Customer overview

One of Europe’s largest supermarket chains had been searching for years for the right IT solution to enable its delivery of a superior customer shopping experience. It tried several solutions over the years, but the chain never fully realized its IT potential. Recently, the company discovered, bought and implemented SvSAN, a virtual SAN solution from StorMagic, and has realized a tremendous return on investment in a short time in production. It feels now it finally has the optimal solution in place for its distributed IT infrastructure.

Customer challenge

This supermarket chain has been in business for about 55 years, was the first company to open a supermarket in Italy, employs about 20,000 people today and has total annual revenues of about €6.8 billion. One of its many goals is to provide efficient and reliable services to customers in order to ensure the best possible shopping experience.

To deliver on this, it determined that it requires a technology infrastructure that is simple, efficient, fully redundant, flexible and cost-effective. This infrastructure has to be able to accommodate distributed IT services in various stores and provide reliability and high availability that ensure smooth running of operations. High performance is also crucial to support the needs of its various applications. In addition, its IT staff needs to be able to manage it in a centralized fashion, and have access to superior support when needed.

Back in 2006, the company began to explore and implement flexible and reliable IT services to build out its desired infrastructure. It entered into an agreement with VMware®, purchased a bare minimum of hardware from HP to support the virtualization effort and began to virtualize its point-of-sale (POS) infrastructure. But at the beginning – and for a few years after – it found that its return on investment was limited because the only solutions certified by VMware to get the benefits of high availability and vMotion were made with a storage area network (SAN) and Fibre Channel (FC) protocol.

As new protocols were introduced, and VMware matured, the company noticed some small results improvements. But it discovered it had fundamental issues achieving its goals with VMware for two reasons. First, all of the chain’s tested and approved solutions had to be adapted because VMware was designed for a very different set of enterprise environments than its retail-oriented, remote-site nature. In addition, the company found that the SAN it purchased and deployed was oversized, unjustifiably complex and still a single point of failure.

Despite these challenges, the company pressed on because it knew it could do better and was confident it would find a solution on the market that would enable their success. Every three years, during technological reviews, IT employees devoted considerable amounts of time searching for and trying out virtual storage appliance (VSA) solutions available in the market. They felt the type of load and the amount of disk space required to run their point-of-sale applications would be perfectly compatible with the capabilities provided by a single server X86 solution, and that a well-designed VSA could ensure full redundancy of all infrastructure without making it any more complicated.

Several VSAs were evaluated, such as those from vendors like LeftHand (now HP StoreVirtual), FalconStor and VMware, but the employees found that none of those solutions were able to deliver in their type of IT environment and produce results and benefits above and beyond its existing infrastructure solution. So the company chose to continue with its legacy solution, despite its shortcomings.

The solution

At the end of 2012, during the IT team’s latest search for new possible VSAs, it found StorMagic and SvSAN. They carefully evaluated the solution in its laboratories and were immediately convinced of its legitimacy and value. SvSAN enabled the team to implement the solution using only two servers, eliminating the need for a third witness at each point of sale. SvSAN delivered a centralized management model leveraging integration with VMware vCenter to ensure the infrastructure would be simple and scalable enough for the company’s highly distributed environment. Also, deploying SvSAN was simple and automated, enabling IT staff to handle the job easily without involving any storage specialists. As a result, they chose to test SvSAN in 10 stores for a couple of months.

At the same time, the team negotiated with the company’s hardware suppliers to accommodate the new configuration the solution required and go from three devices (two servers and one SAN) to two – a significant hardware savings that SvSAN enables. After negotiations were complete, they produced a business case and proved to the chain’s CIO and CTO that they would see an immediate return on investment with SvSAN instead of its legacy solution. The new solution would enable the efficient, fully redundant, flexible and cost-effective environment the company required. The single-point-of-failure environment it had been operating in would be eliminated while satisfying design and operational goals and performing better than traditional hardware solutions. Centralized deployment and management of the entire infrastructure would be enabled, and updates integrated without any operational disruption.

In addition, within four years, the SvSAN solution and new hardware configuration would save the company €1 million due to lower purchase costs and energy savings. Based on these figures and the results from the in-store tests, approvals were quickly granted for the purchase and deployment of SvSAN across the chain’s infrastructure.

Deployment & integration

As of the end of October 2013, 30 of the chain’s stores have SvSAN in production and are served by the new IT infrastructure it enables. In 2014, 35 more stores will come online with SvSAN, and 35-40 more stores will go into production in each successive year. In the meantime, the company is using SSD technology in place of conventional discs to speed the adoption of StorMagic in other corporate IT environments.

Additionally, the company is re-thinking how it delivers back-end storage for particular applications and use cases using software solutions instead of hardware. For example, whenever it needs high performance (loads such as Oracle) spread across geographic locations or available storage in environments that it wants to isolate from its datacenter infrastructure, IT employees now deploy StorMagic’s SvSAN equipped with SSD discs. This can be done instead of deploying much more expensive “traditional” solutions such as NetApp MetroCluster or other synchronous replication solutions between two traditional storage systems, as the company had been doing for years. The first of these SvSAN/SSD deployments is now live, and supports the company’s meat packing operation. It has already delivered a six-fold improvement in application efficiency with no single point of failure in the environment, and is expected to also deliver these and additional results with the added benefit of consolidating four servers to two. This will allow the company to re-allocate dollars from purchasing additional servers to tackling other pressing business priorities.

Throughout the process, the company’s IT team has stated that StorMagic’s technical support is superior to other IT vendors and fantastic in all aspects. They even joke that they are sincerely grateful to StorMagic for developing such a great software solution, because it will save them the physical labor that goes along with transporting and installing a SAN solution into the small space where their store datacenters are located.