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Private cloud storage set as goal for Independent Bank

Independent Bank wants private storage cloud consisting of bank-owned hardware at hosted environment to lighten staff's "keep the lights on management" duty

The definition of private cloud storage isn't always clear or uniform, but for Independent Bank enterprise architect Tom McKowen, the private cloud means being able to use a hosted provider to manage his bank-owned SAN infrastructure.

The Michigan-based bank chain took what McKowen considers the first step toward that setup by virtualizing the bulk of its servers over the past few years. McKowen said his objective is to take the "keep the lights on" work out of his staff's hands so he can free his people to focus more on core business needs.

"Our end goal is to move our primary foundation out of bank-owned property to a hosted environment," he said. "For a financial institution, there's a lot of legwork around owning your own data. So as we move forward, with storage virtualization and server consolidation virtualization, we'll be able to park our data centers in hosted environments. Today, we do that with our  business continuity site that's now with a hosted provider even though we own the physical servers and storage."

He added: "The end result is we would be fully load balanced and virtualized. So our private cloud would be virtualized storage, virtualized servers and the ability to have that ported to outsourced data centers."

Independent Bank began virtualizing servers in late 2006, with most of the virtualization coming in the 2008 to 2009 timeframe. The bank uses VMware vSphere for applications such as Microsoft SQL and Exchange, file systems and its teller platform, but also uses Citrix for application streaming and virtual desktops. McKowen said the bank has approximately 125 virtual machines and eliminated about 65 servers through virtualization.

Independent Bank uses EMC Corp. Clariion for its primary SAN and has a NetApp FAS2040 iSCSI SAN using primary data deduplication for its Citrix platform. The bank also has an EMC Centera for archiving and content management of compliance-sensitive data, and two EMC Data Domain DD660s for backup. The bank uses EMC RecoverPoint to replicate between its primary and DR sites. McKowen said with Centera and Data Domain, he has removed tape completely from his data protection process.

The bank has two data centers and 115 locations, all in the lower peninsula of Michigan. McKowen said seven sites are campus locations with 50 or more employees.

"We're 70% [server] virtualized today," he said. "We have an end goal -- over the course of two to three years -- to complete our virtualization consolidation, and then we will look at assessing that move to our primary hosted facility."

The next step toward a private cloud for Independent Bank is what McKowen calls storage virtualization. In his case, that consists largely of implementing EMC's FAST and FAST Cache for automated tiering and block-based compression of primary data on Clariion. "That's our goal for next year," he said. "We implemented our Clariion before FAST was well baked out, so this next year we'll add FAST 2 to give us tiering inside our EMC frame. Our goal for 2011 is to have that fully integrated."

He said that would make it easier for the bank to move its storage systems off site and shift the day-to-day management to a hosting provider. However, he doesn't see the bank going to a completely hosted system where the provider owns the hardware.

"With our equipment hosted somewhere else, we'd probably pay for space, power, cooling and remote assistance, and they'd be responsible for maintenance of hardware," he said. "We wouldn't have to drive out to a remote facility to take care of those things. It takes away the day-to-day 'keep the lights on' maintenance and frees our internal resources to devote toward business initiatives"

He added: "It would be bank-owned storage, and I don't see that changing because of the amount of regulatory requirements around it. It becomes almost a mask of support because you have data, you have legacy applications, you have a provider and if you're trying to tie all three, it gets to the point where you're more concerned with relationship management and SLAs being met. To some degree, I don't think a lot of that will change any time soon in the financial industry."


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