Stacking data

Hong Kong-based container transport and logistics company Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) is enjoying great benefits from its Web strategy. According to CIO Ken Chih, the cost of handling a typical customer shipment has fallen from US$294.66 via telephone to US$10.53 via the Web "self-service".

But on the other hand, the Web strategy is creating a major burden for the IT infrastructure.

"Our data has been growing at an rate of 30 percent per year," said Chih. "We need a reliable, flexible and cost-effective information infrastructure to cope with the rapid data growth and emerging business."

OOCL's electronic ordering system, Integrated Regional Information System (IRIS-2), was first developed in 1993. It lowers the cost and raising efficiency in handling shipment orders and builds a foundation for the company to further develop its Web strategy.

Riding on the success of IRIS-2, OOCL introduced CargoSmart in 2000: an independent company that provides customers the ability to manage their shipments with multiple carriers online. About two years ago, the company introduced an online depot operation network, DepotSmart, linking terminals, depots and carriers.

Data tiers

All these operations generate massive amounts of data. The company's storage infrastructure currently handles over 35T bytes of data, said Chih. To manage these applications and enormous amount of data, OOCL started an information life cycle management (ILM) initiative through building a tiered storage infrastructure.

Data is categorized according to the business impact of the applications and its criticality and divided into five tiers.

The first tier consists of data from the company's core application IRIS-2 and its major subsidiary, CargoSmart. The second tier holds data from DepotSmart. Data from the reporting and testing servers are categorized at tier three and data archiving is found in tier four. The last tier consists of tape archiving, which stores the most rarely used data.

To support this tiered infrastructure, OOCL uses different products accordingly. The Symmetrix DMX supports tier one, while Clariion CX supports tiers two and three. For tier four, OOCL uses Clariion's AX100. EMC's software, Symmetrix Remote Data Facility, TimeFinder and SAN Copy, also provides the nondisruptive remote/local replication and data recovery.

Apart from EMC, HP provides some of the tier one applications, as well as the tape archive, said OOCL's assistant general manager, technical services Nelson Ho.

"Multi-tiered infrastructure allows OOCL to get the most value from its information at every point in its life cycle," said Chih. "It also enables us to increase disk utilization to over 30 percent, significantly saving overall storage costs while maintaining lower TCO."

Chih noted the tiered storage allows the disk array to disk array cloning among different tiers, reducing data restore time by 70 percent. The new infrastructure was able to reduce backup time by 50 percent and keep tier one applications available at all time, although a window of eight to 10 hours for backup is still required on weekends.

During a major shutdown or disaster, Ho said applications will be recovered within 48 hours. Data lost for tier one storage can also be reduced by using remote disk replication between the production site and disaster recovery site.

FC vs IP

Using a SAN infrastructure supported by switches from Brocade, OOCL's storage system is able to support its heterogeneous server platform, including HP-UX, Solaris and Windows.

Despite discussions of IP-enabled storage and storage on virtualization, OOCL sticks with "real world" storage. The company's SAN uses the traditional Fibre Channel (FC) to connect the SAN infrastructure rather than an IP-enabled storage using iSCSI.

"Stability and reliability are critical for our storage infrastructure," said Ho. "If applications go down, we can still recover [the data] in a couple of hours, but if data becomes corrupted, we can never recover it. We can't afford to lose any of [our critical data]."

He said FC provides a stable 2G bps connection for its SAN zones. Although iSCSI and storage virtualization provide lower connection costs, Ho said it is still a nascent technology and not mature enough to support enterprise environments. But the company is exploring the technology, using its Window servers running noncritical applications.

"We don't have plans in the near future to expand the use of iSCSI," said Ho. "We are seeing fewer vendors focus on virtualization these days -- I don't think there is enough support."

Having adequate support from vendors is important, noted Ho. That's also the reason why the company use multiple vendors to support its ILM initiative. "Different brands allow us to enjoy different technologies and their flexibility," he said. "At the same time, we can avoid being locked in to a single vendor."

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