Customer Case Study – United Drug | Comsys

Background and Business Requirements

United Drug is a leading international healthcare services provider with their Irish headquarters in Citywest, Dublin. The company employs 4,600 employees worldwide across 26 sites – Ireland, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Hong Kong with group revenues of circa €2Bn.

A market leading pharmaceutical wholesaler in Ireland; the group business units span the health care supply chain from sales and marketing, wholesale, distribution, packaging and homecare services.

The Storage Journey – 2003 to present

The company faced many challenges in the storage environment from a commercial and technical perspective. As the business grew they faced the increased costs of managing the storage infrastructure and a number of technical challenges also. Like many large organisations they had to contend with things like managing a heterogeneous environment and the legacy direct attached storage that was unable to meet performance and scalability requirements.

Initially, much of these issues were resolved by investing in an EMC CLARiiON SAN, which was chosen as the platform to meet the needs of performance, scalability and data management.

As United Drug expanded and continued to acquire additional businesses, the IT function was faced with new challenges around managing the steep data volume growth. In addition to the technical integration and data growth problems, they were also faced with managing rising costs and finding a solution that would meet their requirement for a wider data recovery solution.

United Drug chose an EMC Celerra NS20unified storage platform. The Celerra NS20 unified platform was chosen for recovery and flexibility with MirrorView Synchronous replication between the two SANs. Each site was using tiered storage with a mixture of different disk technologies in place; from 15K, 10K to SATA.

Further expansion in the business over the years and standardisation of applications led to more challenges for the storage infrastructure as did the need to handle ever more data growth. In particular, issues around a high IOPS requirement, multiple storage tiers and simply not having adequate disk space were a regular concern.

Finally there was the integration of SAN requirements in the Northern Ireland facilities and the need to enable offsite replication from the Dublin site. The answer to these requirements was found in the form of an EMC Celerra NS480 storage solution in the two Dublin sites, with 25TB of usable storage.

To meet the requirement for remote replication between the Dublin and Belfast sites, an EMC Celerra NS120 and RecoverPoint was utilised. There was a NS120 located in two NI facilities with Mirror View between them. Inter site replication between Dublin and Maryland was achieved using Recoverpoint Appliances.

Server Environment – From Cluster to Cloud

As the IT infrastructure has developed over the years, virtualisation technology has become vitally important to United Drug to deliver benefits of reduced costs, flexibility and making IT more manageable. The challenges in the server environment included business expansion leading to server sprawl with all the cost and management overhead typical of these large server environments.

Virtualisation of servers proved to be a highly beneficial process and in the initial stages the business made extensive use of technology such as VMware Server and Microsoft Virtual Server. The drive to use virtualisation technology was accelerated by the need for increasing the availability required to support business needs. The pressure to reduce IT costs and the increase the efficient use of IT assets all contributed to the business utilising the benefits of virtualisation technology.

Initially Microsoft Hyper-V was used for virtualisation but early in 2010 a decision to utilise VMware as the virtualisation standard for the future was taken. From a technical perspective the solution involved two VMware high availability clusters, one per data centre, with five hosts per data centre. Both NFS & FC storage were used, with 90 virtual machines, 96 cores, 256 GB RAM and 7TB of data.

The EMC Celerra platform proved to be ideal for vSphere integration. By using technology such as compression/de-duplication on low I/O machines and VMware Data Recovery for de-duplicated backups; approximately 1TB of disk space was saved.

Over the past 12-18 months, the business has further developed the IT infrastructure as a platform to enable centralisation and standardisation of IT applications. As the business changes there is a greater need for central IT control but geographically dispersed usage.

As United Drug works towards enabling the “Private Cloud” infrastructure; the virtualised IT environment now consists of:

• Three virtual data centres with 20+ Physical Hosts
• 3 Storage Tiers, FC & NFS
• 250+ VMs, 192+ cores, 768GB+ RAM, 25TB+ data
• (Hardware) IaaS Management Platform

The IT infrastructure is now at the stage of implementing a chargeback & service catalogue. The Exchange, SharePoint 2010 and other environments are already deployed on this architecture.

Comsys Managing Director, Ben McGahon said, “United Drug has been at the forefront of adapting new technologies from EMC and VMware over the past six years. Comsys have worked very closely with United Drug and the respective vendors to keep their IT infrastructure evolving in line with the business requirements. We see many other customers going through some broadly similar changes in terms of their storage and server environments. We feel the United Drug experience is very useful to highlight as an innovator in this area.”

Tim Buckley, Group IT Director for United Drug said, “Over the years we have seen the demands on the IT department change as the business requirements changed. We have evolved from simply keeping up with the demands of ever greater storage and server needs, through a process of aligning IT with the business to be more flexible, reduce costs and deliver better levels of compliance with higher resilience and disaster recovery abilities.”

“Now, as the business moves forward into the “Cloud Computing” era, we are able to deliver a new level of service to the business in terms of a service catalogue and chargeback facilities. As we develop the infrastructure further and utilise the benefits of the technology investments we have already made – we anticipate being able to provide extensive “private cloud” capability to the business in the coming year.”