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Commerx Delivers a Failure-Proof SAN

Commerx Delivers a Failure-Proof SAN for Industrial Alliance Securities

At A Glance

The Organization

  • Industrial Alliance Securities, Inc. offers brokerage services throughout Canada and the United States.  The company provides financial products including bank acceptances, guaranteed investment certificates, mutual funds, stocks, treasury bills, fixed-income securities, and options.

The Challenge

  • Provide data centre redundancy and failover to maximize business continuity, avoid business interruption, and facilitate technology maintenance and upgrades.

The Commerx Solution

  • Deploy HP Lefthand SAN storage solutions in each data centre using VMware virtualization software and supporting 40 virtual machines.

The Result

  • Greater reliability and availability, as proven by successfully riding out a regional power failure without interrupting operations.

Business Situation

Industrial Alliance Securities (IAS) started its business in 2002.  Since then it has expanded its retail network throughout Canada, from Nova Scotia to Vancouver.  Mainly concentrated in Quebec and Ontario, IAS now provides financial services to its clients through a network of approximately 200 financial advisors.  That growth created a need for more reliable IT systems to support service delivery. 

IAS Information Technology Direct, Vlad Hanganu, oversees the company’s two data centres, located 35km apart in the Montreal region.  “We had dedundancy in our data centres,” he recalled, “but our disaster recovery plan was not as solid as it could have been.  We realized that virtualizing the data centres would allow us to move virtual machines from one location to the other in the event of trouble, and let us perform maintenance on one data centre, while the other remained up and running.  That would help us strengthen the reliability of the system and make it less prone to outages.”

The Solution

Hanganu called Commerx Computer Systems for help making IAS’s two data centres work together.  Commerx “The Infrastructure Expert” is based in Mississauga, Ontario, and dedicated to providing expertise that helps customers put the right pieces together to achieve success in any IT project.  Among its areas of specialization, Commerx provides extensive service in the areas of virtualization, storage, and business continuity – each of which would be key to unifying IAS’s two IT locations. 

Hanganu said his selection was made easier still by the reputation of Commerx Chief Technical Architect, Mihai Lazar.  “I’ve known Mihai for a long time and I was familiar with his experience with HP,” he said, “so I would trust Mihai for a technical solution any time.”

Lazar and the Commerx team proposed a virtualization solution using VMware software running on HP servers and a new HP Lefthand networking solution.  “I explained the topography and layout of our network, and in less than a week, Mihai had a proposal ready,” Hanganu said.

Featuring a multi-tiered HP Lefthand P4500 Multi-Site SAN Solution with two nodes on each site, the proposal called for splitting storage evenly between the two data centres.  The plan also included two VMware ESX Hosts/Servers on each site, running VMware 4.1 software supporting a total of nearly 40 different virtual machines, divided between production operations, testing and development.

The production machines would be utilized to support applications including accounting, compliance, commission calculations, Blackberry and Microsoft Exchange servers, and access to more than two million documents stored online and served to investment advisors.  Virtualization allows these services to run in either data centre, and even switch seamlessly between them whenever necessary. 

The Results

From start to finish, Hanganu said, the entire project took less than two months.  “Half of the environment was set up by Mihai and myself, and I was able to do the other half myself based on that experience and transfer of knowledge from Mihai,” he said.  “This translated into an economical solution for us because we did not have to pay consultants to perform half of the work.”

The project was performed at just the right moment to help facilitate IAS’s growth.  “Now that we’re virtual, we have plenty of expansion space in our cabinets, and the power consumption dropped by 40%,” Hanganu reported.  “The environment is way easier to monitor and the backups are faster with the Veeam solutions suggested by Commerx.”

Virtualizing systems also proved surprisingly easy.  “We started virtualizing one machine after another, just virtualizing and making sure machines became virtual correctly,” Hanganu said.  “And because Commerx analyzed the project before we starte3d and did all the work according to the rules of system administration, it all went according to plan.  I wish all my projects were like this.”

With the new system in place, IAS’s IT operations are much more reliable and resistant to disruption.  Because the storage area network resides virtually in two locations simultaneously, it can ride through an outage in one data centre with no interruptions to users and applications.

Hanganu can also move virtual machines from one data centre to the other with complete transparency, clearing the way for maintenance or upgrades whenever they are needed.  The system also allows IAS to establish disaster recover locations virtually anywhere they choose.  “There’s no geographical boundaries for the system,” Hanganu said.  “We can establish a DR site in Toronto or elsewhere in the time it takes to move servers and set up the new location.”

The virtualized system’s value has already been proven in a real-world incident.  When a localized power system failure brought down one of the two data centres, the storage area network automatically switched over to the other location and continued operations. 

“I sleep well because I know the solution works,” Hanganu observed.  “Now I know for sure that if something happens, our systems will remain available.  Very few companies can say they have a solution like that in place.”

The Partnership

With the new, virtualization-based SAN in service as IAS’s two data centres, Hanganu has begun planning for additional enhancements.  Although the two data centres are currently running at approximately 50 percent loads – a satisfactory figure for assuring failover capacity – the company’s continuing growth suggests a need for more servers and storage in the future.  He also anticipates a transition for VMware Version 5 in the coming year.

No matter what need arises next, Hanganu said he’s sure to call Commerx for IT support and services.  “This is one of the biggest projects we’ve been involved in, and it has been the fastest and smoothest ever,” he said.  “After the experience we’ve had, I’m certain we would come back and use Commerx for a future project.”

About Commerx

Commerx Computer Systems, Inc. was founded in 1984 to service the HP computing base with equipment and maintenance services.  Today, Commerx designs and develops virtualization solutions for large, medium and small enterprise clients, plus a wide variety of service providers.  Our solutions include infrastructure design and implementation, application delivery and business continuity planning, backup and recover and information security.

Our team represents the finest computing experts available.  Our experience in architecture and in leading the implementation of some of the most creative and innovative solutions available is unparalleled.  These solutions include complex network design, process improvement, data centre design, proactive infrastructure monitoring and support, cloud readiness and managed services.

As emerging technologies appear, our customers depend upon us to evaluate and recommend those solutions that are most beneficial to their business and help them gain a competitive advantage, while improving service levels to their own customers.  During the past 30 years, Commerx Computer Systems has done business with over 1000 customers across Canada and the United States, including customers from the traditional SMB marketplace, as well as from the Fortune 100.

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