Gerardo Dada

Growing Architecture Firm Achieves 350,000 IOPS and Storage Freedom

This is a post summarizing the conversation that took place on a webcast recorded in late January. You can click here to watch the entire webinar, Architectural Nexus Achieves Fast Application Performance On-Time & On-Budget.

Kent Hansen is the Director of IT for Architectural Nexus in Utah. His company was moving over 100 power user engineers to virtual desktops using Citrix VDI with NVIDIA Grid. These engineers use very demanding 3D building information modeling software from AutoDesk, often creating files over 1 GB that need to be available instantly across different sites in the US.

“We were looking at Citrix and realized we needed fast storage, so we bought a bank of 16,000 RPM drives. It ran one or two users really well. We could get 10 users on it without any complaining. Anything beyond that users started complaining. We moved 30 users to VDI and most of our users were unhappy.”

ArchNexus was relying on what at the time was a top-notch SAN bought from a ‘leading’ vendor. Kent explained “Years ago, we did not understand the value of software defined storage so we purchased another SAN. We had already spent a lot of money with our SAN vendor.”

So when the company needed more capacity, naturally they asked their current SAN vendor for a quote. Kent shared “When I got my quote for expanding the SAN capacity I almost fell off my chair. Then I heard our existing SAN was approaching EOL and we needed to buy a new SAN and forklift to a new system”. They felt as if they were being held hostage by a storage hardware vendor, trapped in their renewal cycles.

Kent talked to his reseller, Jonathan Kendrick at USI, also based in Utah. Who talked to him about looking again at software-defined storage, as it would help him avoid this lock-in to a vendor and suggested they do a pilot with DataCore, because of the multiple technologies in SAN Symphony that could help with performance.

Jonathan offered to do a pilot, which carried no commitment or risk. Kent was impressed with the performance “We ran the pilot and our users stopped complaining.” They purchased commodity hardware storage to run under DataCore and were able to move all 100 users to the new system meeting their performance needs without a problem. “Our IOPS on our SAN were hitting 55,000 IOPS, then one day 4 or 5 years ago you were reviewing the logs and saw up to 350,000 IOPS and no one complained, the system was working perfectly.“

It is important to note the time-to-performance. Adding DataCore’s SAN Symphony software-defined storage as a layer between their hosts and their existing storage systems allowed them to see immediate improvements in performance. SDS makes everything faster, from old storage systems to AFAs.

Then Kent explained the challenges he had with capacity and auto-tiering “With our old SAN vendor we had purchased something like 26TB of storage but we were not getting usable storage anywhere close to that. The vendor explained to migrate the data from Tier 1 to Tier 2 thee array would need to take a snapshot, store the snapshot, and then move it to another tier on a batch process overnight. So the tiering mechanism was consuming space. I had to delete these snapshots to get more capacity back.”

The new solution was a dramatic improvement “With DataCore, tiering is done dynamically, on the fly, no snapshot needed. I still have the ability to snapshot, clone, mirror, or duplicate my data. But I have full control.”

Auto-tiering allows ArchNexus to deliver higher performance, maximize capacity utilization, and leverage lower cost hardware “We have 3 tiers (the system allows us to do up to 16). When a drive starts becoming obsolete I just move it to another tier. Our three tiers are a bank of SSD drives, 10K RMP drives, and 7200 RPM SATA drives. The caching algorithm uses RAM as another tier. A file that was just used by one user can be opened by another one as fast as our network is able to send the bits over the wire.”

Auto-tiering works within a single pool. For example, an Exchange email Server could store all email in one file, yet the system moves the blocks that need performance to Tier 1 and the blocks that don’t are moved to a lower tier, adjusted automatically based on the performance demands.

At the time I did not realize how powerful a virtualized SAN can be

Kent moved to the new system primarily because of performance but now is realizing the importance of the freedom and flexibility that a software-defined storage system provides. “I get to choose when my hardware is EOL, not somebody else. I can buy whatever dives I want and I can run them as long as I want. I can buy use 10 year old drives and DataCore will still support me. Just because some SAN vendor said you are end of support I don’t need to buy new hardware.”

His reseller, USI, made a comment on this: “As resellers, we would make more money if we were selling hardware every three years instead of perpetual software, but we would not be giving our customers the best solution, we would not be helping them manage their budget and we would not be giving them a completely scalable solution they are in control of.”

We have never been down since we installed DataCore

Performance and flexibility are important, but almost always secondary to availability, which seems to be the most important requirement for any business-critical system.

ArchNexus relies on an active-active configuration on their own datacenter. They basically run two SANs in a mirror environment. With SDS, the two systems can use dissimilar hardware. Kent explains the cost advantages of using SDS versus what is provided by a hardware array vendor “We run them for less than what it would have costed us to upgrade our aging SAN. I can turn off any of those SANs in the middle of the day and no one would notice.”

The company has enjoyed no downtime, but they are finding their software-defined storage system gives them even more flexibility on how they protect data “Then I realized DataCore has continuous data protection (CDP) so I can roll back to any given point in time within the previous two weeks.” Kent is now looking to move a third copy of their data in an asynchronous replica to an offsite location, probably to the cloud, to give them even better redundancy.

In summary, these are the main benefits seen when adopting DataCore software-defined storage at ArchNexus:

  • 120 users moved to VDI, and they are happy – no problems no complains
  • Increased productivity – Open/save times for CAD files were cut in half
  • Achieved 350,000 IOPS and much higher VDI density
  • Zero downtime and the flexibility to use multiple data protection architectures
  • Significant cost savings “The ROI and the TCO on DataCore is so much less, our old SAN is turned off.”
  • Freedom from vendor-lock in, refresh cycles, and forced migrations

With software-defined storage, Kent is confident the company will be ready for the next challenge. Whether the company grows and adds more engineers requiring more performance or storage capacity, or whether new storage technology becomes available, ArchNexus is now relying on a modern foundation that will allow them to be the partner the business needs for the future.


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