Moving mountains of data

When it comes to your health, your finances, or even your personal safety, storage is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But behind those electronic health records, banking infrastructure and military campaigns, there’s an extensive amount of data – the problem is managing all of it.Storage management is nothing new, but it’s moving toward a more consolidated approach, making it easier to access the right data at the right time. Data is growing dramatically, while companies strive to do more with less. Add to that compliance legislation in the U.S. – which means IT managers could actually be thrown in jail over compliance issues. Here, some companies are anticipating the same kind of legislation and moving toward information lifecycle management (ILM). Others are doing it to reduce costs, improve service delivery or, in the case of the Atlantic Health Sciences Corp., boost patient care.

The AHSC was faced with storage capacity issues on its mainframe and diagnostic imaging system. It had a distributed storage environment on Intel servers, where each server had its own storage and tape backup. At night, an operator would have to change each tape — about 50 to 100 per server.
“We wanted to consolidate all that into one centralized storage strategy,” says Derrick Jardine, chief information officer of the AHSC in St. John, N.B. “We wanted one standardized management tool that allowed us to really manage the time it took to do backups as well as the amount of storage it was taking to do the backups.”
The AHSC is the largest hospital region in the province and serves as a centre for cardiac, dialysis and specialized neurosurgery. Its diagnostic imaging system uses a lot of storage capacity, but its needs are increasing with the movement toward electronic health records.
From a regulatory point of view, the AHSC has to make sure data is not jeopardized in any way.
“There’s all kinds of legislation (about) how long we have to keep records in paper format as we transition to electronic format and keep that level of security,” says Jardine. It’s also crucial to patient care.

The AHSC has consolidated its storage management into one console using Tivoli Storage Manager. “That allows us to manage our storage costs better because we can determine what data is stored where and how,” he says.
The ideal is a single window of access to all storage from one console — but we’re not there yet, says Jennifer Ewen, senior market analyst with Evans Research Corp. in Etobicoke, Ont. Virtualization — the Holy Grail of storage management — allows you to treat storage resources as one single pool of storage.
“It can reallocate storage on the fly to different applications as it’s needed,” she says, “(It can) monitor when you’re reaching critical levels for capacity.”
The goal is information lifecycle management, which involves putting the right data on the right storage media. This is where the Vancouver City Savings Credit Union — the largest credit union in Canada — is heading. It’s using EMC’s Visual SRM, a monitoring and reporting tool that reports on disk utilization, to capture information for trend analysis and alert the organization to potential problems.
“We’re not that deep into (ILM) yet,” says Nelson Lacharity, the organization’s infrastructure specialist. “We’re still reactive rather than planning way ahead. We now catch things but we haven’t got a significant standard process for this yet — it’s something we’re working toward.”
Up until three years ago, all of its branches had their own servers and were managed from various locations.
“Trying to manage all that stuff was a headache,” he says. “You got to a point (where) you had to tear the server apart to add discs or buy a new server.”
Data is now consolidated in one location, which has dramatically improved its disaster recovery times. Previously, in tests, it took eight hours to bring up banking information that was 36 hours out of date. Now, in unofficial tests, it takes 15 minutes to bring it back up, and the data is only 15 to 20 minutes out of date.
“You don’t want to be told by your bank, ‘We’re having a little problem and you won’t be able to see your money for 72 hours,’” says Lacharity.

Business continuity, in this case, is crucial for retaining customers. In the case of Med-Eng Systems Inc., it could mean saving lives. The Ottawa-based company sells personal protective equipment to military organizations, as well as federal police forces and the U.S. military, in 140 countries around the world.
It holds 90 per cent of the global market for bomb suits, and also carries traditional riot gear as well as personal climate systems, which cool or warm depending on the environment. The company has supplied cooling systems to the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, where flight times were being cut short because of the heat.
“We are an engineering company and we’re dealing with people’s lives, so there are specifications that affect our equipment,” says Scott Harris, Med-Eng’s manager of information technology. “We get asked for information sometimes directly from the theatre of operation, like bomb technicians going into a certain environment — we don’t want the bad guys having access to that.”

For Med-Eng, the business driver behind better storage management was primarily risk and liability in the event of a power failure or disaster. It moved its entire infrastructure over to Magma Communications, a full-service Internet company, via a private 100 Mbps fibre link, including its ERP system, Oracle infrastructure and collaborative business model.
“We collapsed a lot of the infrastructure and invested in a mass storage device to consolidate all that data on one device instead of the multiple Microsoft servers we had in the past,” he says. “I couldn’t take 12 to 13 servers cost-effectively and co-locate them — you’re paying for the space.” The live environment resides on a network-attached storage infrastructure at Magma, which is monitored around the clock. Med-Eng still manages its own data, but has more time to focus on its core business.
“We’re not a big IT group so if I had one (person) managing the security side, if that person left the organization that’s a big void,” he says. While it’s hard to pinpoint direct ROI, he says it’s saving them the cost of another senior IT administrator.
Another organization, Tarion, is also benefiting from not having to hire additional personnel to manage its IT infrastructure, thanks to a consolidated storage management strategy. Formerly known as the Ontario New Home Warranty Program, Tarion is a not-for-profit organization that regulates the new home building industry in Ontario through both registration services and home warranties.
“If we needed more storage, we would have to either replace or upgrade the storage in the server or get a new server,” says Bill Wallace, vice-president of information systems with Tarion in Toronto. “It certainly wasn’t an optimal way to do things.”
The organization handles a huge number of documents, and wanted the ability to digitally capture warranty service requests.
“Last year about 75,000 homes were enrolled so we had 75,000 new policies coming on board,” he says. Electronic storage of those documents allows field reps to bring them up or print them before they visit a home. Or, through its call centre, they can review issues with the homeowner and annotate documents before a warranty inspection.
With a boom in the home building industry, the organization has had to increase staff – but not in the IT department. “We’ve become much more customer-focused,” says Wallace, “and a lot of that’s driven by change in process supported by technology.”

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Featured Download

Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

Related Tech News

Get ITBusiness Delivered

Our experienced team of journalists brings you engaging content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives delivered directly to your inbox.