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Meeting the demands of modern day data management

Like many midsized enterprises, both Glatfelter Insurance and the Monastery of Admont struggled with the data management and disaster recovery requirements of a large enterprise, but lacked the available resources. Meeting the challenge of lowering stretched IT management overhead while improving data protection and business continuity has been possible thanks to Dave Pittman and Hannes Brottrager of NetApp.

 

Date: 1 Oct 2010

Established in 1951, Glatfelter Insurance has developed insurance products tailored to meet specific risk exposures for many industries, from emergency service organizations to schools and even car-wash operators. Today, Glatfelter Insurance Group is among the largest insurance brokers in the United States, with 500 associates and 4,500 independent brokers serving over 25,000 clients.

Accommodate 30% annual data growth

Glatfelter has experienced steady growth, and the company’s technology and data storage and protection needs have grown commensurately.

According to Dave Pittman, chief technology officer for Glatfelter Insurance Group, the company’s base of approximately 60 terabytes of data grows at approximately 30% annually.

Support continuous business operations

Glatfelter operates a crucial messaging infrastructure with more than 500 users nationwide tapping into Microsoft® Exchange and Microsoft SharePoint® for document management, e-mail, instant messaging, telephony, video, and Web conferencing. The firm also employs Microsoft SQL® and Oracle® Database servers for insurance rating and issuance, accounting solutions, and other programs/ functions such as customer relationship management.

Traditionally, the entire infrastructure was based on 198 physical servers with a combination of storage, including direct-attached storage. This consumed significant IT management and data center resources.

“An application failure here could cost thousands of dollars in lost business,” says Pittman. “Like many midsized enterprises, we struggled with the data management and disaster recovery requirements of a large enterprise, but lack the available resources. We have to lower stretched IT management overhead while improving data protection and business continuity.”

Reduce costs and complexity

Glatfelter seeks to maximize storage efficiency in its data centers - without sacrificing performance or resiliency. The company operates a primary data center in York, Pennsylvania, and a disaster recovery (DR) site in Stockton, California. The IT team previously incurred high management costs due to manually intensive processes.

According to Pittman, the manual processes were compounded by the cost of sending tapes to the DR site in California and the risks of losing several days’ worth of data at a potential cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Simplify data management in a dynamic environment

Pittman’s team must support a highly demanding IT environment - a task that was difficult when the company relied on standalone silos of servers and storage for different workloads.

“If we were implementing an Insurance Rating/Issuance Service Pack, it used to take two hours just to create the physical backups required,” explains Pittman. “After the upgrade was successful, our business process team would run tests. We would then restore the database and clean up the application share. The whole process took about four hours - a time- and resource-intensive endeavor. Today, the process takes less than ten minutes.”

Unified storage and virtualization

To improve efficiency while reducing costs and risk, Glatfelter began migrating from tape to disk-to-disk backup and a DR solution based on NetApp technologies. Today, the firm relies primarily on NetApp FAS3040 for its production environments and NetApp FAS3020 and V3020 for test systems running Data ONTAP® for flexible, scalable, cost-effective storage. In tandem, the company has virtualized approximately 60% of its environment using VMware ESX and, more recently, VMware vSphere™ with the virtual machine images stored on a NetApp FAS3040 system. The company has an additional NetApp FAS2020 system at a remote site that is used to replicate virtualized files and CIFS shares back to the NetApp system at headquarters.

Working with Razor Technology, an IT solutions provider focused on end-to-end enterprise infrastructure solutions and a participant in the NetApp Partner Program, Glatfelter embarked on a project to consolidate its Windows® application and network servers and storage. Razor’s certified technical engineers designed, planned, delivered, and now support the company’s solution.

Glatfelter has 120 virtual hosts using VMware ESX and vSphere and replicated via NetApp SnapMirror® to a NetApp FAS3040 system. Pittman’s team leverages a variety of protocols - CIFS, NFS, FC SAN, and iSCSI - to serve files, application data, and virtual machines.

“Razor Technology keeps us up to date with the latest NetApp tools, and has helped us ensure best practices when it comes to virtualization technologies,” says Pittman. “Razor has been an invaluable business partner for us in advancing our virtualization initiatives.”

Streamline management and save space

NetApp’s core storage efficiency software tools, including NetApp Snapshot™ - which captures point-in-time copies to decrease storage capacity requirements—are increasing efficiency across the firm. The data center has replaced its daily tape backup process with hourly point-in-time snapshots of its critical systems. NetApp thin provisioning and deduplication in combination with the NFS protocol helps the firm save costs by reclaiming storage space and delaying new storage purchases.

