Suncorp partners with NetApp to transform IT storage platform

Sydney, Australia - October 26, 2010 - The Suncorp Group is a leading trans-Tasman diversified financial services company. It is one of Australia's top-25 listed companies and employs around 16,000 people in Australia and New Zealand.

The group provides insurance, banking, and wealth management (including superannuation) products and services, predominantly to retail customers and small to medium-sized businesses.

Suncorp's general insurance business is one of Australia's largest, having grown significantly through a series of corporate transactions. The most recent of these, the acquisition of Promina Group in 2007, brought numerous well-known insurance brands such as AAMI, Apia, Vero and Shannons into the Group.

The challenge
Suncorp acquired Promina to diversify its general insurance and financial services businesses. Like Suncorp, Promina had grown its business through a series of acquisitions. Merging the business operations of both companies created a significant IT challenge. It involved a heterogeneous environment of legacy technologies, including five different storage vendors. This created a complex, inefficient data centre environment which did not maximise value or service levels to the business, and included disparate physical locations.

As a result, Suncorp partnered with NetApp to help transform the company's data management and storage processes and procedures and implement best practices by leveraging NetApp's internal culture towards technological improvement.

Suncorp's storage was growing exponentially each year - particularly where unstructured data was concerned - and storage costs were doubling each year. Although the company had implemented virtualization across its data centre environment, the Promina merger prevented Suncorp from gaining maximum value, performance or reliability. Suncorp's goal was to drive down costs by 40 percent over a four-year period.

Paul Cameron, Head of Business Technology Enterprise Services, said, "Due to the number of challenges our legacy environment presented, we decided that the best approach would be to take things from scratch and implement total transformation. Therefore, we were looking for a technology partner who could provide us with a complete, flexible solution that would address all the problems we had simultaneously, as well as meet our specific deliverables of driving costs and inefficiencies out of the business."

The solution
Suncorp engaged NetApp as one of its key partners, after learning how NetApp helped other Australian businesses transform their data management strategies.

Suncorp undertook a massive business technology transformation program which would ultimately see seven disparate data centres consolidated to two locations in a Dynamic Data Centre environment. As part of this solution, NetApp collaborated with Cisco and VMware to enhance their virtualization architectures, via a secure, multi-tenanted design.

Secure multi-tenancy guarantees different business applications such as HR profiles, finance records and customer information always remain isolated, whilst addressing the issue of security in a cloud-based environment.

Mr Cameron said, "A major factor in agreeing to move to a dynamic data centre and a private cloud was ensuring the security of data and applications during migration to shared server, network and storage resources. The NetApp-Cisco-VMware secure multi-tenancy solution provided that guarantee and made moving to a shared services-based architecture, and the related benefits, a reality."

Suncorp's storage transformation covered five key areas:

  • The introduction of a shared storage framework, which involves five processes:
    • Provisioning
    • Activation
    • Solution Architecture
    • Asset Management
    • Operational Management
  • Data migration from an existing Fibre Channel environment to an IP-SAN Environment
  • Upgrading Collaboration platforms to Microsoft® Exchange 2007
  • File server consolidation including traditional C-Drive data becoming centralised
  • Backup and recovery.

The core of Suncorp's new storage environment was based on NetApp's Dynamic Data Centre blueprint. This allowed Suncorp to further categorise its business applications. It also allowed the company to channel all mainstream applications and software platforms to a dedicated shared storage platform whilst enabling users to access and share data from any Suncorp office or via the internet from home.

Platforms included Oracle® applications and databases, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL® Server and applications sitting on VMware® ESX and vSphere. It has also moved its new claims platform and some of its data warehousing requirements to the Dynamic Data Centre. Suncorp consolidated data from many locations, including the desktop, into two primary data centre environments: one production and one disaster-recovery, over two sites. This accounts for more than 70% of Suncorp's information.

Mr Cameron said, "Suncorp had already gained a level of comfort around what virtualization could offer. We were an early adopter and wanted to see how the virtualization of our data through NetApp could help us achieve greater efficiencies."

As part of this process, Suncorp adopted an Internet Protocol Storage Area Network
(IP SAN) to replace the legacy storage platforms. This included migrating over 1,500 virtual machines from the Fibre Channel SAN, as well as virtualizing a further 1,500 physical machines.

