First State Super upgrade arrays for full SAN visibility

First State Super has replaced its old storage infrastructure with Nimble arrays to reduce cost, improve performance, and have full visibility of its SAN performance.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Since being established in 1992, superannuation firm First State Super has managed to secure over 770,000 members. But as the company grew, its storage infrastructure continued to age, which made it difficult to keep up with the demands of its growing membership numbers.

According to First State Super IT manager Shaun Martin, the company realised that its existing storage infrastructure was no longer as agile as it used to be when it was installed six years ago.

"It had been a good solution, but it was starting to slow down; we weren't getting the performance that we used to get when it was brand new, and it was difficult to upgrade," he said.

It was also becoming costly to manage, with Martin noting that "quite regularly", the company had to get a senior engineer from the previous vendor that supported the old infrastructure to make site visits to ensure the system was running smoothly.

"We paid quite a high level of service for the equipment just because we basically put all of our eggs into one basket, and if it all went down we'd be in a pretty bad situation. As a result, the infrastructure resulted in an increase in support costs," he said.

Martin said that while cost and agility were factors to consider, the company was also after a solution that would complement the existing virtualised VMware environment, and would provide access to improved disaster recovery tools in order to have the option to replicate information across locations if needed.

As a result, the company partnered with Cloud Solutions Group earlier this year to implement two CS240G Nimble arrays, with each device supporting three servers. Each array has 12x 2TB nearline SAS drives and 4x 160GB SSD for a total of 16 drives per controller shelf. This yields around 27TB of effective capacity based on First State Super's observed average compression ratio of 1.74x.

While the company only invested AU$250,000 in the new arrays, Martin said the results of decommissioning the old storage equipment and the deployment of the new one have been favourable.

"We have been saving in the magnitude of between AU$10,000 to AU$15,000 a month, which was the cost we were spending on maintenance cost. Since putting in the Nimble storage, we've also been able to do firmware upgrades, bring maintenance in-house, and we're able to undertake updates online," he said.

"Its footprint is also incredibly small. So the old array took up half a rack of space, and the new Nimble takes up a three-rack unit. We also noticed power consumption has been drastically reduced. For example, we have been able to reduce one of the phases of power by probably 30 to 40 percent."

Martin said that there was no downtime with the installation of the arrays, and it was operational within one day.

"Because we use VMware virtualisation, it was a matter of introducing the new storage into the virtualisation platform, so, once it was online, all of the servers, or the majority, are virtualised, so we were able to move those whilst we were online from the old storage to the new storage," he said.

The other highlight for First Super was that with the new arrays, IT had full visibility into its SAN performance — something that the company didn't have previously.

"The big difference for us is the management. It's a single pane of glass of management, which is quite remarkable considering the previous vendor we had is a multitude of different pieces of software. Even across those various softwares, it really didn't tell us what was going on inside the storage arrays.

"In fact, we used to get an engineer in who would come in to do a lot of recordings over a week, go away, and compile reports for us because that was the only way we got detailed information out of the storage array," Martin explained.

"When we went over to Nimble, whatever we wanted was right there in the main console that could be viewed on the Infosight portal. You could see real-time metrics, trends, and things we couldn't in the past."

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