As disaster recovery regulations mounted, servers piled up in the corporate controller's IT infrastructure at First Tennessee Bank, a subsidiary of First Horizon National Corp. ($37.9 billion in assets). Firewalled off from the rest of the organization for strict oversight, the system was overwhelming the two-employee department. "We just couldn't keep adding bigger servers and more disk space," says Bobby Robinson, the bank's accounting officer. "We needed a system that would grow manageably."
In 2004 Robinson turned to the evolving concept of system consolidation via virtualization, which essentially allows one server to run multiple applications. To start, First Tennessee needed to move data from individual servers -- such as its Oracle (Redwood Shores, Calif) Hyperion and Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) SQL database servers -- into a pool via a storage area network (SAN), explains Robinson.
While the rest of the Memphis-based bank already had an EMC (Hopkinton, Mass.) Fibre Channel (FC) SAN, it wasn't an option for the corporate controller's office. "The main IT department has hundreds of employees and a budget to match," Robinson notes. "Although we looked at EMC early in 2005, the infrastructure was so pricey that we abandoned it."
Concurrently, Robinson researched the emerging SAN-in-a-box category. "We brought in the first of two options, Compellent's (Eden Prairie, Minn.) Storage Center. It was so impressive the other company instantly became a nonplayer," Robinson recalls. "Not only was the demo SAN configured and virtualized in under an hour, its total cost was comparable to a one-year maintenance agreement with EMC."
Further, "EMC's FC SAN infrastructure requires a completely different knowledge base than our Microsoft-based LAN, which is Ethernet," says Robinson. "And FC equipment is notorious for needing constant tweaking. ... Compellent's SAN is already optimized."
Storage Center also offered advanced SAN capabilities, according to Robinson. "Most SAN vendors were just starting to talk about integrated lifecycle management," he says. "With Storage Center, the automatic migration of old files onto slower, less-expensive disks was already a standard feature."
Robinson's boss, the corporate controller, green-lighted the purchase of Storage Center in March 2005. Less than a month later, a 4-terabyte SAN was delivered, with implementation scheduled for the following weekend. A Compellent representative arrived on a Friday and the entire migration -- including IT staff training -- was completed by Sunday, Robinson relates. "We just plugged it in and it worked," he marvels.
Not surprisingly, First Tennessee's disaster recovery (DR) abilities were instantly transformed. "During SAN testing, a critical application server failed," Robinson says. "We didn't lose anything and were back up within hours. Previously it would have been days. Later we ran a catastrophic failure exercise and were fully recovered within a day."
After consolidating storage on the Compellent SAN, Robinson began server virtualization in August 2006 using EMC's VMware (Palo Alto, Calif.). Moving databases onto a VMware server permitted redeploying four existing servers, Robinson notes. Eventually, he adds, he expects more than 20 existing servers will be consolidated on just two VMware boxes.
In the meantime, efficiencies are everywhere, Robinson points out. "Basically, it's now a lights-off system for us," he explains. "Capacity allocation used to consume hours every week; now it's five minutes a day at the most."
--Anne Rawland Gabriel
Institution: First Tennessee Bank, a subsidiary of First Horizon National Corp. (Memphis).
Assets: $37.9 billon (First Horizon National Corp.).
Business Challenge: Consolidate storage systems without adding infrastructure complexity.
Solution: Compellent (Eden Prairie, Minn.) Storage Center SAN; EMC's VMware virtualization technology.
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio