Utility storage: Right on the money

MB Financial Bank gains business flexibility with a capacity-on-demand SAN.

MB Financial Bank, one of the largest independent banks in the Chicago area, proclaims it makes banking "betsimpsier": better, simpler, easier. Among the reasons the bank can make such a claim is its use of utility storage, a New Data Center technology.

MB Financial Bank sprang into being in 2001 when two of Chicago's oldest community banks - Manufacturers Bank and MidCity Financial - merged. With this granddaddy of mergers came a financial institution double the size of the old. Problem was, each of the 35 then-operating branches housed its own customer data: That made running a cohesive business a challenge.

Karen Perlman, MB Financial Bank's director of marketing, recounts the difficulties of gathering customer data at that time. "We had to have programs that pulled data from 35 locations. The data was hard to get at, and we couldn't get it with any frequency," she says.

More importantly, the bank was concerned that having data stored throughout the branches might hinder growth, Perlman says.

To fix business issues such as these, the IT group consolidated and centralized its storage operations in a new data center in the Chicago area. The company didn't want to build any old storage-area network (SAN). Instead, with the goal of maximizing flexibility and scalability, it turned to SAN technology to let applications grab storage capacity as they needed it from a common pool within an array, utility-style.

After evaluating technology from EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Xiotech and start-up 3Par, MB Financial Bank settled on 3Par's InServ Storage Server. This tiered-storage array, topped with specialized provisioning software, gives the bank the flexibility and scalability it wants, plus makes storage management and backup easy, says Andy Kukuk, SAN engineer for the bank.

In 2004 the bank had one InServ Storage Server operating at the new data center and had moved a small portion of business data to it. Kukuk's job was to move the rest of the legacy data onto the SAN and to use the 3Par technology to its fullest, he says.

Over six months, Kukuk migrated the remaining application data from the bank branches to the central storage network. Today the InServ array supports about 20 Microsoft database, messaging, file/print, system management and clustering servers, which now support 40 branches. On the SAN, storage capacity has reached 20TB, he says. Data resides in one of two tiers. Frequently accessed business data resides on 147GB drives in the InServ array, while less frequently accessed data is stored on less expensive 300GB drives, he explains. Those drives, he adds, are mainly for file server data.

3Par's Thin Provisioning software lets MB Financial Bank provide storage in utility fashion. Using Thin Provisioning, which works with 3Par's dedicate-on-write capabilities, Kukuk allocates logical capacity to applications based on perceived need. If an application ultimately requires more capacity for its written data, it draws resources as needed from a common pool.

MB Financial Bank began using Thin Provisioning in early 2005, primarily for its smaller storage volumes, Kukuk says. For example, he uses the provisioning software for database volumes and database log files.

Before the company used Thin Provisioning, data filled 45% to 50% of allotted space on the SAN, Kukuk says. With Thin Provisioning providing flexibility in allocating space, the bank now uses about 75% of its SAN capacity: "Thin Provisioning definitely saves us space and gives us better utilization of the storage we have allocated," Kukuk says.

Besides using the provisioning add-on, MB Financial Bank takes advantage of 3Par's Remote Copy facility for backup purposes. Since August, the bank has replicated SAN data to a second InServ array located at its newly opened, remotely located disaster recovery facility. "We replicate all volumes on the production 3Par system to the disaster-recovery site multiple times throughout the day," Kukuk says.

For replication, MB Financial Bank uses what 3Par calls Asynchronous Periodic Mode, in which Remote Copy creates a snapshot of the SAN data and replicates this source volume to the remote site. At set times daily, Remote Copy takes an additional snapshot of the stored data, compares it with the source volume and sends only the changed data to the remote InServ array.

In considering 3Par's Remote Copy option, Kukuk says a big plus was its ability to send the replicated data over MB Financial Bank's IP network via an Ethernet adapter in the array. The alternative, remote backup, would have meant buying a Fibre Channel extender or protocol converter and a dedicated connection to the disaster recovery application. "But this rides on our existing network and didn't cost us anything extra," he adds.

Now, Kukuk says, the storage network is ready for any business change - even another major acquisition.

The business operates far more smoothly, Perlman adds. With the revamped infrastructure, for example, marketing pulls and analyzes customer data daily. "Now I can get timely information on how customers were referred to the bank's services," Perlman says. "I can track, from a marketing standpoint, whether they come because of something they saw in their statement, on a billboard or in the newspaper, or heard on the radio. I can see what's working or not, and that's been very beneficial."

Perhaps she might say, business operations at MB Financial Bank have gotten betsimpsier.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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