CATEGORY: Storage/Hardware

REVIEWER: Bob Venable, manager of enterprise systems for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST).

BACKGROUND: BCBST is the state's largest health insurance provider. In 1998, the nonprofit company, headquartered in Chattanooga, arranged payment of more than $5.5 billion in healthcare benefits for the benefit of 2.8 million members in the state.

PLATFORMS: Hewlett- Packard servers running MPE operating system and IBM serial disk (SSA) drives.

PROBLEM SOLVED: BCBST had several outages on its primary system that were due solely to a disk drive failure. With the size of the company's database, 80 separate disk drives contained primary data. A failure in any of those would cause downtime. The number of drives multiplied the company's chance of failure; and, with the age of the drives, we were told to expect one to 1.5 failures per month. As a failover, BCBST was told its users could access data which is shadowed to a secondary system and restore everything to the original drives later. We discovered such a failover was more easily described than accomplished. Vicom's SAN Data Gateway technology and IBM 7133 disk drives provided a solution to this problem.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Vicom Systems offers a cost-effective solution utilizing a combination of SAN Data Gateways and IBM disk storage. The Vicom SAN Data Gateway provided hardware mirroring (RAID 1) for reliability. The addition of a second gateway to the serial storage loop provides the host with an independent path to access storage for increased performance and fault resiliency. The gateway also provides a native attachment, making the IBM serial drives appear to the host computer as SCSI drives, each having is own SCSI ID and LUN. Vicom also supports attachment of serial storage to Fibre Channel host systems.

STRENGTHS: With a Vicom SAN Data Gateway, the IBM serial drives appeared to the MPE operating system as SCSI drives. No new drivers had to be written. The HP system could support this new technology with the same drivers the company already had. It also gave BCBST an increase in I/O performance compared with SCSI disks. In the event of a drive failure in any mirror set, the UltraLink 2000 automatically replaces the failed drive with any spare drive available in the disk array and rebuilds the mirror set. When the failed drive is replaced, it becomes available as a spare. Adding additional storage is as simple as plugging a new drive into the disk drawer.

WEAKNESSES: Running on the MPE operating system is a challenge for BCBST. Only one well-established company supplied a disk mirroring hardware solution for this environment, and it was very expensive.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Since BCBST is under service level contracts for having checks issued, we might have had to pay penalties if they lost a night's batch. The whole goal for BCBST is to minimize expenses and maximize business. One of BCBST's VARs, Pioneer Standard Electronics, suggested BCBST talk with Vicom Systems, which had a SCSI to SSA product for the MPE environment. BCBST had used IBM Serial Disks (SSA) for several years and was happy with the performance compared to native SCSI. The Vicom solution provided increased performance, MPE and SSA compatibility without an upgrade in its CPU and was 46 percent of the price from the other vendor.

DELIVERABLES: With the Vicom solution, BCBST is processing a huge number of insurance claims each day. Its major concerns for data reliability and compatibility with its existing HP 3000 servers running MPE were resolved. What's more, the company saved money, now has provided for zero downtime and has increased performance.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Vicom's support team keeps on top of MPE developments. Vicom tests each HP release of new maintenance levels for their MPE operating system and drivers to make sure the customers will continue to be supported. BCBST is going to use this in production because we have confidence in Vicom

DOCUMENTATION: The company supplies user manuals and provides a technical support number in case of problems or questions.

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