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Financial services companies out in front

Nov 29, 20053 mins
Data Center

* Financial firms have some of the most sophisticated data centers

When it comes to running sophisticated data centers, financial-services firms are front and center.

Financial firms have the trifecta of drivers: money (financial firms spend substantially more of their annual revenue on IT than most other organizations), massive volumes of data, and a recognized requirement for making sure that data is highly accurate and optimally available.

So what are financial services firms up to in the data center area? We asked. This past summer, Nemertes Research worked with the Wall St. Technology Association to benchmark the practices of the WSTA’s members, which include some of the largest and most sophisticated financial firms in the world.

In a nutshell, financial firms are aggressive about deploying cutting-edge technology, including storage and compute virtualization; disciplined about consolidation; and zealous about business-continuity planning and disaster recovery. Some specifics:

* Culturally, 50% of benchmark participants described themselves as “aggressive,” and another 14% described themselves as “bleeding edge” when it comes to technology deployment. This is more important than it might sound, since a company’s “tech culture” is a key determinant of the business value a firm obtains from IT. More aggressive companies deploy technology earlier in the lifecycle, and thus reap benefits their competitors don’t (though admittedly at a greater cost).

* Financial firms are standouts when it comes to virtualization. The majority deploy storage-area networks (63%) or network-attached storage (50%), and most do both. Moreover, they’ve generally rolled out compute-virtualization products like EMC’s VMware, and are among the 10% of companies that Nemertes has benchmarked that are test-driving grid computing.

* Benchmark participants are also sophisticated when it comes to data center organization and process. Most have consolidated data centers down to two to three; if there are two, they’re synchronously replicated to serve as hot backups – if three, the third typically replicates asynchronously with the other two. And they’re disciplined about disaster-recovery testing, with 75% testing multiple times per year.

* The rigor makes sense, as uptime requirements for financial firms are among the highest in the industry. Fifty percent say they’re “zero-downtime” enterprises, meaning the data centers can’t go down anytime, for any reason, ever – a condition the folks at IBM like to call “extreme availability.”

Even if they’re not under the same constraints as financial firms, companies in other industries can pick up a few pointers from these insights. First, you should match your data center technology deployment to your overall “IT culture.” Assess both compute virtualization (VMware and grid) and storage virtualization (SAN, NAS, and associated management). Make sure you fully understand your organization’s requirements for downtime, and match your redundancy architecture and business continuity/disaster recovery practices to those requirements.