Data, Data Everywhere

Ohio-based bank FirstMerit engages IBM to help consolidate its server environment, with blade servers as the new data center foundation.

May 25, 2006

3 Min Read
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When a bank processes more than 750 gigabytes of information every month, things can get unwieldy on the data storage side in the IT department. According to Dave Samic, senior network analyst at FirstMerit Bank ($10.5 billion in assets), the number of servers housed at the Akron, Ohio-based institution's data center was starting to get out of hand.

"The problem in any organization is the proliferation of stand-alone servers," Samic says. "You start to run out of real estate, power, ports and people. If you have numerous servers, you need a lot of full-time employees to run them." he continues. "We started with six servers in 2000 and were at 240 servers in 2004. Factor in all these things and it presents a problem for anyone who tries to manage this kind of situation."

Giving Blades a Whirl

To consolidate its more than 200 stand-alone servers, FirstMerit Bank tapped IBM's (Armonk, N.Y.) BladeCenter server solution. According to Samic, FirstMerit began researching a fix to its server problems in 2003. "We knew we had a server proliferation problem with stand-alone systems in late 2003," Samic relates. "We tried to get blade systems in the door then, but the technology didn't seem sound enough [at the time]." The bank waited another year and after seeing some "significant advances" in the technology, FirstMerit decided to give blades a whirl, Samic says.

"Blade servers let you consolidate equipment in a shared environment without the degradation of functions that you'd get through a traditional SCSI model," explains Samic, referring to the small computer systems interface, or "scuzzy," data-transfer protocol. "Blade technology will let us grow as fast as we want to. It's dynamic, rather than the static approach that you get with stand-alone servers."According to Samic, his people can have a Blade server up and running in about 15 minutes, versus the full day it takes to set up a traditional server. The IBM Blades also provide plug-and-play convenience, a vital property when something goes awry, he says. "We have identical equipment [i.e., extra blades] on hand," he comments. "If one fails, you just pop out the bad one and replace it."Although Samic says FirstMerit looked at other server vendors to help solve its problems, he contends that IBM stood out from the rest, mainly based on its service. "They have people in our area. When they talk to you, it's not in 'salesy' language, but it's a conversation," Samic asserts. "If it hadn't been for the people at IBM, we might not be using their equipment," he adds.

The consolidation project began in March 2004. Samic says IBM helped install the first blade unit and that he was able to figure out the rest. However, given the number of servers and amount of data that needs to be migrated, the initiative will be ongoing, he adds. At this point, the bank has installed 70 blade servers and is running virtualization software on the remaining 120 stand-alone servers. "There are no concrete plans [to convert] the rest" of the stand-alone servers to blades until the bank has caught up on its numerous other IT projects, Samic explains

Furthermore, Samic notes, stand-alone servers will be necessary in certain remote branch locations. But the virtualization software is helping the bank to get better mileage out of those servers, he adds. Virtual storage, Samic says, can be used to store more-static data, such as e-mail archives, thereby freeing up the higher-end storage devices for more-important data.

So far, FirstMerit has saved more than $300,000 in operating and management costs, according to Samic. Due to the blades' efficiency, the bank also has cut down on the number of work hours for its IT staff. "That's enough to affect the bottom line," Samic claims.

"With people, time and hard dollars spent on the equipment, the cost was up there," Samic says of the bank's investment in the consolidation initiative. "We haven't totally recouped it yet, but I think the long-term benefits will be great."Storage

** Institution: FirstMerit Bank (Akron, Ohio).

** Assets: $10.5 billion.

** Business Challenge: Consolidate server environment.

** Solution: BladeCenter servers and virtualization software from IBM (Armonk, N.Y.).0

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