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FirstMerit engages IBM to help consolidate its server environment.

Although Samic says FirstMerit looked at other server vendors to help solve its problems, he contends that IBM stood out from the rest, mainly based on its service. "They have people in our area. When they talk to you, it's not in 'salesy' language, but it's a conversation," Samic asserts. "If it hadn't been for the people at IBM, we might not be using their equipment," he adds.

The consolidation project began in March 2004. Samic says IBM helped install the first blade unit and that he was able to figure out the rest. However, given the number of servers and amount of data that needs to be migrated, the initiative will be ongoing, he adds. At this point, the bank has installed 70 blade servers and is running virtualization software on the remaining 120 stand-alone servers. "There are no concrete plans [to convert] the rest" of the stand-alone servers to blades until the bank has caught up on its numerous other IT projects, Samic explains

Furthermore, Samic notes, stand-alone servers will be necessary in certain remote branch locations. But the virtualization software is helping the bank to get better mileage out of those servers, he adds. Virtual storage, Samic says, can be used to store more-static data, such as e-mail archives, thereby freeing up the higher-end storage devices for more-important data.

So far, FirstMerit has saved more than $300,000 in operating and management costs, according to Samic. Due to the blades' efficiency, the bank also has cut down on the number of work hours for its IT staff. "That's enough to affect the bottom line," Samic claims.

"With people, time and hard dollars spent on the equipment, the cost was up there," Samic says of the bank's investment in the consolidation initiative. "We haven't totally recouped it yet, but I think the long-term benefits will be great."

Storage

** Institution: FirstMerit Bank (Akron, Ohio).

** Assets: $10.5 billion.

** Business Challenge: Consolidate server environment.

** Solution: BladeCenter servers and virtualization software from IBM (Armonk, N.Y.).

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