Storage They Can Bank On

eWeek Labs sorts out the options now available to Fleet and other heavy hitters.

Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of innovation in data storage. Although this new world of choices will eventually pay off in much higher capacity and better performance, the long learning curves of these new technologies, coupled with the scary consequences of betting on the wrong technology, are keeping many IT managers awake at night.

In the case of FleetBoston Financial Corp., the Boston-based financial institution?s seasoned storage management staff knew what systems to implement to get fileTrust, a secure Internet-based storage system for customers? electronic documents, up and running in accordance with a corporate mandate for online banking services. But the in-house personnel were already devoting all their time to completing a merger with BankBoston Corp. while concurrently finishing up Y2K testing.

Marcel Meth, Fleet?s director of Global Internet Strategies, and his staff decided to outsource the storage demands of fileTrust to StorageNetworks Inc.

In eWeek Labs? on-site evaluation of StorageNetworks? data center in Waltham, Mass., and the global operations center from which Storage- Networks manages storage systems all over the country, we were impressed with the infrastructure and ease of use of the company?s management tools, which we saw from the perspective of a customer.

Harnessing its expertise in cutting-edge storage technology, solid infrastructure and powerful management tools, StorageNetworks provides the enterprise-class data storage that large customers such as FleetBoston?a global, diversified financial services company with 22 million customers in more than 20 countries and assets exceeding $200 billion?require for their Internet-age applications.

At the same time, outsourcing such resource-intensive applications to StorageNetworks and companies like it can eliminate the painful management headaches that go hand in hand with these new storage technologies.

?Outsourcing really helped,? Meth said. ?We probably would not have released the product at the same time, and even our competitors were impressed with the speed at which we got [online].?

Weighing the costs

When Meth and his staff first started pricing the storage needs of the fileTrust service, they found that in addition to the extremely high capital investment required to lease gigantic chunks of storage hardware, their backup process and infrastructure would be the most expensive storage-related cost for the project because of the company?s stringent guidelines for backup.

Like many companies, Fleet runs daily backups and recycles tapes after two weeks. Federal regulations and the threat of liability (if someone were to steal data from a discarded tape) mandate the bank?s strict procedures for the destruction and disposal of expired tapes?a tedious, labor-intensive process.

For the sake of simplicity and to eliminate some potentially time-consuming and costly network management issues, the bank opted to go with Storage- Networks? Fibre Channel-based service instead. StorageNetworks sells its Fibre Channel-based storage and backup services to clients in units called DataPACS and BackPACS. (?PACS? stands for protection, availability, continuity, scalability and security.)

As clients? storage needs increase, clients can easily communicate to StorageNetworks product managers via e-mail or phone to purchase more PACS.

StorageNetworks also offers a NetPACS service for network-attached primary data storage needs and a Safe- PACS service for guaranteed zero data loss through remote site data replication. PACS costs range from $30,000 to $150,000 per month; prices depend mainly on the terms of the SLA (service-level agreement) that customers sign.

Before entering into an SLA with StorageNetworks, Meth and his staff spent many hours discussing issues such as security and data availability with StorageNetworks staff members to reach an agreement.

Security of all data is extremely important to Fleet, especially the security of customer information. Any IT manager looking to employ the services of a storage service provider should make sure the provider has high security, not only in the form of highly secure storage cages, guards and so forth, but also in the form of a secure network where customers cannot detect one another?s presence, even if they?re sharing a facility or service.

StorageNetworks? Virtual Storage Portal customer-side management utility allowed us, as a corporate customer, to track historical storage use and plan out future storage acquisitions. We could check average performance ratings of clients? servers and the time needed to complete backup jobs, as well as see topology diagrams.

Another important aspect of the Virtual Storage Portal was that we could track storage usage at the departmental and user level?an important tool for IT managers who want to charge back their clients.

Currently, Fleet is leasing a couple of terabytes of capacity from StorageNetworks, but if the bank?s storage needs creep beyond 10 terabytes, according to Meth, that might be enough incentive to bring the outsourced storage back in house.

From Meth?s point of view, the economies of scale would work in his favor, because he already has data center space and an experienced staff that knows how to manage gigantic volumes of storage.

However, the vast majority of StorageNetworks clients will stay with the outsourcer even if they expand beyond their original capacity needs. The difference between managing 1 terabyte and 10 terabytes is great, and elaborate backup and management schemes must be developed to ensure data integrity for such a huge system.

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