Complex and distributed data centers can mean costly management and support costs, and such large and unwieldy environments aren't suited for responding to rapid change.
Affiliated Computer Services Inc. (NYSE: ACS), a business process outsourcing and IT services and solutions company, knows this all too well.
A $6.1 billion organization with 65,000 employees that support operations in more than 100 countries, ACS manages six of its own world-class data centers in addition to those of some customers, focusing on minimizing costs for its own operations as well as its customers.
With data center administrators distributed around the world, one of the biggest challenges the company faced was support costs. One ongoing project is server virtualization, which allows ACS to pack more computing resources into an environment.
"It's back to basics here: consolidating to save money and reduce our hardware footprint," said Roy Singh, senior manager of storage management and architecture for the IT outsourcing business of ACS.
ACS is also moving to a common storage architecture in its own data centers, based on Brocade (NASDAQ: BRCD) director-class switches, EMC (NYSE: EMC) storage arrays, and Emulex (NYSE: ELX) LightPulse Host Bus Adapters (HBAs) for server-to-storage connectivity.
Storage, consisting of disk arrays, SAN switches and Fibre Channel adapters in the hosts, accounts for the fastest-growing capital expense at ACS, according to Singh.
Singh said the company has every HBA out there and the experience to manage them all. But it's not the most cost-effective or efficient way to approach management of such a large data center environment, so the company needed to standardize.
Standardization of the company's storage infrastructure will provide ACS with a number of benefits, according to Singh:
- It will allow ACS to concentrate on a limited set of products, which will enable its IT staff to become proficient managers, reducing the need and cost to train staff on multiple technologies.
- Having IT staff with a concentrated set of skills will speed up the hiring cycle and reduce overall hiring costs across the company's global locations.
- Less complexity will reduce the number of management tools and simplify managing the storage infrastructure, which in turn will reduce costs worldwide.
- With fewer interfaces, there's a shorter debugging cycle for IT staff as they become familiar with the standard toolsets. This benefits the service level agreements (SLAs) ACS delivers to its customers and the potential costs for penalties incurred if the company can't resolve issues within the agreed upon time.
ACS's partnership with Emulex goes back several years.
"We've always had Emulex adapters typically in our Windows environment," said Singh.
The move to standardize on Emulex products was driven by virtualization needs.
With a common driver architecture and virtual HBA technology, ACS can do more by standardizing on the Emulex LightPulse HBA, according to Singh. "We can attach multiple hosts to a single adapter," he said.
Emulex virtual HBA technology is based on industry-standard N-Port ID Virtualization (NPIV). NPIV gives users the ability to "virtualize" SAN connections so each virtual machine running on a server can independently access its own protected storage. In other words, it provides virtual machines with independent access to the SAN through shared HBA resources, according to Emulex.
"Virtual machines depend on the SAN and have to have connectivity. Anything that adds intelligence to the virtual environment helps us," said Singh.
ACS manages six petabytes of storage.
Emulex HBAnyware, a management application for the vendor's LightPulse HBAs, helps data center administrators optimize SAN performance and availability by centralizing management for ACS's worldwide operations. The unified platform for management of LightPulse Fibre Channel HBAs and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) HBAs also improves total cost of ownership.
"We were challenged to drive down costs in our distributed administrative environment," said Singh.
HBAnyware enables ACS support teams to manage any adapter and bring it on quickly via a centralized management console. "As we do more with virtualization, we were challenged on how best to get ramped up with the right technology, and to rapidly deploy. HBAnyware is the answer for our data centers," he said.
Virtualization is a transitional model for ACS. "We're driving it heavily within our organization and with our customer," said Singh.
ACS's service delivery is based primarily on consolidating each client's operations into an ACS data center or into a client-selected data center and then managing distributed computer environments for hundreds of organizations in the U.S. and Europe.
As virtualization becomes a bigger part of ACS's infrastructure and that of its clients, supporting products, such as the LightPulse Fibre Channel HBAs, become increasingly important.