Volkswagen Unit Centralizes, Virtualizes Its Storage

DataCore's SANmelody lets the VW Financial Services unit provide storage from a central pool for all types of applications

February 13, 2009

4 Min Read
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Despite a long series of ad campaigns in which it encouraged customers to "Think Small," Volkswagen in the U.K. was finding out that it needed to think big. The company's data storage requirements were growing exponentially. Email and database requirements were getting bigger all the time. Meanwhile, the company was moving to a blade server environment to keep its data center from being any bigger than it needed to be. The answer was to virtualize its storage.

"What we were looking for is a way to centralize our storage," says Mike Duxbury, senior service specialist for Volkswagen Financial Services for the U.K., in Milton Keynes, U.K. "Like many companies, we suffered from disparate disks on separate servers. So we centralized our storage. We also wanted to mirror the data."

While Volkswagen has corporate standards for applications and databases, such as requiring Oracle for all corporate databases, regional operations can choose their own infrastructure. "We are using SANmelody, which is a storage virtualization product from DataCore," Duxbury says. "We wanted to do mirroring in real time rather than asynchronously over a fiber network. We actually use the product with iSCSI." One of the main reasons for using iSCSI was the ease with which it would fit into his existing Ethernet switched network, he says.

The plan to use his existing network fits well with the rest of Duxbury's infrastructure plan. "The servers themselves are just bulk standard HP servers with a few terabytes of storage hanging off the back and presented to the network with the DataCore software," he explains. "Consolidating the storage centrally allows us to be more efficient in our usage. We can give it to the services that need it.

One of the nice features, Duxbury says, is the network managed volume: "If you decide to give a server two terabytes of storage, it won't actually use it until it needs it." And SANmelody is flexible enough that you can actually allocate more storage than is physically present in the SAN, he says. This allows volumes to change their sizes as the needs of the system change. "If you haven't got the physical storage to back it up, you need to keep an eye on it so you won't run out," he cautions. But NMV also provides some critical benefits. "There's none of this building of a physical server when you need something more."Volkswagen Financial serves out its virtual storage from a central pool. "It will be financial data, email databases, SQL databases, application services, enterprise vaults or email archiving databases," he says. "It makes it very easy to integrate different types of storage."

In the data center, "with the exception of our domain controllers, all of our data is stored on a Melody storage server," he says. "We use HP blade servers to connect to our storage servers via iSCSI. We use Microsoft iSCSI and DataCore MPIO multi-pathing software. This allows a SAN to change paths in the event of a server crash."

While the primary thrust of Volkswagen Financial's storage effort was efficiency, there were other benefits -- most notably, ease of management. "I guess the classic example is where you take a guess of how much storage you'll need in two years, and in six months you're full and you need to rebuild the server," Duxbury says. "We haven't had to do that. Once we deployed SANmelody, we haven't had to do a file server rebuild. We just add more storage to the server."

Duxbury says the process is simple. "You take the server down, everything flips to the other one, you add to your storage, wait until its synchronized, and then do the other one."

Another benefit is improved performance. "We didn't benchmark it before we integrated," he says. "We've noticed considerable improvement through virtual servers. We were running off of local disks. Now were running off virtual disks."In addition to storage, the company moved its SQL implementation to a single clustered environment. "Because of the way iSCSI works, we've been able to cluster our servers," he says. "We could lose the entire building and not lose our servers. It's very cost effective as well compared to EMC."

Cost effectiveness was important to Volkswagen. As part of the planning, the IT team did all of the cost projecting in conjunction with moving to blade servers. "The entire project budget was £200,000, [with] £60,000 for blade server hardware and £25,000 for backup licenses," Duxbury says. "The cost of virtualization was £140,000." (Note: At press time, £1.00 was worth approximately $1.46.)

The system will pay for itself over three years, he says, and has required very little maintenance beyond Windows patches -- and even those don't require bringing the system down. He expects to save about £30,000 in energy costs during the first three years of use, with 60 percent of his machines using virtual storage.

But perhaps the best benefit from an IT manager's viewpoint is something else. "This has made my life easier," Duxbury says. "I'm a huge fan of the product, and it has made managing our data a lot easier. We can do maintenance on-site now and take entire buildings down and not lose IT services. That's something we've never been able to do before DataCore."

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