Oncor powers up storage capacity and flexibility, cuts complexity

Provisioning new services in minutes with IBM XIV

Published on 30-Nov-2011

"IBM XIV delivers the total capacity, scalability and manageability we need. In addition, the finances are highly attractive, with excellent performance per dollar.”" - Frank Donovan, Director of Infrastructure Management and Application Maintenance

Oncor Electric

Energy & Utilities

Deployment country:
United States

Enabling Business Flexibility, Transformational Account, Virtualization, Optimizing IT


Oncor of Dallas, TX, provides electric services supplied by third-party retailers in the deregulated Texas energy market.

Business need:
Massive growth in data volumes caused by the switch from analog to advanced digital meters threatened to overwhelm the existing storage infrastructure at Oncor, which was already relatively costly and complex.

Implemented nine IBM® XIV® Storage Systems, each with a full 79 TB of capacity, as the start-point in a scalable, robust, high-performance architecture that will ultimately handle up to 2 PB of data.

Cut time to provision new storage from days to minutes, reduced storage infrastructure complexity, eliminated the need to implement and manage tiered storage, cut storage administration costs.

Case Study

Oncor of Dallas, TX, provides electric services supplied by third-party retailers in the deregulated Texas energy market. The company has around 100 offices, employs some 5,000 people and serves more than 3.5 million customers. Reliability of service is a key factor for Oncor, and having intelligence on its grid load, performance and availability is essential if it is to optimize energy delivery. Oncor is in the process of replacing its analog systems with advanced digital meters, which are able to collect data on usage, load and availability.

Frank Donovan, Director of Infrastructure Management and Application Maintenance, comments, “Digital meters provide time-of-use consumption records at 15-minute intervals. That coming flood of data threatened to overwhelm our existing storage infrastructure, which simply could not scale far or fast enough. We also wanted to get away from monolithic storage and into wide-stripe technology. The IBM XIV Storage System offered impressive price-performance and was capable of handling the massive data loads we forecast.”

Tackling big data
Moving to advanced digital meters enables Oncor to extract greater value from its infrastructure, with benefits both for the company and its customers. “We can provide information to customers on usage, enable retail electric providers to create time-of-day and other custom energy packages. At the same time, we can collect the data that allows us to improve reliability of service,and better understand where we need to invest—or not—with a greater degree of granularity,” says Donovan.

Polling the meters at 15-minute intervals means processing and storing on average 2,900 records per customer per month, generating enormous volumes of data. The existing storage infrastructure was too fragmented, complex and costly to scale up to meet the future demands. Oncor was running IBM System z servers alongside a number of different UNIX servers that used multi-tier SAN and NAS storage from a variety of vendors.

With total data volumes expected to grow significantly, Oncor completed a storage analysis project looking at multiple factors including price-performance and scalability. “Data volumes were already growing quickly,” says Donovan. “Over the last three years, we've gone from 40 TB of online production data to more than 500 TB. As the new meters continue to be rolled out, we're projecting that we'll need to store up to 2 PB. Considering our requirements for high performance, massive scalability and sustainable costs, IBM XIV Storage System was overwhelmingly the best solution for Oncor.”

Tierless solution
Oncor enhanced its existing storage landscape with nine XIV systems, each fully populated with 79 TB capacity. The XIV systems are used for all the data tiers that previously required separate management—such as production, quality assurance and test environments—significantly simplifying the architecture and cutting administrative costs.

Oncor uses the built-in XIV snapshot function to create near-instantaneous copies of production data with no impact on the live system. This is extremely valuable when rolling out changes to an existing environment. If an issue emerges, Oncor can rapidly roll back to the most recent snap, protecting data integrity and minimizing the disruption to the business. XIV snapshots also accelerate standard backup processes. Oncor exports timed snapshots to a clustered IBM System Storage® TS7650G ProtecTIER® Deduplication Gateway solution, which acts as a virtual tape library. Key benefits over physical tape include higher restore speed, easier management, and the ability to electronically replicate to an offsite copy of data. IBM Tivoli® Storage Manager software is used to back up multiple database applications and flat file environments.

“We use XIV snaps as a means to preserve data integrity,” says Donovan. “At the same time, this function enables rapid and non-disruptive backup and recovery, solving two key challenges in one simple solution.”

Fast and simple
The Oncor team has established a cookie-cutter approach to providing storage for its typical applications. The XIV systems serve IBM WebSphere®, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server applications running on a variety of platforms: IBM AIX®, Solaris and Microsoft Windows. Oncor runs IBM System z®, IBM Power® 550, 570 and 770 servers, and IBM System x® servers, in addition to non-IBM hardware.

“With XIV, we can train a storage administrator much more rapidly than using traditional SAN devices,” says José Newman, Infrastructure Architecture Manager. “While we still have a broad variety of hardware and operating systems, the XIV systems provide a common strategic storage platform for everything. In the past, much of our storage was specific to each platform, and required a different set of skills, making it far more complex and costly. Equally, it could take two or three days to provision new storage, for example, for a database that was growing unexpectedly fast. With XIV, we can provision new storage in minutes.”

He adds: “The support from the IBM team has been excellent, and in many ways has set the benchmark as to how a storage provider should respond.”

High-speed intelligence
“Around 2 million advanced digital meters are already deployed to the XIV systems, and more are being transitioned continuously,” says Donovan. “The raw data is stored on the XIV systems, where it is analyzed at high speed. Data is then provided to the retail electric providers for their use. It is essential that Oncor’s systems be able to process this data quickly and reliably, as there are regulatory requirements to make the data available within defined time-frames.”

The storage capacity and performance requirements at Oncor will continue to grow: digital metering generates more raw data, and it also encourages more analysis of that raw data, creating even more data alongside new insight. For example, the distinct pattern of a break in supply can even tell Oncor that nearby trees need trimming or that a specific grid device may be failing.

Frank Donovan concludes, “Our advanced meter project has been and will continue to be one of the largest technology initiatives at Oncor for the near term, and our previous storage architecture could not have managed to keep pace with the growth. IBM XIV delivers the total capacity, scalability and manageability we need. In addition, the finances are highly attractive, with excellent performance per dollar. Considering its ease of use, low administration costs and reliability, XIV is the right solution for Oncor.”

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

Power 550 Express, Power 570, Power 770, Storage: TS7650G ProtecTIER Deduplication Gateway, Storage: XIV, System x, System z

Tivoli Storage Manager

Operating system:
AIX, Sun Solaris, z/OS and OS/390

Legal Information

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