Benfield Motor Group
A storage overhaul has made Benfield Motor Group’s data more secure and easier to manage, and also helped to drive up the performance and responsiveness of its entire IT function.
When Martin Dale, group IT manager at Benfield Motor Group, joined the business in 2007, he was given the key to a datacentre that was “frightening” and not fit to support a growing business, with no data storage or disaster recovery strategy in place.
“It was a bomb site, with computers standing on top of each other and a mess of cables. There was nothing in terms of resilience and a single power supply,” says Dale.
The family-owned business, with 24 dealerships across the UK, had reached the size where it was handling a lot of critical customer data, which was not being adequately protected.
Faced with the choice of either improving on what he had or starting from scratch, Dale decided to scrap the old kit and took the opportunity to deploy his ideal storage and business continuity solution.
“I could have rationalised and improved on what we had, but it is important to look at the bigger picture and at what you do as a company and see what technology is out there that can help you do things better. I investigated what could be done with storage and virtualisation technology,” says Dale.
Working for a family-run business, Dale did not have a large budget, so he took advice from Phoenix Software on how to build an efficient and economical storage infrastructure.
“Phoenix recommended a virtual server environment with a NetApp storage platform to work with VMware technology. The analysis revealed what hardware we would need and the overall financials,” says Dale.
Utilisation of many of the 18 servers was between five and 10 per cent and only two mission-critical applications were adequately protected in the event of a site disaster.
“Phoenix showed us how to consolidate down to two servers. I was sceptical but it really was a straightforward process,” says Dale.
“It would have cost us £40,000 just to sort out the datacentre with rationalisation, but that would not have taken us forward. I thought there must be a better way to spend £40,000 and for an extra £100,000 we could achieve reliable storage, resilience, replication of data offsite, and a backup solution.”
The proposal, which covered two sheets of paper, one consisting of a simple network diagram and the other outlining costs, was given the green light.
“Nobody wants a big pamphlet. By doing the preparation work and analysis, my proposal to the board was simple and direct and they listened,” says Dale.
The migration process in 2008 took only two weeks.
“We spent a fair chunk on consultancy and planning, but money spent on understanding what needs to be done meant the process could be executed at a rollercoaster speed and on a budget,” says Dale.
Benfield now has a standardised NetApp storage system for production and disaster recovery which supports 700 users.
At Benfield’s headquarters in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, storage resources are provided for more than 20 virtual machines running on just two VMware servers connected to the NetApp system via the iSCSI IP-based storage networking standard.
Software from NetApp enables automated data replication to a NetApp system supporting a third VMware server at a hosted disaster recovery site.
“The backup VMware server and another NetApp storage area network (SAN) means that data is replicated within minutes. We wanted offsite replication to do the job right by ensuring our disaster recovery capability,” says Dale.
Aside from peace of mind over data protection, Dale highlights ease of use and time savings. Previously, the company did not have the flexibility to take a half terabyte off one server and put it on another, and he estimates that the new storage infrastructure has cut administration time by half.
“It allows us to get on with our job and focus on being outward facing. We are not nurse-maiding servers, stuffing individual disks into servers or worried about reliability of disks. Our systems just run, and we can support users, not the infrastructure,” he says.
“Now we can instantly provision new servers and storage, and we have improved the utilisation of both sets of assets.”
Another benefit is that data backup is speedier since moving user fileshares and home directories off direct-attached storage to the NetApp infrastructure.
“Increased backup speed means we have better protection of user data,” says Dale.
Preventing downtime is high on the list of the storage system’s achievements as applying service packs and testing upgrade processes does not affect business operations.