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Emergencies force Safelite to break glass, add NetApp FlexPod

An auto glass supplier chooses FlexPod to consolidate and retire aging storage from several vendors. NetApp AFF supports VMware, and SolidFire arrays support growing claims management.

Auto glass specialist Safelite underwent a storage transformation following a challenging 2016 hurricane season that put pressure on its business.

The hurricanes prompted Safelite's switch to all-flash NetApp FlexPod converged infrastructure paired with NetApp's OnTap storage operating system to consolidate on-premises storage for high availability and disaster recovery for its outsourced insurance claims-management business.

Safelite Group Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio, cobbled together a NetApp FlexPod with All Flash FAS arrays for its VMware virtual environment, and it added a SolidFire all-flash storage system to support virtual desktops used by 600 field locations and multiple contact centers.

NetApp FlexPod is a series of validated reference architecture bundles that combine NetApp storage with Cisco Unified Computing System servers and switching. NetApp added SolidFire to its FlexPod lineup in mid-2017 with FlexPod SF, which runs SolidFire's Element OS on Cisco servers.

Safelite was the first NetApp customer to deploy FlexPod with attached SolidFire storage, before NetApp created the FlexPod SF reference architecture.

Although it's best known as a leader in on-the-spot replacement services for auto glass, Safelite also manages first notification of loss (FNOL) claims on behalf of leading insurance carriers.

"We take FNOL claims for many insurance partners, and it's very much a growth-oriented part of our business," said Matthew Coy, Safelite's vice president of information technology.

After struggling to keep pace with hurricane-related claims in 2016, Coy said the NetApp FlexPod-SolidFire configuration reversed the storyline in 2017. Despite storms that devastated Puerto Rico and parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast, Safelite handled the influx of calls and even gained customers "of competitors whose storage couldn't keep up."

Safelite storage makeover revolved around VMware-AWS integration

Coy joined Safelite nearly two years ago as part of an organizational transformation. One of his first tasks was to streamline a fragmented storage environment.

I wanted an infrastructure that allowed us to retire third-party products for backup, replication and restores.
Matthew Coyvice president of information technology, Safelite

"When I came on board, we did not have a predominant storage system and compute," Coy said. "We had a little bit of everything. We had some workloads running on different storage systems, and we had other workloads that were self-contained on one storage system. None of it worked well together, and absolutely none of it gave us the resilience and points of cloud integration we needed."

Coy said his storage goals were to reduce the footprint, while increasing availability for DR and providing scalability for anticipated growth.

Coy and his IT team looked into several storage vendors and narrowed the list of contenders to Nutanix, Dell EMC and NetApp. Coy said he searched for storage that enabled Safelite to maximize its VMware investments, get rid of third-party backup products and scale incrementally.

"I wanted an infrastructure that allowed us to retire third-party products for backup, replication and restores," he said. "I wanted it all to be seamless under one operating system."

A key influence in the decision, Coy said, was NetApp FlexPod's native VMware support -- particularly the ability to integrate with Safelite's Amazon Web Services cloud deployment.

"We wanted a premises-based operating system that allows us to extend into AWS, potentially even into Microsoft Azure, and back, all while still running VMware," Coy said.

All-flash FlexPod eases remote backup

Prior to its FlexPod-SolidFire flash storage, Safelite backed up data to disk with Veritas software before migrating protected data to tape. It now uses NetApp array-based SnapMirror and SnapVault snapshot replication, with dedicated connectivity between primary and secondary data centers, which are situated roughly 200 miles apart.

Safelite replicates cold data from NetApp FlexPod to low-cost Amazon Glacier cloud storage. Safelite had all-hard-disk storage before moving to NetApp, but now uses only flash in its arrays.

"Tape and backup disk are out of our environment," Coy said. "The notion of backup and restores is out of our lexicon, too. Whenever there is some sort of data recovery event, the data is immediately available through the OnTap operating system."

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