UAL Loyalty Services

United Airline's e-commerce group picks CreekPath software to automate storage provisioning

March 20, 2003

4 Min Read
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United Airlines Inc.'s e-commerce group has picked SAN management software from startup CreekPath Systems Inc. to automate its storage provisioning processes -- and as a result has freed up its SAN architect from a time-consuming, mind-numbingly boring task.

The airline's UAL Loyalty Services Inc. (ULS) subsidiary handles all of its e-commerce and Internet functions, including and, as well as the company's loyalty program Websites, which include,, and ULS, based in Elk Grove, Ill., serves more than 1.4 million unique users per month through its online loyalty programs.

In the past year and half, ULS has assembled a sizeable SAN. It comprises three Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Lightning 9960s with 20 Tbytes of total storage capacity connected to more than 200 Unix and Windows servers via four Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) SilkWorm 3800 16-port switches and one 64-port SilkWorm 12000 configured in dual redundant fabrics.

Boris Sherman, senior director of operations at ULS, says as the SAN grew more complex, his team needed a better way to handle provisioning requests. Before installing CreekPath's storage resource management (SRM) suite in January, Sherman had no ability to automate storage provisioning or generate reports "to let me show my superiors where the money was going," he says. "We spent hours with spreadsheets trying to keep up with this."

ULS had only its single SAN architect, plus another admin part-time, managing storage provisioning requests -- which were taking up to 13 days to fulfill. "Our storage growth rates are through the roof," Sherman says.And it's not a good time to ask for extra staff, Sherman notes: "As you probably can imagine, headcount at United Airlines is just not something we've got right now." He's referring to United's mass layoffs since Sept. 11, 2001 -- which the airline says aren't over yet -- and its parent company's bankruptcy filing, one of the largest in the history of corporate America.

So ULS set out to find an SRM solution that would fit the bill. Sherman says one of the main prerequisites was that the software operate out-of-band. "We didn't want whatever the management system was to break the multimillion-dollar SAN," he says. "CreekPath is completely out of band, so if it went down we wouldn't have a problem." ULS also wanted it to have an open application programming interface (API) and needed the package to include a reporting mechanism and security measures.

Sherman won't reveal which other vendors he considered. Besides CreekPath, other players in the SRM space include larger vendors like EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) (NYSE: CA), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Overland Storage Inc. (Nasdaq: OVRL), Fujitsu Software Technology Corp. (Softek), and Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS), as well as startups AppIQ Corp., Astrum Software Corp., InterSAN Inc., Invio Software Inc., and ProvisionSoft Inc.

ULS ended up choosing CreekPath, whose software is able to directly manipulate the logical unit number (LUN) settings in the Hitachi arrays and Brocade switches, along with other policy-based storage management tasks (see CreekPath Flies United).

Now, with the help of a CreekPath engineer, ULS is working to automate its entire storage provisioning process -- although within certain predefined rules. The group's Unix administrators will be able to automatically provision themselves storage without calling one of the SAN managers, but they'll be limited on the total amount of storage they can grab. And, Sherman adds, "The software will keep them from doing anything inappropriate." [Ed. note: Although CreekPath can't control what happens if someone gets a few beers in him after hours.]As for the other benefit ULS wanted from CreekPath -- its reporting capabilities -- Sherman says the software lets him keep a handle on how much storage is being used and also lets him do capacity planning: "It's really helping us manage our data."

But was Sherman concerned about going with a largely untested three-year-old startup? Actually, he says, CreekPath has been much more responsive about adding new features to its product than any of the larger vendors ULS contacted. And, he says, it's well funded; the company has raised $36 million to date (see CreekPath Streams in $16M). "I felt more comfortable going with them versus some of the bigger players that weren't as flexible."

Sherman won't say how much ULS paid CreekPath for the software, but he says, "They did not give it to us for free." CreekPath, meanwhile, doesn't disclose specific pricing information. Its pricing model includes a base fee for the CreekPath AIM Suite and tiered pricing based on the number of ports per fabric.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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