The benefits
The Dynamic Data Centre environment provided Suncorp with multiple business benefits, including enhanced processes and procedures to increase efficiency and drive down costs, all within a flexible infrastructure, to support future business growth.

Mr Cameron said, "Our objective going into this project was to reduce the number of vendors in our IT environment, leading to reduced complexity and lower costs.

"Our specific TCO goal was to reduce our storage costs by 40% over four years.
Technically this transformation challenge was equivalent to a heart and lung transplant, performed simultaneously while merging the Suncorp and Promina operational businesses. We achieved that goal in just 18 months via a flexible, shared storage platform which we migrated to seamlessly."

In addition to the cost savings and efficiency improvements, Suncorp has also experienced a significant cultural shift as a result of the transformation project.

Paul Cameron continued, "Working with NetApp on our IT transformation showed us how companies can work effectively in a changing environment, while still providing the best possible outcome. As a result, we have embedded a culture within Suncorp: embrace and encourage change to nurture a dynamic, agile business."

Through the joint design involving the NetApp, Cisco and VMware solutions, Suncorp benefits from the certainty that, even though network fabric, virtual servers and data storage resources are shared, the applications and data maintain confidentiality.

This provides a simplified, secure, unified architecture and greater business agility at a virtualization rate of 95 percent for its production data centre alone.

Suncorp currently runs its data centres on a completely lights-out basis, remotely administering the data centre environment. "We can now separate people from the technology and our IT team doesn't have to be located at the data centre. With the right mix of technologies including those from NetApp, we have been able to manage our data centres more effectively," said Mr Cameron.

"NetApp, Cisco, and VMware have demonstrated the seamless integration of their technologies, which have created a best-practice design for our storage infrastructure through the use of virtualization. We have created one of the world's biggest network file system implementations on VMware, allowing Suncorp to achieve greater storage efficiency.

"NetApp demonstrated the concept of standardisation across Suncorp's storage, network and hosting platforms and delivered using a range of well documented Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes. NetApp showed a willingness to make this transformation program work from day one and worked with us to resolve our storage and data lifecycle challenge as part of a greater business challenge.

"All of these factors benefit our business by allowing us to be more flexible. We can more rapidly take advantage of new business opportunities and respond faster and more consistently to market demands," Mr Cameron said.

A few significant technical results Suncorp has recognised since the implementation of the transformation storage program:

  • 400 terabytes of storage reclaimed from the production environment due to thin provisioning
  • Pre-provisioning of storage reduced from 12 weeks to one week
  • Removed desktop storage from 20,000 users, now centralised on NetApp architecture
  • Significantly improved service levels and assurance for data restoration (data recall attempt failures reduced from 40% to only 4%)
  • Fast and simple reallocation of resources through virtualization
  • Minimised storage space required through deduplication
  • Significant reduction in hardware, saving money on data management, power consumption, cooling requirements and physical space required.

Moreover, Suncorp has implemented a fully supported secure multi-tenancy solution that is now marketed globally by NetApp-Cisco-VMware promoting seamless integration and mutual support.

Next steps
As further business processes across Suncorp are standardised, rationalised and consolidated, it presents continued virtualization infrastructure opportunities that will deliver capability to new internal and external users of the Suncorp Group's business systems.

Mr Cameron concluded, "One of our biggest challenges now is not how to become more efficient in the data centre, but driving these new virtualized platforms and applications to improve the customer experience."

Solution components

  • NetApp FAS 6000, 3000 and 2000 platforms,
  • NetApp SnapManager® for Exchange, SQL, SharePoint®, Oracle and Virtual
  • Infrastructure.
  • NetApp SnapDrive®
  • NetApp MultiStore®
  • NetApp FlexClone®
  • NetApp Operations Manager
  • NetApp Protection Manager
  • NetApp SnapVault (Backup & Archive)
  • NetApp SnapMirror
  • NetApp SnapRestore
  • Thin Provisioning
  • Deduplication
  • NearStore
  • CIFS 1.0
  • NFS v3
  • FCP
  • iSCSI

Media Contact:
Rachel York
Max Australia
+61 29469 5740