First American Real Estate Solutions (FARES) is using Fujitsu PrimePower servers to consolidate multiple data centers into two main facilities. In addition to simplifying IT management and improving overall disaster recovery (DR) capabilities, the consolidation has resulted in long-term cost savings and streamlined compliance processes.
"Fujitsu plays a key role in providing the reliability and scalability that our mission-critical business units require," says Evan Jafa, CTO of the First American Corporation, the parent of FARES. "Serving our financial services customers, who are concerned with compliance, security and cost savings, was among the primary drivers for consolidating our many data centers into two central data centers with a single, consistent infrastructure."
Based in Santa Ana, Calif., FARES is a member of The First American Family of Companies FARES is a joint-venture company, of which The First American Corporation owns 80 percent and Experian Group of Costa Mesa, Calif. owns the remaining 20 percent. FARES is the largest provider of property and ownership information, analytics and services in the United States.
According to Jafa, FARES now operates two data centers. The primary one is at its headquarters. The other site is near Dallas and is strictly for DR. But FARES recently ran as many as 20 data centers. This sprawling structure had built up following a long series of acquisitions occurring over a period of years.
"In the last year, we've consolidated about 20 business units into two using PrimePower servers," says Jafa. "In total, we have consolidated about 40 or 50 data centers over the last few years."
Gradual Build Up
FARES has been using the Solaris operating system for many years, primarily running on Sun servers. It began working with Sunnyvale, Calf. based Fujitsu Computer Systems toward the end of 2001.
"We started with three PrimePower 1000 servers and two PrimePower 800 servers with multiple domains in each," says Jafa. "Nowadays, we have around 100 Fujitsu PrimePower servers, which cover a range of models including high-end multi-partition PrimePower 1500, 850, 650, 450 and 250's."
The PrimePower family of high-performance servers range from 2-processor systems through 128-processor systems. These servers are one of the building blocks that support the Fujitsu Triole strategy for optimizing IT. Triole encompasses virtualization, automation and integration. Its goal is to provide a more flexible environment that is reliable, compatible and consistent.
FARES buys into this Triole strategy, particularly when it comes to consistency and virtualization. PrimePower servers, says Jafa, have allowed the company to leverage new server virtualization techniques for rapid analysis of multiple petabytes of data for classification, categorization and data backup. This data is shared among a wide array of databases and accessed by 600,000 user companies. It covers almost 3,000 counties and 99 percent of the U.S. population.
Users harness the data for a variety of real-estate-related purposes: customer acquisition and retention, detecting and preventing fraud, reducing mortgage transaction cycle time and cost efficiency, measuring the value of residential and commercial properties, identifying real-estate trends, tracking market performance, and increasing market share.
"We have multiple domains on our PrimePower 1500 servers that dynamically allocate resources from one to another during a peak load period, such as month-end, etc.," says Jafa. "This enables us to virtualize our computing resources as well as consolidate the physical hardware."
Virtualization via PrimePower multi-processor technology has also enabled FARES to pack far more horsepower into a smaller area. Despite combining dozens of smaller centers into one main site plus an additional DR facility, the company has been able to reduce its power and cooling costs.
The PrimePower 1500 is one of the newer Fujitsu servers introduced at FARES. It played a crucial role in the recent data center consolidation project. It has up to 32 x 1.89 or 2.16 GHz SPARC64 processors and up to 256GB memory. 256 KB of Level 1 cache per CPU is available and up to 4 MB of Level 2 cache. It runs up to 32 SCSI hard drives, depending on the configuration. These can range from 36.4 GB per drive to a maximum capacity of 147.0GB per drive. Its dimensions are 29.1 x 43.9 x 70.9 inches. It also comes with extended partitioning and dynamic reconfiguration capabilities for hot-workload reconfiguring.
"We can dynamically move CPUs or memory from one partition to another as the workload requires them," says Jafa. "We can also increase capacity without shutting down domains."
Most of the PrimePower servers used by the real-estate services company are running either an Oracle database or are used as application servers running programs, such as BEA WebLogic. Until the latter part of 2006, however, some of the databases were running on Sun boxes.
"About a month and a half ago, we did a change out to eliminate older Sun boxes," says Jafa. "Now we standardized all our Solaris systems on Fujitsu."
Why the switch? Jafa points to the service received by Fujitsu as a "tremendous differentiating factor." As the support has been so good, he felt it best to move all the Solaris systems onto one platform and also take greater advantage of the benefits of some of the Triole strategy elements mentioned earlier.
The real-estate field is one known for being burdened with a legion of local, state and federal legislation. Since FARES also straddles the financial services field, it has to contend with a multitude of laws and requirements affecting that sector. This situation has been compounded, of course, by recent events that have added to the already heavy load of legislation affecting financial companies.
Not surprisingly, therefore, this data consolidation project included a compliance objective. With dozens of smaller data centers in existence, and with data spread across multiple facilities and a large number of servers, compliance was far from an easy activity.
By reducing the number of facilities and servers, FARES databases can now be more easily managed. As a result, compliance is simpler and less time consuming. Jafa explains that the company has applications that must have 15 separate databases available at any one time.
"Prior technology solutions did not have that capability," he says. "Now, we can bring all database instances up at the same time, and that makes compliance much easier in terms of administration."