Data management at Teachers Credit Union

How does 132TB go into 8TB? Colin Thomas, CIO of the Teachers Credit Union, has changed his data management strategy to achieve the impossible

How does a business reduce its data holding from 132TB to 8TB without sacrificing reliability, data quality and availability? That's exactly what Colin Thomas, the CIO of the Teachers Credit Union was able to. When the time to embark on scheduled hardware replacements came around for his storage and backup systems, Thomas took the opportunity to redesign his data management strategy.

The process started as part of the normal business cycle of technology refreshes. "We were looking at refreshing storage technologies. I was well aware that advances had been made in areas such as data de-duplication and some of the replication technologies. We were 'kicking tyres' to see what was on the market".

Although the Teachers Credit Union isn't large by banking standards, it's a significant business with about 500 employees and seven offices across the country. There are two data centres with one acting as the production site and the other as a business continuity and development centre. Almost all systems, other than the banking software, are internally hosted. So the data management strategy has to be able to deal with a wide variety of systems, processes and locations.

When the hardware refresh cycle came around, Thomas had the opportunity to look at what the business's needs were and what potential process improvements he could introduce. "The opportunities we were looking for satisfied and provided for our operational lines of business and strategic lines. There were changes in compliance in data management from regulators and the global financial crisis put a greater emphasis on risk management and really knowing in fine details the relationships we had with customers. There's a heavy emphasis on data for mining and intelligence purposes".

"We had a view that we would like to move away from daily tape backups. We had a view that we needed to improve our replication processes because the tolerance for outages is continuing to diminish over time. We're in a generation where people expect data access now from wherever they want it. We were looking at technologies that don't need to be taken offline to have maintenance applied or to have upgrades" said Thomas.

The changing of the banking industry from a transactional base to a 'whole of wallet' view also meant that Teachers Credit Union was creating more diverse product portfolios for customers. That meant that Thomas needs systems and infrastructure that can provide services that are beyond the past delivery model.

In the past, Thomas's team used snapshotting to copy data and replication technologies to move those snapshots to other disk locations on the network. But they would also take tape copies at known points in time such as end of day, end of week, end of month and then store those offsite for good business purposes. "But changes in the market afforded us the opportunity to have more of those point in time copies actually available online rather than near-line or offline" says Thomas. It gave them an opportunity to reflect on the affordability, reliability and other standard issues of the technology that was being used.

After looking around the market, Thomas and his team settled on solutions built around technology from EMC. The Data Domain component from EMC's proposition was core to delivering the significant reduction in retained data. "If you take a copy of your database every day of the week the full copy is hundreds of gigabytes per day. If you keep 30 days worth and then every end of month, each end of quarter then you end up with a massive amount of data on a mountain of tapes." But if you put that into the Data Domain all of the duplicate data and whitespace is managed so that the data is compressed without losing access to the data or any negative impacts whatsoever. It means we can recover from disk and not tape, which is inherently faster. It allows us to replicated between two sites on much smaller data volumes".

In addition to the EMC solution, Thomas and his team also use software from CommVault, replication tools inherent to the Solaris platform that runs the banking database and some Microsoft tools as well. However, the number of different components in the data management systems has been reduced. 

Thomas retains a constant eye over things, looking for opportunities to refine processes and systems. He's also been able to also retire a number of technologies such as an optical storage system. All of the data that was held in the optical system has been moved to the main storage array.

So, Thomas was able to achieve superior delivery against business requirements, a reduction in costs and improved reliability.

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