United Airlines works storage smarter, not harder

TagmaStore tiering and SANscreen management enables United Airlines to triple the amount of storage managed by each administration staff member.

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When you tell him that on average, storage admins manage between 30TB and 60TB each, Samuel Turner smiles. As United Airlines' manager of storage utility services, he has good reason: His staffers each manage triple that.

“They manage nearly 200TB per person," Turner says, noting that although his staff is pushed, such amounts are do-able, at least for the time being.

Turner, who spoke about United’s storage strategy at the recent Network World IT Roadmap event in Chicago, says he can get away with those numbers because over the past few years United has worked hard to simplify and virtualise its storage environment.

"Now, we’re a utility service. And much like a utility, I work to optimise the storage capacity and resources within the organisation so we can better manage our dollars associated with storage," he says. "We look at the needs not only of the high-end users but also the low-end services and applications with an eye toward trying to centralise, optimise and drive higher efficiencies through reuse of structured services. And that lets us reduce our overall cost per unit of storage for the whole environment."

The flight plan

But getting to this point hasn’t been easy. Like many large organisations, United had a hodgepodge of storage arrays and disks in place as it took advantage of vendors that were cutting each other on price. "The rub is we needed to have resources trained on the nuances for each particular brand we used because they all operate just a bit differently," Turners says.

Faced with such inefficiencies, United made a strategic decision to narrow its pool of storage players to one or two high-level brands. The idea was to reduce costs by simplifying.

Turner says his team gravitated toward EMC and Hitachi Data Systems. Eventually, it decided to go with Hitachi as its main vendor, primarily due to the high-level features inherent in Hitachi’s TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform and its new Tiered Storage Manager (TSM) software.

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