NetApp FlexClone® - an essential tool at Glatfelter - nhelps IT better serve groups such as the company’s actuarial department. For actuaries, having access to previous analytical information can often be critical to analyzing new information or revising existing data. Instead of creating numerous physical copies of data for application test and development, NetApp FlexClone enables the IT team to save space by creating virtual space-efficient cloned copies of primary dataset stores based on incremental changes to parent and clone copies.

To increase staff efficiency, the company has also deployed NetApp Operations Manager to automate provisioning and reporting tasks and NetApp Protection Manager to define policies, data classes, and datasets for more efficient data protection, including mirroring. Protection Manager proactively monitors data replication processes, alerting data center staff when there are issues.

Pittman and his team use the NetApp SnapManager® suite - NetApp SnapManager for Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, Oracle, and Virtual Infrastructure - to automate data maintenance processes including taking application-consistent backups. “The SnapManager tools help us automate and accelerate many of our data backup processes,” says Pittman. “For example, now that we’re using SnapManager for SQL Server, we can take a point-in-time snapshot of a SQL Server database in seconds. This has saved numerous hours when needing to restore databases after upgrades and testing of critical business applications.”

Streamlined management of growing storage pool

With NetApp and VMware working together, Glatfelter has achieved a beneficial blend of flexibility and high availability, while making data management simpler, less costly, and more flexible. “We can keep our business running continuously, with minimal hands-on effort,” says Pittman. “You can mirror your data all you want, but the biggest differentiator is what happens with the data after it is stored. That’s where NetApp makes a huge impact—in automating and accelerating replication and cloning processes and presenting data to our production environments so we can be more agile as a business.”

More efficient, continuous business operations

The firm has also improved productivity and DR by reducing file and application data recovery time from days to minutes. NetApp SnapMirror and the ability to mirror VMware data across DR sites have been critical to Glatfelter’s success in its data centers.

“Recently, we had an outage due to a production error,” says Pittman. “Previously, this would have resulted in three days of downtime while the IT team worked to recover the data. With NetApp Snapshot and SnapMirror technologies, the VMware server with its terabyte of disk was up and running in just 10 minutes.”

Using FlexClone, the IT department can replicate the company data warehouse for the actuarial department or almost any other database required in less than five minutes, versus the more than eight hours it previously required. The actuaries can manipulate that data using their own data warehouse on SQL Server and create the reports that are specific just for the actuarial group. By utilizing this software technology, the company has saved about a terabyte of disk space in the process. This ability increases actuaries’ productivity and lowers the company’s overall labor costs.

Reduced costs

With NetApp deduplication and thin provisioning, Glatfelter is achieving a 70% reduction in storage consumption, accommodating ongoing data growth while saving costs by delaying the purchase of additional disk space. This reduction in storage consumption is realized through using NFS mounts on the company’s VMware ESX servers. By using FlexClone, the firm is also accelerating replication processes and saving 90% or more space in its data warehouse environments for end users such as the actuarial department. The company has saved over $100,000 in realized costs by moving from disparate storage to a NetApp unified storage solution that includes disk-to-disk backup and a DR solution. This savings is ongoing by reducing the number of required tapes, shipping, and personnel costs. The company has also conserved power and cooling costs, as well as cutting its data center footprint. Glatfelter has now consolidated from 198 to only 68 physical servers - a 66% decrease from the previous environment. The firm has been able to consolidate down from two cooling compressor units to one, reducing hefty operating and maintenance costs.

Simplified management

By automating management and provisioning tasks with NetApp, Glatfelter has reduced the amount of time needed to manage its environment - just one-quarter of a full-time equivalent is required to manage and monitor data and storage. “We’ve reinvented ourselves and taken on blended roles, due in large part to NetApp hardware and storage efficiency tools,” says Pittman. “We used to have four people that each spent a significant amount of time on managing storage. We’re now down to one person spending 25% of his time on our NetApp storage pool; that’s about 88% less time spent on storage management.”

The Monastery of Admont

Founded in 1074, the Monastery of Admont (www.stiftadmont.at) is the oldest existing monastery in Steiermark, Austria, and has been a cultural, spiritual, economic, and social center in the region for centuries. The monastery not only is home to the world’s largest historical monastic library but also is widely known for its museums, extensive collections, and promotion of modern art. The monastery has more than 500 employees in its companies and makes a significant contribution to regional development through the jobs it provides and its investment activities.

