When Mercer Insurance Group, Inc. (Pennington, N.J.; $507 million in total assets) assimilated a company it acquired in late 2005, there were a number of headaches for IT, including disparate hardware and software backup systems. "In the event of a disaster, we'd have to restore from different types of software, backup tapes and tape drives as well as restoring onto different types of servers," explains IT infrastructure manager Daniel Barr. "Administering so many heterogeneous systems reduced productivity while increasing tape and off-site storage costs."
Since all storage for the combined company was directly attached to individual servers, the solution, according to Barr, was consolidating onto a storage area network (SAN). But because of the complexity and high maintenance costs of fibre channel (FC) SANs, Mercer opted for an iSCSI SAN, which was simpler to operate and more compatible with existing Ethernet LAN architectures, thus reducing costs. ISCSI SANs use standard IP (Internet Protocol) over Gigabit Ethernet. FC SANs require FC architecture and specialized training to operate.
Mercer evaluated four vendors -- among them IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) and HP (Palo Alto, Calif.) -- in midsummer 2006 and was most impressed by EqualLogic's (Nashua, N.H.) solution. The company brought in a unit and allowed Mercer to configure and test it to see how easy it was to implement and maintain. "EqualLogic offered the features we wanted as part of the base price and not as add-ons that cost extra," says Barr. "Plus the unit was compatible with Seagate Technology's (Scotts Valley, Calif.) EVault, which we'd already chosen as our new Sarbanes-Oxley-compliant disk-based backup solution."
After signing a contract in late August 2006 for a 6.5TB SAN, the unit arrived in early September. To accommodate EVault, a Seagate company, an HP backup server was purchased for Mercer's main data center in Pennsylvania as well as the satellite centers in New Jersey and California. "Otherwise, the implementation was painless," comments Barr. "After putting the SAN in the rack next to our LAN with a Cisco (San Jose, Calif.) switch in between, the start-up process took only about 10 minutes. We were fully functional by the end of the day."
Since going into production, Mercer's SAN has exceeded expectations. According to Barr, time spent administrating backups fell from about 10 hours per week to less than one, lost files can be retrieved in just minutes and when an application runs out of space, IT simply allocates more.
To improve disaster recovery, Barr says Mercer will deploy a second SAN in New Jersey or California and use EqualLogic's capabilities to cost effectively replicate data between the main site and the remote location. The goal, notes Barr, is a complete recovery from the total loss of either location within 24 hours.
Going forward Mercer expects further efficiencies to arise from server virtualization. "We're already virtualizing our development and testing servers with EMC's (Hopkinton, Mass.) VMware," Barr says. "Now, due to the large amount of flexible storage in our SAN, we're excited about virtualizing our entire production environment, too."
Mercer Insurance Group, Inc. (Pennington, N.J.; $507 million in total assets).
Lines of business:
Property and casualty -- commercial and individual.
Improve disaster recovery, streamline IT admin and reduce costs by migrating to a midrange iSCSI storage area network (SAN).
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