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Case Study: Credit card company masters storage

Improving time to market. Lowering costs. Enhancing reliability. Finally being able to share 320TB of data across applications: Priceless. At least that's the way President of MasterCard Global Technology and Operations Jerry McElhatton sees the result of his enterprise storage strategy.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Improving time to market. Lowering costs. Enhancing reliability. Finally being able to share 320 terabytes (TB) of data across applications. Priceless. At least, that's the way it seems to Jerry McElhatton, president of global technology and operations for MasterCard Inc., when he considers the results of his enterprise storage strategy.

One of the biggest credit card companies in the world, MasterCard operates in 210 countries, handles an average of $6 billion transfers a day, and did $1.25 trillion worth of transactions in 2002. So how does a company that has 320 TB of data build its storage infrastructure? MasterCard's McElhatton shared the company's approach at the Storage Networking World Fall 2003 conference.

He said MasterCard strives to implement robust, reliable and cost-effective solutions that are state of the art and strategic. MasterCard reached this mammoth goal after completing three major phases over four years, without experiencing any downtime.

Phase one: Implement tactical solutions

MasterCard's challenge is akin to IT problems facing many other companies. The firm had experienced significant server expansion and, using direct-attached storage (DAS), it wasn't making good use of its storage capacity. MasterCard had a server for each of its 45 applications, and the firm added memory and processors to some servers while leaving plenty of free space on others. It needed to improve time to market, lower costs, enhance reliability and share data across applications. And, with only seven dedicated people on its storage team, it had limited manpower.

The first phase of the project -- to implement tactical solutions -- started four years ago with an initial evaluation. It progressed to a consolidation of the company's applications -- the firm went from 45 servers to eight larger servers. The company worked to meet the demands for growth in the near term and identified requirements for the future. For expansion purposes, the firm evaluated new technologies, but they didn't have the reliability MasterCard needed.

Instead, the firm chose to use vendor-neutral, disk-only products, because, as McElhatton pointed out, "we never employ technology for technology's sake."

Phase two: Refresh technology, build islands

During phase two, MasterCard took steps to employ new technology and update old technology. It implemented storage area network (SAN) software and deployed SAN islands. According to McElhatton, SAN technology let the company "make smarter and more efficient use of storage technology." Also essential to phase two was the process of updating standards and procedures, and the company also deployed software to replace server-based solutions.

Phase three: Bridge islands, realize vision

In phase three, MasterCard saw its storage vision come to life. McElhatton's team bridged its SAN islands and realized cross-platform data sharing while eliminating the need to add disks to individual servers. They were now able to access software from anywhere, at any time. It was at this point that MasterCard was finally able to evaluate and implement a disaster recovery plan. MasterCard set up a remote co-processing center and relocated its data center without a second of downtime.

Lessons learned

The overhaul of MasterCard's storage infrastructure took four years, but the improvements and lessons learned along the way really paid off. McElhatton said MasterCard decreased the backup window on one of its most critical databases from 15 hours to 25 minutes and, while the complexity of the network increased, the company cut load times, slashed time to market and eliminated application outages. To be sure the company won't have any downtime, MasterCard pulls the plug on its systems twice a year.

On the new network, MasterCard's data warehouse allows it to store four years of transactional data and make it available to customers so they can use the information. Now they can perform data mining, even on a global scale, with the ability to analyze worldwide trends.

What was key to its success? MasterCard partnered with business managers throughout the company to understand the needs of each department. It set storage policies and took a tiered approach -- deciding what to store, for how long, and where, based on the criticality of the data.

Perhaps most important, instead of choosing vendors to buy products from, MasterCard chooses long-term partners. The company made commitments to product lines, choosing EMC Corp. for SAN and network-attached storage (NAS) products and IBM for virtual tape technology. And MasterCard expects the selected vendors to be with the company every step of the way, from implementation to long-term troubleshooting.

All of MasterCard's planning, testing and commitment to the technology and products it uses paid off in the form of a scalable, cost-effective and reliable storage infrastructure. So reliable, in fact, that McElhatton claims that "there are three things in life that are guaranteed -- death, taxes, and the reliability of MasterCard's data processing."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kevin Komiega, News Editor

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