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FirstMerit engages IBM to help consolidate its server environment.

When a bank processes more than 750 gigabytes of information every month, things can get unwieldy on the data storage side in the IT department. According to Dave Samic, senior network analyst at FirstMerit Bank ($10.5 billion in assets), the number of servers housed at the Akron, Ohio-based institution's data center was starting to get out of hand.

"The problem in any organization is the proliferation of stand-alone servers," Samic says. "You start to run out of real estate, power, ports and people. If you have numerous servers, you need a lot of full-time employees to run them." he continues. "We started with six servers in 2000 and were at 240 servers in 2004. Factor in all these things and it presents a problem for anyone who tries to manage this kind of situation."

Giving Blades a Whirl

To consolidate its more than 200 stand-alone servers, FirstMerit Bank tapped IBM's (Armonk, N.Y.) BladeCenter server solution. According to Samic, FirstMerit began researching a fix to its server problems in 2003. "We knew we had a server proliferation problem with stand-alone systems in late 2003," Samic relates. "We tried to get blade systems in the door then, but the technology didn't seem sound enough [at the time]." The bank waited another year and after seeing some "significant advances" in the technology, FirstMerit decided to give blades a whirl, Samic says.

"Blade servers let you consolidate equipment in a shared environment without the degradation of functions that you'd get through a traditional SCSI model," explains Samic, referring to the small computer systems interface, or "scuzzy," data-transfer protocol. "Blade technology will let us grow as fast as we want to. It's dynamic, rather than the static approach that you get with stand-alone servers."

According to Samic, his people can have a Blade server up and running in about 15 minutes, versus the full day it takes to set up a traditional server. The IBM Blades also provide plug-and-play convenience, a vital property when something goes awry, he says. "We have identical equipment [i.e., extra blades] on hand," he comments. "If one fails, you just pop out the bad one and replace it."

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