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Cloud Automation

NetApp Cloud Storage Manager Case Study: How Willis Towers Watson Unlocked the Full Potential of Cloud Storage

Running a business in the cloud can be a challenging task. Enterprises often have limited visibility of their cloud resources and find themselves faced with management overhead, trying to deal with limited capacity, expanding volumes of data that are stored inefficiently, and tedious routine tasks such as backup and disaster recovery. The good news is that there are reliable cloud automation and management solutions available that address these issues and help enterprises harness the cloud to bring operations to new heights.

In this post I want to talk a bit about the challenges of cloud storage management, the need for a central platform to act as a cloud storage manager, and show you how we address both of these challenges at Willis Towers Watson ICT (Information and Communication Technology) using NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP and NetApp BlueXP Console.

The Challenges of Cloud Storage Management

Businesses often encounter certain challenges when migrating to the cloud. First, companies must mirror their on-premises environment in the cloud and ensure they have sufficient visibility of their cloud environments to maintain the health of their operations.

Second, data tends to pile up quickly, becoming expensive to maintain and negatively affecting availability. Teams need an efficient way to scale their resources up and down as needed. On top of this, companies must handle backup and data replication, a process which can be complex and burdensome. They must also ensure governance, with automated and integrated standard processes for automation, orchestration, repeatability and compliance.

Without implementing automated solutions for these challenges or a cloud storage manager in place, teams typically end up with a lot of management overhead. This also leads to the additional cost of employees that are dedicated solely to storage requirements. To make matters even more difficult, there aren’t many reliable cloud-native tools on the market that can effectively address these issues.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP and BlueXP Console

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is an enterprise-grade cloud storage management solution which helps enhance cloud storage performance, data protection, security and compliance.

NetApp BlueXP Console is a platform for viewing and centrally managing storage across on-premises, hybrid cloud, and multicloud environments. At Willis Towers Watson ICT, these two NetApp technologies were key to our cloud storage management strategy.

How Willis Towers Watson ICT Enhanced its Cloud Management Strategy with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

As the third biggest insurance broker worldwide, Willis Towers Watson is a multinational risk management, insurance brokerage, and advisory company. We have more than 45,000 employees and operate in over 140 countries.

The Challenge

At Willis Towers Watson ICT, we create risk models that require ample CPU capacity as well as many TBs of data. Despite our 10-year retention policy, the data cleanup process we were using was not automated. That meant data was piling up and being retained for longer than necessary, and rapidly consuming expensive SSD storage. As a result, we had reached full storage capacity, with backup and replication becoming extremely cumbersome to execute. In addition, Azure was providing only partial visibility into the systems we were using, and our teams found themselves bogged down with a lot of cloud management overhead.

On top of these challenges, we were launching a new, cloud-based SaaS offering which required improved data management, scalability, high availability, and data protection. We found there were no Azure-native solutions that could satisfy all these requirements.

Turning to Cloud Volumes ONTAP and BlueXP Console

Since Willis Towers Watson was already using NetApp ONTAP systems in our data centers, we decided to turn to Cloud Volumes ONTAP to gain more leverage over our cloud deployment. By deploying a Cloud Volumes ONTAP HA infrastructure in our backend architecture, we were able to meet the increasing performance, uptime, and scalability demands of our rapidly expanding SaaS.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP perfectly mirrored our on-premises storage in the new Azure environment, without incurring any onboarding challenges for our workforce. It also led to significant additional benefits:

  • Storage optimization with data tiering: By setting automatic policies on volumes, data is seamlessly transferred between high-performing Azure disk and the lower-cost Azure BLOB storage as needed. This clears considerable storage space, enhancing performance and dramatically reducing costs.
  • Simplified backup and disaster recovery: We have drag-and-drop functionality and reliable failover and failback processes using SnapMirror® for DR replication and SnapVault® for retention. We also have plans to migrate several hundred TBs of data and use Cloud Backup Service.
  • Advanced single-pane visibility, monitoring, and manageability with BlueXP Console: We no longer need storage experts on the team, and we are continuously apprised of the health of our environments.
  • High degree of cloud automation through BlueXP Console’s API: This enables us to automate the storage processes and free our employees up to work on other projects.
  • Huge cost savings with Cloud Volumes ONTAP storage efficiencies.

More BlueXP Console Benefits

As a cloud storage manager, NetApp BlueXP Console unifies all of NetApp’s cloud storage services and solutions, automating storage processes across hybrid and multicloud architectures. It is accessible from any location and any device and deployable in your own environment or as SaaS. Designed for maximum operational efficiency, users can switch between their different NetApp BlueXP accounts and view all their related Connectors and Working Environments. BlueXP Console is an API-driven platform which can be the lead to significant benefits including:

  • Automatic capacity management, and increased scalability and automatic purchases of additional storage when existing resources run out.
  • Enterprise-grade control and governance capabilities as well as unified, consistent repeatable processes enabling reduced onboarding time, and seamless releases and upgrades.
  • Integration with additional enterprise-grade tools and cloud management services including Cloud Compliance, Cloud Tiering, and NetApp Trident for Kubernetes.

A Final Note

Managing storage in the cloud can be challenging. Keeping storage in the cloud secure, backed up, scalable, cost-efficient and highly performant is a full-time job which often requires several dedicated experts on your team.

As we’ve seen with the Willis Towers Watson case study, Cloud Volumes ONTAP and BlueXP Console take these burdens off your hands, simplifying cloud storage management and unlocking the potential of the cloud through highly automated capabilities. To find out more about our story, watch the "One Service to Rule Them All" webinar and take a look at the short video here.



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ICT Solutions Architect in WTW