Don McPhee knew any backup solution he picked for Atlantic Blue Cross had to integrate into a variety of systems, so being able to test it in advance made all of the difference when it came time to buy.

The Maritime health insurance provider was one of the first customers to use St. John’s-based

Xwave’s Enterprise Storage centre to evaluate backup technology — in this case Compaq’s (now Hewlett-Packard) ESL 9595 tape technology — in conjunction with new backup software from Veritas, says McPhee, director of technical services. “”We managed to get a really good feeling that the solution was going to work for our environment based on our mixed infrastructure before we actually purchased.””

Xwave launched the centre this past June in partnership with Hewlett-Packard, housed in its 60,000 sq. ft. data centre in Moncton, N.B. to help businesses and other organizations in Atlantic Canada to view, test and validate proofs of concept in utility-based enterprise data storage management.

One of McPhee’s greatest concerns has been the integration of storage and backup solutions into Atlantic Blue Cross’s heterogeneous environment.

For the most part, Atlantic Blue Cross has relied on direct-attached storage — independent storage solutions based on application, says McPhee. Five years ago it purchased an EMC Symmetrix box. “”I guess that was our first play on central storage. We’re continuing down that path.””

Atlantic Blue Cross brought in some Compaq storage about two years ago as well. “”We reached a certain critical mass around our direct-attached storage,”” says McPhee, “”and we were getting pushed for higher availability and better performance.””

For the most part, the insurer’s move to networked storage has gone smoothly, says McPhee, despite minor conflict with software versions. He said he wishes the Xwave centre had been available two years ago when he invested in the Compaq storage technology, but he was happy, at least, for the opportunity to test the backup solution.

“”It substantially reduced the risk of our purchase,”” says McPhee.

These tests can vary in length depending on the technology, says Graham Verge, solution manager with Xwave. When a customer such as Atlantic Blue Cross comes in to do a proof of concept, he says, “”they predetermine the major things they’re going touch on, and that gives them a very strong benchmark for the customer.””

So far the centre has seen about eight customers, says Verge. In addition to demos and proof of concepts, the centre also offers interoperability training. “”Now we’re starting very heavily on our service development.””

For Atlantic Blue Cross, speed was the primary driver for the backup upgrade, says McPhee. “”We weren’t meeting our windows. Our backup times were getting longer and longer.”” The insurer has yet to implement the solution in production, but McPhee expects backup processes to be three to four times faster.

“”Our back-end applications are growing at all times,”” he says. “”Over the past five years we’ve gone through one merger and one acquisition . . . our business volumes are increasing tremendously.”” It’s also involved in some large-scale development initiatives, including the Web enablement of all of its systems and large contract for Veterans Affairs Canada. “”That’s not only driving storage around our business volumes, it’s also driving storage around the development environment that’s required to support those initiatives.””

Atlantic Blue Cross is also an applications service provider to third-party insurance firms, governments and other Blue Cross plans. “”Because of that we’re involved in integrating networks and infrastructure from other organizations, and in some cases, actually managing it.””

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