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Wells Fargo continues massive data center consolidation

Since merging with Wachovia in 2009, Wells Fargo has closed 100 data centers, decreasing its risk profile and reducing its carbon footprint.

Wells Fargo closed 100 data centers over the past six years as part of an ongoing consolidation plan, resulting...

in a more secure, greener and financially fit organization.

The massive financial institution, headquartered in San Francisco, serves 70 million global customers, has 265,000 employees and $1.7 trillion in assets. The data center consolidation project kicked off in 2009, just after Wells Fargo bought out Wachovia following the financial collapse in 2008. At the time, it was the largest bank merger in U.S. history.

"Everything we do goes back to that [merger]," said Bob Culver, Wells Fargo senior vice president and manager of data center strategy and technology.

Since then, Wells Fargo has consolidated by way of virtualization; it has virtualized about 58% of its 60,000 servers -- both mainframe and distributed servers ­­­-- with a goal of 60% virtualization, Culver said. That's up to 32,634 from just 4,000 virtual servers at the time of the merger. Last year, 70% of the bank's new servers were virtual.

"We want to keep going," he said.

However, the goal is not to get to a 100% virtualized environment since some functions don't virtualize well, Culver said. The data center management software that the IT organization uses operates best on physical servers, and many databases perform better on physical servers.

Culver notes that there are a lot of "bad guys" that pose a risk to a bank's data and his effort is to continue to improve the bank's risk profile.

 "We want to stay out of the headlines," he said, adding that Wells Fargo undergoes regular stress tests.

"The risk is significant with all the data out there," he added.

As the number of data center locations are reduced, so is the risk, Culver said. In addition, consolidation and virtualization give Wells Fargo a competitive edge.

Wells Fargo's green data center strategy

While his top priority is to reduce the bank's risk profile, the quests to save money and reduce the company's carbon footprint also top the priority list.

"A lot of this has not only carbon benefits but financial benefits," Culver said, adding that the bank's mainframes' carbon footprint has been cut in half in the past two years. "Anything we put in, it is all getting more efficient; IT manufacturers are making great stuff now."

Prior to 2009, both Wachovia and Wells Fargo had environmental goals. When they merged, the goal increased from 20% to 35% reduction of a carbon footprint by 2020.

We look at our data centers like a fleet ... We don't want it to get too old.
Bob CulverWells Fargo senior vice president and manager of data center strategy and technology

Companies such as Apple, Google, eBay and SuperNAP have been innovators of data center efficiency, even though their Web-scale data centers don't need to be as resilient as a bank.

"We've always benefitted a lot from the innovation from those companies," Culver said.

During the past three years, the bank has seen its data center energy consumption shrink, and he would not be surprised if it dropped by about 5% annually in coming years.

The bank's plan to reduce its carbon footprint is based on four main areas: virtualization, increased hardware efficiency, facilities efficiency and IT discipline, including a focus on ITIL service management and decommissioning old servers.

During the buyout and mergers of smaller banks by Wells Fargo, Culver said it is sometimes easy to lose track of servers. His team, though, started an "orphans list" and sought out those servers to decommission.

Since the process of merging Wachovia and Wells Fargo began, there has been an ongoing effort to identify metrics to show the progress of the work.

The demands on Wells Fargo's data centers will continue to grow as IT takes on more tasks that were completed outside the compute environment in past years. Meanwhile, the bank will continue its data center consolidation mission over the next several years to phase out older, obsolete data centers and replace them with new ones, he said.

 "We look at our data centers like a fleet," he said, drawing analogies to the way airlines look at aircraft. "We don't want it to get too old."

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him @RBGatesTT.  

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