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First American uses virtualization, quake technology to bolster business

Quoting ComputerWorld

First American Corp. in Santa Ana, Calif., is relying on data center virtualization technologies to provide quick disaster recovery in the event of an earthquake.

 

The 22,000-square-foot data center, nearly two years old, is built on 30 columns incorporated with vulcanized rubber layers that work as seismic isolators designed to withstand an 8.5-magnitude earthquake. The isolators allow the entire structure to sway 24 inches in any direction horizontally, according to a company spokeswoman.

 

First American offered reporters a tour of its earthquake-hardened data center here yesterday, which will be matched soon by another near Dallas.

 

But even if the building were somehow destroyed, First American could depend on data center virtualization technologies to provide disaster recovery with the Dallas data center, officials said.

 

Virtualization for First American has resulted from a comprehensive $100 million IT upgrade first planned in 2004, which began with a data center consolidation and has led to voice-over-IP technology and other changes, said Evan Jafa, chief technology officer of First American. The company had $8.5 billion in revenues in 2006, and provides business information to mortgage bankers and consumers on a range of topics.

 

Jafa estimated that the $100 million spent for consolidation and related technologies will be paid off by 2008 because of greater efficiencies in server utilization, lower long-distance costs with the use of VoIP, and cost reductions in many other areas.

 

Distributed systems across 2,100 global offices and 75 business units were consolidated into the two data centers, meaning there are now 4,500 servers in both locations, he said. About 1,200 of those are virtualized, Jafa said, which means they can be used for a range of applications and functions, instead of being dedicated for one specific purpose, which was traditionally the case.

 

The data center being built outside of Dallas will replace one in the city of Dallas and will also be equipped with virtual servers. If either site went down, both would be backed up with generators and other safeguards, but data could be instantly shipped to virtualized servers.

 

The virtualization process also means First American can adapt processes faster. Jafa said most of the networking upgrades were provided by Cisco Systems Inc., which is holding its annual Networkers Conference in nearby Anaheim, Calif., this week.

 

He said server utilization rates of 10% to 25% can be raised to more than 50% with virtualization. As a result of the efficiencies, the company can begin to plan its data needs in the future according to average usage, not peak usage, because it could rely on an unused pool of virtual servers. In fact, Jafa said, First American would not rule out using a third party for added server capacity, as suggested by some grid computing advocates.

 

"We're really shooting for a utility [computing] model for our customers," he said.

 

Cisco announced a data center virtualization management product yesterday called VFrame Data Center, which Jafa said First American will look at carefully.

 

"Today, there's a major gap in managing virtualization environments," he said. But even if VFrame could help manage all the networking, storage and application provisioning functions in a data center, as proposed, companies using it must still get the IT workers in all disciplines to work together, he said.

 

"Are the storage guys OK with the networking guys setting up their servers?" he asked.

 

Rick McGouth, vice president of telecommunications services for First American, agreed that a cultural change is in store for any business working toward a virtual data center. "IT has to be like a business to break down the resistance," he said.

 

McGouth said the data center consolidation and adoption of VoIP technology have so far resulted in 8,000 VoIP phones being installed, while hundreds of T1 lines were replaced by broadband Ethernet connections, fully redundant and from redundant carriers.

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Published Friday, July 27, 2007 6:09 AM by David Marshall
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