The challenge

The Monastery of Admont’s sustainable economic strength has always enabled it to carry out its wide variety of tasks independently. The monastery’s activities range from agriculture, forestry, wood processing, and energy to construction, real estate, tourism, care for the elderly, and culture. The variety of the industries in which the monastery participates and the interdependence within the total structure influence the IT organization. In addition to providing the main IT foundation for the majority of the monastery’s 15 businesses, the organization is responsible for administering independent IT infrastructures supporting entities such as the STIA wood industry, the monastery’s winery in Slovenia, and various leased companies.

Every business uses a different industry-specific mix of operating systems, databases, applications, and system services such as Microsoft® Exchange, archiving, and backup. Applications for departments such as accounting or

human resources are run interdepartmentally. The database environment includes file services under Microsoft Windows® and Linux®, the central home directory, the intranet, and databases including Microsoft SQL Server®, IBM Informix, Oracle®, MySQL, Progress, and others. The variety of the software - from A as in Apple to V as in Vmware - also requires a variety in the modes of communication for the data. The information regarding which applications and data sets each employee has access to is stored in the Microsoft Windows Active Directory Service (ADS). Weekly updates of operating systems or software patches are standard.

“The complex business structure as well as numerous network releases and is authorization requirements place demands on the data management,” explains Hannes Brottrager, IT administrator at the Monastery of Admont. “What we need is a storage system that efficiently consolidates data, supports many protocols, makes sure of rapid access, and is literally expandable in every regard.”

The solution

 “Since 2004, we have been relying on NetApp and have had the best experience with the system’s stability, reliability, and performance,” says Brottrager. “The same goes for the collaboration with Bacher Systems. At the technical and personal level, we have found Bacher to be very professional and competent.” NetApp partner Bacher Systems is responsible for consulting, design, configuration, and implementation of all of the monastery’s storage projects.

The primary storage for the monastery’s 18 central administration servers is provided by a NetApp FAS2050 storage system, the successor to the NetApp F810 storage systems purchased in 2004. The STIA has consolidated its data from production and administration on a NetApp FAS3020 cluster. All storage processes are optimized by NetApp software. NetApp SnapDrive® for Windows and Linux simplifies and automates storage and data management.

NetApp Snapshot™ technology provides rapid and reliable backup and restore directly on the storage system.

Efficient data management for smooth processes

With NetApp, the Monastery of Admont IT department is able to optimally manage the data of all the businesses - from forest management to utility company ENVESTA to the St. Benedict nursing home - with applications for billing, service plans, and maintenance documentation.

“NetApp meets our needs perfectly. We can literally activate every connection type directly on the platform. Whether CIFS, NFS, iSCSI, FC, or HTTP, the FAS2050 offers many interfaces out of the box,” says Brottrager. Because the system is optimally integrated with the ADS, problems with individual network releases and appropriate authorizations are a thing of the past. Storage space for individual shares and volumes can be allocated quickly and flexibly. The size can be individually adjusted, and rights can be assigned to, or revoked from, individual ADS groups as needed.

With the consolidation of storage on the NetApp architecture, the monastery has experienced an improvement in data protection. In addition to the general backup on tape, critical shares integrated in Snapshot backups make it possible to quickly recover data if there is an emergency.

Constant 100% availability since 2004

The separation of data from applications and servers and storage directly using the network gives the monastery significantly more flexibility and protection than it could ever achieve with local server storage. In addition, the stability and performance of NetApp storage contribute to productivity throughout the company by delivering quick response times and constant availability.

The stability of the data storage is especially important in day-to-day operations. “Install and rely on it is the best way to put it. NetApp systems just run,” says Brottrager. “The NetApp system offers us the continuity, reliability, and performance that we need for a 24x7 business - and without the downtime due to upgrade, kernel, and patch installations that are associated with Windows and Linux environments.”

Since the launch of the first NetApp system in February 2004, there has only been one planned interruption of a few hours while the F810 system was being replaced with the FAS2050 system. Up to that point, no unplanned downtime had been recorded. This means the monastery has experienced 100% availability for several years - even without cluster technology.

Fit for the future

With the NetApp FAS2050, the monastery has access to an affordable and flexible storage pool, which offers options for the future. It uses rapid serial-attached SCSI (SAS) disks as well as affordable serial ATA (SATA) disks, the ideal storage for archive data

from e-mail, the file service, and the enterprise content management system. The revision-proof archiving with NetApp SnapLock® can provide additional storage for the monastery at any time.

Server virtualization is also an important issue. Brottrager has already virtualized the Exchange Service with VMware® and connected it with the FAS2050 using Fibre Channel. “That was definitely not the last project. For one thing, the volume of data is increasing. For another, new departments must always be integrated into central IT. At any rate, with NetApp storage, we are prepared.”

www.netapp.com

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