The rapid growth in file-based and unstructured content storage is forcing companies to find ways to reduce complexity and cut costs. By virtualizing existing filers and creating tiered storage pools, organizations can begin to allocate less frequently accessed data to more cost effective storage tiers (e.g. SATA-based storage), including (potentially) the cloud. This approach avoids capital expenses associated with higher cost tier 1 storage systems, which use expensive FC-based devices, and minimizes operating costs associated with file management. Organizations also can simplify migration headaches and reduce planned downtime.
This was the message from Sean Maisey, Director of Operations and Engineering at Colonial Williamsburg. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia, the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest and most important outpost in the New World. This college campus-like environment grows from a community of 2,500 to as many as 3,500 employees in the peak summer months. In addition to the Museums, the IT organization at Colonial Williamsburg supports hotels, restaurants, and various retails shops.
Seven years ago, the organization had roughly 70 departments, each in charge of their own storage with no way to share resources. In the middle of the last decade, Colonial Williamsburg created what essentially amounted to a manual storage tiering strategy using two tiers: A tier 1 based on NetApp FAS 250 filers and a second nearline tier using NetApp NearStore with SATA based devices. The organization had essentially two types of unstructured data, including standard user files (e.g. documents, spreadsheets, etc.) and rich media documenting the history of the museum, its visitors, and its legacy, that it needs to capture and preserve. Eighty-to-eighty-five percent of the unstructured data in the system was rich media. The organizations infrastructure was as follows:
- 140 Windows production servers – mostly virtualized;
- 100TB raw storage capacity on two NetApp filers (with a remote cluster for DR), and;
- IBM midrange systems running financial applications.
The problem with the organization’s tiering approach was that the tier 1 storage filled up quickly and users would frequently run out of storage space causing disruption. As well, the IT organization realized it was spending too much on tier 1 storage and expensive migrations.
The Answer: File Virtualization
Colonial Williamsburg implemented the F5 ARX system and deployed the solution in front of its NAS filers. The F5 system virtualizes heterogeneous filers and creates a global name space so that all the storage behind the system can be shared across application servers. The system uses a policy-based life-cycle management approach so that after a certain period of time (90 days in the case of Colonial Williamsburg), data is migrated from expensive tier 1 storage to tier 2 SATA devices. Maisey indicated that this simple age-based classification and migration methodology allowed the organization to dramatically cut storage costs and minimize migration pain.
In particular, Maisey pointed at two cost savings benefits this approach delivered, namely:
- Maisey estimated that the cost of an array migration is measured in the 10’s of thousands of dollars.
- The cost of tier 2 disk was more than 50% lower than that of tier 1 storage.
The ROI of File Virtualization
At the Peer Incite call, we conducted a back-of-napkin ROI for Colonial Williamsburg. The discussion resulted in the following rough analysis: Costs
- Cost of the F5 ARX solution,
- Project implementation costs (approximately equal to the cost of a new filer).
- Value of freed up tier 1 space (80% of Colonial Williamsburg’s tier 1 capacity was returned to the pool),
- Ongoing cost savings of tier 2 disk versus tier 1,
- Value of simplified management,
- Reduced migration costs, and,
- Overall improved quality of service and uptime (including reduced planned downtime).
The bottom line on ROI for Colonial Williamsburg is that the improved utilization and better use of storage from pooling, the automation of migration policies to ensure data is on more cost-effective disk, the avoidance of future tier 1 storage purchases, and reduced migration costs easily offset the cost of the ARX solution and its implementation costs.
Virtualizing Tier 3 in the Cloud
According to Maisey, one gap in the current infrastructure is data protection and disaster recovery, and the cloud may provide the answer. The organization is beginning to plan migrations external to the on-premise data center and the cloud is a logical migration tier. Maisey’s plan is to use the automated tiering capabilities of the F5 platform to front-end the cloud and treat it as another tier, for deep archive and recovery purposes. While there is potential to reduce costs further, the real motivation of exploring the cloud for Colonial Williamsburg is the ability to provide cloud-based backup, replication, and disaster recovery.
Key advice for practitioners considering this type of strategy includes:
- Understand the service level agreements of cloud service providers,
- Gain clarity on security and information governance policies for the cloud, and ensure they comply with corporate edicts,
- Understand how to handle incident reporting and escalation with cloud service providers,
- Secure audit rights and conduct cloud audits at least annually,
- Understand the degree of difficulty in migrating data out of the cloud (i.e. how do you get your data back).
If something goes wrong, the CEO of the cloud service provider isn’t likely liable, and involving risk management in discussions early can avoid problems down the road.
Also, push for integration between suppliers such as F5 and cloud service providers where increased automation, security, and recovery are fundamental focus areas.
Action Item: The intelligent use of file virtualization to create a global resource pool can save significant money and time and reduce risks. Automation is the key to success, and data migration policies based on simple age and file activity metrics are an effective methodology for IT practitioners. IT organizations suffering from tier 1 cost pains and file sprawl must investigate creating a global resource pool and automating migration. Including the cloud in plans is timely and sensible, especially for mid-sized and small organizations that lack advanced recovery capabilities.