s] life, and we could not find 2Gb/s fibre channel disks. IBM could only supply them from after-market sales,” and even those suppliers advised it could take eight weeks to source drives.”

“We were looking at splitting off an environment for a new pension product and needed to double storage space but had no wriggle room on the SAN and it was just not effective to expand it.”

The organisation therefore went shopping for a new SAN.

“We made a prediction on how much data we would be looking at after two years and four years. Our preferred vendor was EMC but we costed it against other systems. Some were a little bit cheaper, but not as flexible. Others were more costly.”

Greenfield also had virtualisation in mind, and saw the potential of an integrated stack and hoped to move to blade servers.

But the clincher was the price of new equipment, because as a superannuation fund Statewide is keen to keep its costs as low as possible to ensure members’ investments deliver the best return. Statewide was established to do just this, as at the time of its founding there was no Industry fund in South Australian with a charter to maximise members’ benefits. The need to create such a fund saw business and unions jointly found the organisation, with the odd coupling a reflection of its mission to deliver for members.

Greenfield therefore emphasises the fact that his infrastructure team is always “Trying to squeeze costs out of the business and make it a bit more profitable. Any costs we squeeze go to members.”

As he shopped for a SAN, he saw two ways to save money. One was a government rebate for business infrastructure purchases that expired on June 30th. Another was very competitive vendor financing on offer during the global financial crisis.

“I was very mindful that we could get things at very competitive finance rates, which helped the cash flow of the business.”

vMotion, the technology that allows users to move virtual machines from one server to another.

“You cannot vMotion unless servers have the same processor type,” Greenfield said. “VMware is still working on virtualising the processor type. We needed flexibility for our future compute requirements – hence blades – but we could not match our old servers with processor types. There were none second hand.”

Enter HP, whose servers were adopted spurred by the initial desire for a new SAN.

All purchases were made before the June 30 deadline, and HP kit and a CLARiiON AX-4 serves data on a primary and disaster recovery site.

“We’re not quite where we want to be yet, but it is all mapped out,” Greenfield says.

“In essence, our recoverability is a lot better than it was, based around replication from EMC SANs.”

“We think we are a lot further down the track than most businesses.”

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