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Fidelity drops Microsoft Cluster Server for file serving

Jo Maitland, Senior Executive Editor
Financial services giant Fidelity Investments is phasing out its use of Microsoft Corp. Cluster Server for file serving and is switching to startup PolyServe Inc.'s cluster file system software instead, SearchStorage.com

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The decision was driven by the need to consolidate the number of servers it runs to save on maintenance and administration costs. The firm has 40 Windows file and print servers, which it expects to reduce by eight initially.

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"PolyServe allows all the nodes to be active so you can therefore scale back on the number of servers you need," said Keith Shinn, vice president of IT operations at Fidelity. In IT lingo, this is referred to as active/active clustering versus the architecture Microsoft Cluster Server employs, known as active/passive clustering. In this scenario, the passive or redundant server only kicks in when the active one fails. PolyServe's File Serving Solution provides high-availability failover but also allows users to make use of the "redundant" server.

Microsoft's Distributed File System has problems, too, according to Shinn. "It can time-out and switch you to another server so you get data availability issues … PolyServe's clustered file system makes the data available on both nodes simultaneously."

Fidelity is looking at potentially using PolyServe for SQL Server databases and Linux applications, and is in discussions with the startup on how its product could work with EMC's VMware server virtualization software. Shinn proposed the idea of having all VMware images on a blade sharing the same file system. "You would no longer have to provision to each server; just to the whole thing and it would eliminate the need for a volume manager," he said.

In the latest version of File Serving Solution, PolyServe introduced a cluster volume manager feature that allows users to create pools of storage that can be carved up for the file system. According to Shinn, it won't compete with Veritas Software Inc.'s Volume Manager as it only works with file data and doesn't provide path failover. Fidelity uses Veritas and IBM cluster file systems for AIX and Solaris.

Shinn's only criticism of PolyServe's software at this point is its lack of block-level snapshotting. "They are behind on this," he said.

PolyServe's success at Fidelity is an important benchmark for the company as the financial services firm is a major storage user. It has more than a petabyte of storage predominantly on EMC Corp., DMX and IBM Shark systems and has Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), Sun Microsystems Inc. and Network Appliance Inc. storage in the mix, too. The company's information systems group receives around 600 requests for storage allocation per month and is able to turn these demands around in two days, according to Shinn.

PolyServe appears to be on a roll right now. The company recently announced a deal with HP under which the server manufacturer will OEM PolyServe's cluster file system and integrate it into the HP Enterprise File Services Clustered Gateway.

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