Sumerian accelerates the delivery of sophisticated analytics services

Achieving consistently fast performance across a wide range of analytical tasks with IBM storage and servers

Published on 09-Mar-2012

"The message we’d like other companies to take away from this project is that Sumerian has invested in a truly enterprise-class storage and server infrastructure from IBM, which will enable us to deliver even more sophisticated analytics faster than ever before." - Ewan McDonald, Director of IT and Development, Sumerian


Computer Services

Deployment country:
United Kingdom

Business Continuity, Energy Efficiency, High Availability , Virtualization, Virtualization - Server, Virtualization - Storage

IBM Business Partner:


Sumerian is a pure play analytics company that specialises in harnessing big data to help businesses manage, optimise and transform their IT environments. The company has offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, New York and Geneva, and employs approximately 60 people.

Business need:
Sumerian works with clients in high-stakes, fast-moving industries like financial services, where IT performance, capacity and latency can make the difference between success and failure. To help these clients optimise their IT environments, Sumerian captures and analyses vast quantities of data – which means its own IT systems need to offer excellent performance for analytics and ‘big data’ workloads.

Working with IBM® and Barrachd, Sumerian moved from a SAN architecture based on traditional disk systems to the IBM XIV® Storage System platform, and replaced a pair of aging servers with new IBM System x® 3850 X5 servers. The parallelised XIV disk architecture and upgraded fibre connectivity deliver much higher throughput for analytics workloads.

Increases the rate of data throughput by 400 percent, enabling Sumerian to perform deeper, more sophisticated analyses and deliver rapid results to clients. Delivers consistent high performance across all analytical tasks, with no need for workload-specific tuning. Offers significantly easier storage management compared to a traditional tiered storage platform. Delivers business continuity by automatically recovering from disk failures, with no data loss, no downtime, and no need to restore from backups.

Case Study

Sumerian is a pure play analytics company that specialises in harnessing big data to help businesses manage, optimise and transform their IT environments. The company has offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, New York and Geneva, and employs approximately 60 people.

“Our main business is to analyse the IT environment of our clients, and give them the advice and insight they need to optimise or transform it successfully to align with their changing business needs – whether that means consolidating their data centres, moving to new technologies, or embarking on any other kind of transformation project,” explains Ewan McDonald, Director of IT and Development at Sumerian. “We do this by modelling and analysing the complex relationships between IT costs, capacity, performance and business demand. In analysing these factors over long periods, we collect enormous volumes of data – which means that our own IT infrastructure has to be capable of handling so-called ‘big data’ workloads.”

Finding a way forward
Sumerian’s core infrastructure was built around nine servers running Microsoft Windows and SQL Server under VMware vSphere, and three disk storage systems that provided a total of approximately 50 TB of capacity. The storage infrastructure was nearing end-of-life, and the company faced an important decision on how to move forward.

“The volume of data is always growing, so we knew we would need to take a step up into a higher class of storage device,” says Ewan McDonald. “With our existing storage vendor, this would probably have meant using tiered storage to optimise performance for various different types of analytical workloads. However, managing a tiered environment and doing all the performance tuning would have meant a significant increase in systems administration workload, so we were keen to investigate alternatives.”

Proving the case for IBM XIV
The Sumerian team became intrigued by the prospect of moving to an IBM XIV Storage System. This would provide a parallelised disk architecture that could deliver consistently high levels of performance across many different types of workload – despite being based on relatively inexpensive SAS disks.

Sumerian was naturally cautious at first because the XIV proposition is so different from a traditional disk architecture. However, a reference call with another IBM customer that had recently performed a similar migration to XIV, and a demonstration of the XIV technology at IBM Greenock, helped to allay these concerns.

“The main thing that attracted us about XIV was the performance,” says Ewan McDonald. “Our analytics projects tend to run for two to six weeks, and we do different types of analysis at different points during that period. Instead of spending time tuning and re-tuning the SAN during that period, we would be able to rely on consistent performance from the XIV, which would give us more time to focus on running more sophisticated analytics that would deliver increased value for our clients.”

Smooth implementation
Sumerian worked with a team from IBM and Barrachd, an IBM Premier Business Partner, to implement an XIV Storage System with nine disk modules, providing 85 TB of storage capacity. If the company’s storage needs increase, it can simply plug in additional modules up to a maximum of 15.

John Ramsay, Systems Administrator at Sumerian, comments: “The implementation of the new hardware went smoothly – in fact, the only real challenges were physical rather than technology-related. The XIV weighs about 800 kilos, so we needed to get the floor of our data centre reinforced. We also had to install three-phase power, and we took the opportunity to upgrade our SAN fabric, giving us twice the network bandwidth. Once we had completed these preliminaries, the XIV itself only took half a day to set up.”

Ewan McDonald adds: “The migration of the data was also a simple task. We used VMware VMotion, so there was no downtime at all.”

Cost-effective server landscape
At the same time, the company chose to replace two of its smaller servers with a pair of IBM System x® 3850 X5 servers, each with four ten-core hyper-threaded Intel Xeon processors.

“Choosing these large, high-end IBM servers not only enabled us to significantly increase our server capacity without moving or extending our data centre – it also made financial sense,” says Ewan McDonald. “Due to the licensing schemes for VMware and Microsoft Windows, which at the time were based on a per-server model, we were able to avoid significant software costs, compared to purchasing a larger number of smaller machines.”

Measurable results
Looking at the total impact of the new infrastructure, Sumerian is pleased with the performance it delivers.

“The data throughput from the XIV is five times faster than our old storage system, and there is no contention between tasks if we’re running several sets of analyses at the same time,” says Ewan McDonald. “The new fibre channel fabric contributes to this, but it’s clear that the XIV is responsible for the majority of the improvement.”

John Ramsay adds: “The performance is very good across all types of analytical workload, and there hasn’t been any need for tuning. Administration is very simple – we barely need to touch the XIV at all unless we’re setting up a new LUN, and even then it’s only a matter of a few minutes. Moreover, the system seems very reliable: we’ve seen fewer disk failures in normal operation than we did with our old storage systems, and even when disks have failed, the XIV has rebuilt them seamlessly, with no downtime, no data loss, and no need to recover from backups.”

Ewan McDonald concludes: “The message we’d like other companies to take away from this project is that Sumerian has invested in a truly enterprise-class storage and server infrastructure from IBM, which will enable us to deliver even more sophisticated analytics faster than ever before. As our clients’ IT landscapes become more and more complex, we have the technology platform and expertise to help them rationalise, optimise and enhance the way IT supports their business.”

Products and services used

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

Storage: XIV, System x, System x: System x running hypervisor - VMware, System x: System x running Windows, System x: System x3850 X5

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