Big IP-based storage net takes shape

Brokerage house Edward Jones & Co. is deploying what may be the first storage-over-IP network of its scale. It will replicate up to 90TB of data from its main data centre near St. Louis to a fully redundant facility 1,500 miles away in Tempe, Ariz.

By using IP instead of Asynchronous Transfer Mode as the transport protocol over the span, the US$60 million to US$80 million project is expected to reduce the Maryland Heights, Mo.-based brokerage’s carrier costs while improving its business continuity. In theory, if the St. Louis data centre was destroyed, the firm’s business activities would continue without a hiccup, said CIO Rich Malone.

“Obviously, and unfortunately, the events of the last several weeks mean you need good, solid redundancy,” Malone said. “We determined, based on the long-term objectives of our firm and the natural-disaster issues in this part of the world, it would be better to do this farther away.”

Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group Inc., said the installation at Edward Jones is one of the biggest corporate storage-over-IP projects to date. “This says not only is it possible to do, but someone is actually doing it,” he said.

The Fibre Channel-over-IP technology that Edward Jones used to link storage-area networks (SAN) is cutting-edge, agreed Jamie Gruener, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. Storage over IP is “less common today than anything else, but longer term, it’s something we’ll see more of as customers deploy SANs across their enterprise,” Gruener said. “The market is small today, but it will grow rapidly over the next two to three years.”

Edward Jones began its project Oct. 15 and recently completed the data centre in Tempe, though its IT team is still dealing with issues related to connecting the two computing facilities. Malone said about US$1 million of the overall project cost was spent on 10 director-class switches to connect the firm’s two SANs.

100 per cent Uptime Expected

The expected return on investment is tied to the 100 per cent uptime that Edward Jones anticipates under virtually any circumstances, Malone said. He added that the new network also gives the company the ability to easily expand its network to meet the needs of its 5.4 million customers and 8,000 branch offices, which are increasing at the rate of 100 new offices every month.

“We still are not as in sync and as fast as we want to be [sending the data packets],” Malone said. “We have more testing to do and fine-tuning on the things we’ve got. We’re probably another 90 days from being where we want to be.”

According to officials at Lumberton, N.J.-based Inrange Technologies Inc., which is the vendor supplying the storage networking technology to link Edward Jones’ two data centre SANs, using IP connections should reduce a company’s carrier costs by up to 90 per cent. Malone disagreed with that figure but said he does expect significant savings.

An emerging protocol, Fibre Channel over IP has its problems, not the least of which is latency associated with sending data packets over long distances. Fibre Channel, which was designed for campus settings or metropolitan-area networks, doesn’t travel farther than 100 kilometres because the data packets break down.

Edward Jones previously relied on Rosemont, Ill.-based Comdisco Inc. for IT backup services, but Malone said the firm outgrew that arrangement. “Our problem was how to continue to grow, supply 7-by-24 uptime and provide 200 vendor circuits,” said Malone, referring to telecommunications circuits that run to various exchanges and customers.

“The other problem was how to manage that growth and the growing complexity of our computing environment and make it as simple and easy as possible to back everything up and switch from one location to another,” he added. Edward Jones relies on a mixed bag of storage boxes, servers and network devices in its data centres, including IBM mainframes, EMC Corp. Symmetrix disk arrays and Network Appliance Inc. direct-attached storage. It also runs Sun Microsystems Inc. and Compaq Computer Corp. servers and Cisco Systems Inc. routers.

The solution for Edward Jones was to use new technology that compresses many Fibre Channel data packets into a single group. Those packets are then wrapped in TCP/IP packets that can be carried over longer distances across a virtual private network.