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New York Life uses storage analytics for upgrades, product evals

New York Life Insurance finds Load DynamiX storage monitoring and analytics to be a big help for evaluating new technologies and upgrading current products.

With more than 12 PB of data under management spanning across SAN, NAS, object and hyper-converged systems from several vendors, testing and evaluating storage are major tasks at New York Life Insurance Co.

David Burman, corporate vice president of enterprise technology at New York Life, last year bought Load DynamiX -- now part of Virtual Instruments -- storage analytics, validation and testing equipment to help lighten his load. Load DynamiX storage analytics helps Burman manage the systems he has and test systems he is considering buying.

New York Life is a mutual life insurance company, with more than $500 billion in assets under management. The firm has corporate data centers in New Jersey and Georgia, with smaller data centers in Florida and Texas. Along with 12 PB of storage, the insurance company has more than 6,000 applications and 3,000 database instances.

Burman said New York Life puts its tier-one open and mainframe storage on EMC VMAX, tier-two block storage on VNX, and uses NetApp for NAS. He also recently purchased EMC VPLEX for block storage virtualization and Nutanix hyper-converged systems.

He is evaluating all-flash arrays, hybrid cloud technologies and searching for an object storage system to replace his EMC Centera. He can use Load DynamiX for all of those projects, as well as stress-test new features and new code upgrades for his production storage.

"We're a life insurance company and pretty conservative," Burman said. "The last thing I want to do is introduce new code that has negative impact on my environment."

In late 2015, New York Life purchased a Load DynamiX Unified Series storage analytics appliance, with Fibre Channel and Ethernet ports, and Load DynamiX Enterprise software. Burman initially bought DynamiX to test NAS gateways, but has since found new uses for it, including evaluating new technologies and testing updates to storage systems in production.

"There are dramatic changes going on in storage technology -- as much as I've ever seen," Burman said. "To have tools so we can be sure of what we're deploying in production was an easy selling point."

Flash, hyper-convergence and cloud are among the new technologies the insurance company has implemented and will likely expand.

"I have flash in every array, but I do not have dedicated flash arrays," Burman said, adding that he is evaluating all-flash arrays from EMC, Pure Storage and Hewlett Packard Enterprise 3PAR.

"One of the reasons I brought in Load DynamiX was to facilitate and expedite evaluation of new technologies," Burman said. "The proof of concept with Load DynamiX was to evaluate NAS technology, but that was only one use case."

Burman said Load DynamiX simplifies the storage analytics process. For instance, instead of building a large server farm, with many virtual machines to test flash storage, he can simulate and store workloads in Load DynamiX. He can also use it to compare his workloads with how they looked months ago.

Burman said he decided not to implement thin provisioning on VNX after Load DyanmiX showed him how it would affect performance. Load DynamiX also helped him identify what tuning was needed when he implemented VPLEX.

"It's for much more than just evaluating platforms," Burman said. "I use it every time we get new code or any new patches from EMC or NetApp. We always test things in our lab first, but we had no good way of stress-testing this. Now, as we load it into our test lab, we not only do functionality testing, but we do stress testing using key workloads that we've loaded into Load DynamiX. It's a regular part of our implementation of new code. We also use it to test new features.

"Analytics is another key part of it. To test flash, I would probably need many virtual machines. Then, to try and collect the data, and process it and do analysis of it would be extremely manual effort. This is simplified. And that's a huge understatement."

Burman worked at EMC for 12 years, but he will buy other vendors' storage when it makes sense. He has a large NetApp NAS installation, and is currently migrating to Clustered Data Ontap from Data Ontap 7 Mode. That migration has given many NetApp customers pause. Burman said New York Life started the migration in late 2015, and he expects to be finished by September. Load DynamiX provides some hand-holding with that project.

"We use it for validation. It gives us the warm and fuzzies," he said. "We can do stress testing of CIFS and NFS performance before we do the cutover for those workloads to Cluster Mode."

Burman said he intends to use Load DyanmiX's new storage analytics virtual appliance to test his hyper-converged boxes. And he is looking for Load DynamiX to add features following its merger with monitoring vendor Virtual Instruments, which makes SAN taps.

"I think there is huge synergy between the two companies," Burman said. "I know that Load DynamiX was looking at network taps to enhance their capture of application workloads to load into their appliances. Utilizing the hardware [and] software technologies that Virtual Instruments already has, I expect, will provide a much more timely and more robust solution.

"Also, collecting real-time workloads that can feed the Load DynamiX appliances will facilitate the tuning of workloads in a nonproduction environment, but using production characteristics."

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