Atlantic Blue Cross sticks with direct-attach storage plan

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 in 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. HP provided $1 million worth of SAN technology to the centre.

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 did purchase an EMC Symmetrix box. “”I guess that was our first play on central storage. We’re continuing down that path.””

When it acquired the EMC box, it also ported over applications from a mainframe to a Unix environment, says McPhee. “”We needed the functionality of EMC both from a performance and a features perspective to allow us to do that.””

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 the conflict with software versions. He wishes the Xwave centre had been available two years ago when it invested in the Compaq storage technology. As it is, just to be able to test its backup solution had a lot of value.

“”It substantially reduced the risk of our purchase,”” says McPhee. “”We were also displacing our current backup vendor. Veritas provided excellent support, and Xwave managed to bring the partners together we need to support our strategy.””

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, so that’s driving our storage.””

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 has about 120 servers, two-main data centres, eight branch locations with file servers and 1,100 PCs extended from the East Coast throughout Ontario. It’s 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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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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