German public sector firm BAG beat data woes with storage virtualisation

German Federal Office for Freight Transport - BAG - found a solution to its data management problems in storage virtualisation

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For the German Federal Office for Freight Transport - BAG - data management was becoming a big problem. 

As a limited budget forced the IT team to do “more with less”, it turned to storage virtualisation to beat data challenges in a cost-effective way.

BAG (Bundesamt für Güterverkehr) is responsible for multiple tasks relating to the control and monitoring of transport services in Germany. 

The functions and responsibilities of its 1,700 employees span from the central information system that coordinates deferred toll calculation to driver registration and transport law,  from truck tolls to the overseeing of multiple aspects of the transport market.

As a result of this spectrum, one of the biggest challenges confronting the office is the growth of data, said Colja Steinmetzler, IT systems administrator at BAG.

The data at BAG stemmed from various sources; from email programmes to the UMTS connected mobile client.

“The abundance of tasks does not make the job of the planning IT resources any easier,” he said.

Strict standards in Germany

In addition, like all public bodies in Germany, BAG is required to abide by the strict standards of cost-efficiency in the planning and operation of its IT facilities.

These standards include the total cost, but also the consideration of the effective life-span. Any purchase must be, in the best sense, economically sustainable, with an operational duration of at least three to five years, said Steinmetzler.

For the IT team at BAG, it was important to develop a storage system that was flexible and scalable in every sense.

“Performance should not be put at risk at any cost and this is a challenge in the fast moving world of IT, and one that is even more specific to storage systems in the backdrop of exponential data growth,” Steinmetzler said.

“We could be assigned new tasks and responsibilities at any time. With a planned system life-span of five years, we need a high degree of flexibility built into any solution,” he added.

Storage from Hitachi Data Systems

Steinmetzler is responsible for the challenge of dealing with all things storage-related.

For a number of years now, the IT team has been using storage products from Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). 

It was using HDS’s Universal Storage Platform (USP V) to store around 140 applications serving the 12 field offices and their employees. For its files, it used HDS’s network attached storage (NAS) product.

The NAS-system was integrated in the environment via common internet file system (CIFS) and network file system (NSF), said Steinmetzler.

But as data continued to explode and as data retention regulations become stricter, the IT team realised that a step-up in storage capacity was necessary.

The organisation had already virtualised its servers using VMware’s Sphere platform and reaping benefits. Hence, it decided to add storage virtualisation as the next step. It selected Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) from HDS for storage virtualisation.

It was a strategic decision, said Steinmetzler.

Cost recovery 

Instead of simply increasing storage from 60TB to 120TB, the team decided to change to a higher performing virtualised storage system which would be more economical, efficient and easily scalable.

“Because of its modular nature, it can be easily expanded, with an upgrade of storage and CPU power being both quick and inexpensive,” he said.

The project would not just bring flexibility and scalability, but also help BAG save money on the electricity and cooling costs used by its old non-virtualised storage hardware.

But the results were better than expected, said Steinmetzler. The costs savings with the new virtualised systems were about 52% every year. 

Such savings mean that the initial set-up cost of the project would be gained back within the first three years of the project’s five-year lifespan, he said.  

Viability test and TrueCopy Licence

As part of the migration, the team conducted a test run that showed the viability of the planned migration process. It also used Hitachi TrueCopy Licence – a replication technology – for the migration period, which made the process less stressful, said Steinmetzler.

It took the team a week to migrate the complex NAS system from USP V to the VSP. 

“A few adaptations were necessary,” he said.

BAG’s storage infrastructure today comprises the VSP and HNAS (Hitachi NAS) 3080. The IT team operate a tiered-storage combined operation. Tier 1 is statically designed, with SAS-disks, each equipped with 146GB.

Hitachi Dynamic Tiering

In the two lower storage classes, the IT team have formed two pools that work with Hitachi Dynamic Tiering (HDT). One pool provides the SAN with storage. The second uses the attached HNAS-nodes.

HDT monitors data access, keeping frequently accessed data on higher tiers while moving other data to lower-tiered storage. 

For instance, in BAG’s case, data that is rarely used, or which demands only minimal performance, are automatically moved to a low-level, cheap, storage medium while the resource-hungry databases such as Oracle are moved to high-performance platforms.

“We don't have to worry about what to store where as everything is automated,” Steinmetzler said.

The storage virtualisation project has helped BAG “grow IT in a way that is needs-oriented, allowing the team to meet future unknown challenges with confidence,” he said.

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