With its data center bursting at the seams in 2006, Indianapolis-based ILM Group ($56 million in premium income) sought to consolidate its Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) server environment by joining the VMware (Palo Alto, Calif.) virtualization wave. "There were numerous inefficiencies," recalls Sam Newberry, the commercial P&C insurer's network operations manager. "Plus, we were chasing our tails trying to keep our data center and disaster recovery site synchronized. And we were spending big bucks to create test environments for our quarterly infrastructure assessments as well as whenever we added systems."
But leveraging VMware's ESX platform required pooled hard disk storage. Since ILM's storage was still contained within individual servers, Newberry went shopping for a storage area network (SAN) in early 2007. "A key SAN requirement was an emerging disk management functionality called thin provisioning," he says, explaining that thin provisioning essentially eliminates capacity acquisition guesswork and physical deployment chores by allocating disk space on a just-enough and just-in-time basis.
After narrowing the field of vendors to four, "I discovered Compellent's [Eden Prairie, Minn.] virtualized SAN," Newberry says. "Compellent went beyond thin provisioning to also provide policy-based information lifecycle management, where stale data is automatically demoted to lower-performance disk drives. ... While many vendors supported such features as bolt-on afterthoughts, Compellent designed its SAN to completely automate management."
By July 2007 products from Compellent and VMware had arrived. "From the box to beginning the conversion to the virtualized environment went much faster than expected," Newberry reports. "It only took days to initiate and only a few months to complete."
During an otherwise uneventful deployment, a hiccup occurred when VMware's connection to the SAN destabilized. "Within minutes of my report to Compellent, they had ... isolated it to a problem with a third-party networking component," says Newberry. "Compellent overnighted a work-around, at no charge, while the [networking] vendor hammered out a permanent fix."
In production since late 2007, the virtualized environment has exceeded expectations. "We've reduced physical servers from 65 to 14 and cut storage administration time by 50 to 75 percent," enthuses Newberry. "We now evaluate and fulfill business unit requests the same day, whereas it previously took up to six weeks to get new equipment. In addition, the policy-based data migration is totally hands-off and significantly minimizes storage costs. Only eight of our 24 terabytes are high-performance tier-one storage. ... And we can perform tests within the virtual environment, so we don't need separate, expensive test environments anymore."
Newberry credits the Compellent/VMware combination with permitting his 12-person IT department to focus on critical issues, rather than putting out server and storage fires. "For example, our current hosted disaster recovery site is only about 10 miles away," Newberry explains. "Due to Compellent's data replication capabilities, we're planning for a distant hot site. In the meantime, our test recovery showed we can re-create our entire system, from scratch, in less than four hours. In short, this technology has completely revolutionized our infrastructure management -- it's almost too easy."
Case Study Profile
company: ILM Group (Indianapolis; $56 million in premium income).
lines of business: Commercial property & casualty.
vendor/technology: Compellent (Eden Prairie, Minn.) virtualized SAN and VMware's (Palo Alto, Calif.) ESX virtualization software.
challenge:Eliminate infrastructure inefficiencies through server virtualization.
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio