Like every other telecommunications provider, Aliant Telecom, St. John's, Newfoundland, has been searching for ways to reduce its operating costs. After taking a close look at its massive data center, the company deduced that moving to a storage area network (SAN) would help cut its expenses by $1 million a year, a projection that turned out to be on the conservative side.
"We have been branching out to offer customers more and more network services, and that means more servers and more storage systems," said Chris Munn, server and storage planner at the company. "Maintenance was becoming a problem, so we had to take a few steps to gain control over our data."
As Canada's third largest local telecommunications provider, Aliant Telecom provides a wide range of application service provider services to small, medium and large companies across the country. As the firm's portfolio has expanded, the company has purchased servers and storage in an ad hoc fashion, adding another system for every new customer. As a result, the carrier ended up with more than 400 servers running a variety of operating systems, including SCO Linux, HP-UX, AIX, and Windows 2000 and Windows XP.
Because the telecommunications service provider had a lot of single storage systems, its storage costs were rising and its storage tasks were becoming more complex. As the application requirements grew, the firm attempted to use features such as snapshots to ensure that backup information was available if needed. But some of the firm's databases didn't easily support such functions, and administration was becoming more and more cumbersome. Six employees spent their day performing tasks like swapping tapes so information on different machines was properly collected.
In October 2001, the company undertook a project to consolidate its servers and replace the standalone storage systems with a SAN. Aliant Telecom concluded that EMC Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. offered the best products for carriers, who have high-availability, rapid response requirements. While Sun was strong from a performance standpoint, the carrier felt that the EMC products were easier to manage. Also, EMC's support organization was top-shelf, and that was important because the telecom expected a steep learning curve with the new system.
In early 2002, Aliant purchased EMC Symmetrix 8830 and EMC Clariion IP 4700 hardware. The company bought EMC Data Manager and EMC TimeFinder software, as well as McData's Intrepid 6064 directors to move information from place to place. "We had a tight time frame for putting the system in place and, therefore, skipped some of the extensive testing that we usually undertake with a new product," said Munn. "We were able to do this because a few of our sister subsidiaries who had extensive experience with the EMC products helped us get it up and running."
The first application moved to the new infrastructure was Internet News -- an online news service offered by Aliant. "We were having a terrible time keeping the articles fresh and serving the pages in a timely fashion," explained Munn. "We put about 1 terabyte (TB) of storage behind the application, and now it's operating quite efficiently."
Aliant Telecom has moved a number of other applications to the new infrastructure, so the SAN now supports 16 TB of data. In 2003, the telecommunications company expects to double that number.
The initial results have been quite positive. As part of the revamp, the company was able to redeploy six tape operators and two server administrators to other functions. Those changes, along with the streamlining of other business processes, meant a $1.6 million reduction in expenses. In addition, the company has avoided spending another $2 million for capital expenses. "We now have a much higher utilization rate among our servers and storage equipment," concluded Munn. "Rather than 20 to 30% rates, we are operating at 70 to 80% usage range, and that has meant we are not buying a new disk array each time we land a new customer."
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