Friends Provident is a big company and had a big storage problem.

It is a leading UK financial services groups, with two main businesses: Life and Pensions, and Asset Management. It has A+ credit ratings from virtually all financial ranking associations and a market capitalization of nearly £3 billion. The firm is one of the UK’s fastest-growing institutions of its kind, increasing market share by 25 percent in 2003.

Friends Provident has pioneered the use of the Internet. By making account management, customer service and new account business available online to direct customers and IFAs, the company has increased its customer satisfaction while steadily growing its business. One of the costs of doing such better business is an increased demand for storage.

Distributed storage couldn’t cut it
While the company had depended in the past on locally attached storage and proprietary SAN-based disk arrays and software from a variety of vendors, the IT staff realised that the growth they were experiencing could not be accommodated by staying on the current course.

“Centralising our storage management and fully utilising our storage infrastructure became our primary goals,” said Martin Bruce, storage consultant for distributed systems at Friends Provident.

“We realised that the best possible solution for us was the virtualisation of our existing storage facilities.” This solution would provide Friends Provident with flexibility in allocating and purchasing new storage for its growing applications and databases, and would also, hopefully, provide a more centralised management platform for all of their storage platforms.

Investigations into current products introduced Friends Provident to the StoreAge SVM suite, and it understood that it was the only out-of-band solution available.

Love at first byte
“Unlike many vendor sales calls, when StoreAge came in to present its product to our team, we knew immediately it was exactly what we were looking for,” Bruce said: “It has since delivered on all of the functionalities we discussed in the initial meeting.”

Over the next few months after this meeting, Friends Provident, with assistance from StoreAge’s UK partner, Zycko, began to implement the StoreAge SVM products. Migrating its production data into storage pools under SVM control in a low-risk, staged approach was an initial task after the software was installed. The company found it could utilise its existing SAN storage arrays with minimal changes, leaving the existing production data in place and unaffected on its original drive arrays.

Since the initial implementation, Friends Provident has expanded its storage infrastructure using storage arrays from IBM, EMC, Hitachi and HP. These disparate disk arrays are consolidated into storage pools by their performance characteristics and are managed centrally by StoreAge SVM. The users just see a single logical pool of storage with SVM handling the complexity behind that.

Easier storage allocation and purchase
Friends Provident can now manage and allocate storage from any array within the pools to applications and servers, as needed.

“We are no longer constrained in our selection of storage arrays; ­ we are no longer tied to a single storage vendor,” noted Mr. Bruce. “We can choose storage based on its suitability to the task, its performance and its price.”

"Through exploitation of StoreAge SVM, we are now able to satisfy the ever-increasing storage capacity, availability and performance demands of the business. New storage hardware can be utilised immediately and many storage operations that may have required service outage are now completely transparent to the end user,” he added.

“Most importantly, we can centrally manage all of the storage, regardless of vendor, from the StoreAge SVM platform. When we bring new storage online, we are able to connect the arrays and migrate data to them using StoreAge multiCopy. There is no longer a need to wait for data to be copied before bringing the applications back online and this minimises the impact to our IT customers."

For example, after its most recent storage acquisition, a backup server’s 50GB database and 600GB disk cache were migrated to a different vendor’s storage device with minimal interruption to the backup application. The server was able to continue to protect multiple terabytes of the organisation’s data as the backup processes ran, while the data was simultaneously migrated in the background using StoreAge’s multiCopy application.

Point-in-time snapshots for developers
Since the SVM implementation, Friends Provident has been able to accelerate its storage consolidation efforts and has been able to meet the challenges that the volume of data growth has presented. One of the best outcomes of the consolidation of resources and the ability to manage storage centrally was the ability to quickly allocate or reallocate resources as business needs or requirements changed.

This has included the use of StoreAge’s multiCopy application to produce instant, point-in-time snapshots of production data and present it to development and testing environments; using minimal capacity views that are a fraction of the size of the original dataset.

“Using multiCopy, we have been able to provide instant read/write copies of data to different environments while keeping the impact on our storage resources to an absolute minimum. This provides the functionality the business expects in today’s environment while helping IT to keep our costs down. We also intend to use this functionality in the future to assist with ever-decreasing backup windows and removing the burden of backup traffic from the network,” said Bruce.