It’s not a secret that one of my favorite products within EMC is VPLEX. VPLEX is a product that means different things to different people. Some look at it as a data migration solution while others look at it in its true flash and glory meaning – a distributed cache that is virtualizing your underlying storage and provides an active – active site topology. For example, you can have Site A in NY distributed to Site B in a metro location (up to 10ms latency for VMware HA and vMotion) and have simultaneous read/write access to the same data across these two data centers.
“But, doesn’t the latency between the sites defy the point of using an all-flash array like EMC XtremIO”?
Nope, you can have the VMs and database instances doing their thing at Site A and in the event of a site failure, leverage vSphere HA to restart them with continuous operations of the storage infrastructure through VPLEX at the metro Site B
You can leverage the RecoverPoint splitter embedded within VPLEX to replicate to a remote Site C in an asynchronous fashion. In fact, I have just the customer that is doing this to tell you about…
The Tel-Aviv based Clal Insurance is Israel’s leading insurance, pension, and financial services group. The Clal Group holds a 19% share of the Israeli insurance market and manages hundreds of billions of shekel-denominated assets. Haim Inger is the CTO at Clal Data Systems, the IT Company that provides all IT services to Clal Insurance.
For Inger, the main storage-related challenge facing his organization was end-of-month reporting on the life insurance systems. Even with high-end storage in the data center, these core applications needed better performance.
“The end-of-month jobs would start around midnight, and they would not end until around 2:00 p.m. the following day,” he recalls. “The result was that almost 600 users were unable to do their work for most of the day on the first of every month, and customers were unable to get any service during that same period of time.”
This situation was costing Clal Insurance an estimated $900,000 per year in lost business and productivity. Inger could see that the main bottleneck was storage, and he was looking for a solution that would make it possible to finish these jobs much earlier.
The answer was an EMC XtremIO All-Flash Array. Clal Insurance started by deploying a two X-Brick cluster (X-Bricks are the basic scale-out building blocks of XtremIO arrays) and mirroring them locally with EMC VPLEX to another two X-Brick cluster. The local VPLEX mirror of the X-Bricks was in addition to a full disaster recovery (DR) system, using EMC RecoverPoint. With this configuration, which provides both continuous availability and storage virtualization for data mobility, Clal Insurance was able to dramatically reduce the time needed to run the end-of-month reports.
“Our goal was to finish the reports around 8:00 a.m., even though users typically arrive at work an hour earlier,” says Inger. “We actually finished at 5:30 a.m.”
And the story gets better. “We have seen the same benefit in an even more demanding scenario, which is end-of-year reporting,” Inger continues. “On a usual basis for end of year, we would be shut down for 24 hours. Thanks to XtremIO, we were able to open the systems at 6:20 a.m. on January first of this year. Even with local mirroring using VPLEX, plus RecoverPoint replication to our DR site, the reporting goals and online day-to-day work were not affected. We don’t see any impact at all.”
Clal Insurance tried several ways to solve the end-of-month reporting issue before
deciding to deploy XtremIO. First they installed more flash drives in the existing
storage they had on the premises. This approach resulted in small gains — instead of 2:00 p.m., the jobs finished at around 12:00 p.m. — but it was not enough. Then they started looking at All-Flash Arrays, including XtremIO, and others.
“The reason we decided to go with XtremIO, even though it wasn’t yet generally available, was the product’s ability to coexist with our current environment.” says Inger. “We already had VPLEX installed, and our existing DR configuration was based on VPLEX and RecoverPoint. The only solution we saw that was really plug-and-play was XtremIO.”
Clal Insurance evaluated two X-Bricks for almost six months before putting XtremIO into production. “We tested two things,” explains Inger. “First we tested the stability, to see that we didn’t get data corruption, downtime, or anything like that. XtremIO was very stable, even during the early beta phase. The other thing we checked was performance. Depending on the application, we got from two to ten times better performance with XtremIO compared to our existing storage environment.”
Specifically, the best average read time on the company’s existing high-end storage was about 5ms. Clal Insurance was looking for at least 3ms; they achieved 1.5ms with XtremIO. Inger says XtremIO was the right choice. “From the moment we got the X-Bricks and installed them physically, it took us less than a week to move the first production database over, and then an additional two weeks to move the other four databases — a total of 14 terabytes,” he says. “And it just worked. I didn’t have to reinvent or re-architect my DR system or anything else. With any other solution from IBM, NetApp, or the All-Flash Array start-up vendors, I would have had to reinvent almost everything about HA and DR. What’s more, the management is any storage guy’s dream. XtremIO is the simplest storage system I ever saw anywhere to manage.”
Unlike other insurance companies, Clal Insurance is 100% virtualized. The company has more than 1,300 servers, all using the latest VMware solutions. XtremIO fits right in. “The benefit of XtremIO for a virtualized environment lies in its Inline Data Reduction capabilities.” says Inger. “Our database servers previously consumed about 120TB of Fibre Channel disk. With XtremIO, we consume only about 40TB of SSD because of the data reduction ratio. That is a real savings of money and footprint, with much better performance than we had before.” Inger purchased several additional X-Bricks recently. “All of our database virtual machines are going to reside on XtremIO,” he says.
In summary, XtremIO is used for two main purposes at Clal Insurance: The first is to accelerate the day-to-day use of applications and to super-accelerate the nightly and end-of-month jobs of the life insurance applications. The second is to accelerate the deployment of the company’s virtual servers with as small a footprint as possible on the storage side.
“The greatest benefit we have realized from our XtremIO system is the ability to serve our employees and our insurance brokers as fast as possible, and with no downtime, for end-of-month batch processing times,” says Inger. “This project really shows that investing in infrastructure can bring great ROI to our company while improving the overall service we give our customers. And we have found XtremIO to be totally reliable, with zero problems.”
According to Inger, XtremIO has a bright future at Clal Insurance. “I plan to move all of the mission-critical databases and most of the mission-critical applications to XtremIO over the next 12 months,” he concludes. “In my opinion, everything will go there within three to four years.”
Watch this video to see a demo of VPLEX plus the RecoverPoint splitter on XtremIO.