French aero parts maker Figeac chose software-defined hyper-converged infrastructure from DataCore as a way of simplifying its storage systems during a period of recent strong growth.
The group had expanded rapidly by acquisition and went from 450 employees in 2006 to 3,600 now, and has 14 sites across the globe.
“We have made lots of acquisitions in recent years so we had to define an IT model for our subsidiaries that simplified deployment and use,” says Simon Auroy, group head of networks and support at Figeac Aero.
“In every factory with 60 or more employees we use DNC servers to run machining stations to manufacture parts. That is in addition to database servers, administrative applications, file servers dedicated to CAD. And then you have servers for Active Directory, DNS, DHCP, printing,” he adds.
Figeac Aero’s datacentres are pretty conventional, with servers, core network and SAN storage, each administered from its own environment. But, four years ago Auroy started to look at the possibility of doing away with the need to administer the SAN, which had weighed heavily on the IT teams of the company’s subsidiaries.
“Because the board had decided that the operation of our ERP application would be kept at our HQ, and that this necessitated construction of a second server room, the idea of augmenting our resilience was born. Two sites in active-active mode would allow us to assure continuity in case of an incident,” says Auroy.
And, to achieve that, the simplest solution looked like virtualisation of the company’s storage estate. “The idea of software-defined storage is to pull together the disk capacity from our two server rooms into a single logical pool, on which we can create volumes independent of their physical location and these can be replicated from one to the other. This way, if one of the two rooms goes down we can be assured that everything is operational in the other room,” says Auroy.
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On the hardware side, in each server room Auroy’s team deployed three Huawei Fusion servers, a CloudFabric network core plus an OceanStor iSCSI 10Gbps disk array.
The servers are virtualised with VMware ESXi and the two rooms connected by double fibre optic. The disk arrays lack advanced functionality apart from creating snapshots of their contents.
Auroy knew that software-defined storage was needed to create the global storage pool and replication between the two arrays. The task was to find the best product for the job. VMware has its vSAN and that looked an obvious solution, but the integrator most closely working with Figeac advised Auroy to take a look at SANsymphony from DataCore.
Auto-tiering and I/O management
“We realised that DataCore could bring us two key advantages,” says Auroy. “The first is that it manages I/O very well, which the Huawei arrays themselves don’t. In this way we made certain that there’d be no drop in performance, such as if a server or controller failed.”
“The second advantage is automated tiering. Until we deployed DataCore the most accessed data was moved manually to the fastest disk. With SANsymphony that’s automatic,” adds Auroy.
The Huawei arrays are basically dumb disk shelves in this configuration. Their intelligence comes from the SANsymphony virtual appliance, which is run from one of the ESXi hypervisors.
Deployment took place in two phases. In 2015 the original server room was equipped with the new Huawei hardware while the second was being built. At the time the virtual machines only needed to access storage physically attached to servers as no software-defined storage was deployed. SANsymphony was set to be deployed to both rooms in 2017 after the second room was built and active-active operations could commence.
“The deployment in 2017 of 10TB to the second room was carried out over a week without any interruption to operations. The DataCore interface servers mainly for the creation of volumes. For the most part we administer volumes from VMware vCenter,” says Auroy, who notes the ease with which such operations are carried out compared to a traditional SAN.
Smaller sites relieved from SAN admin
So with the IT stack is modernised at Figeac HQ, Auroy has validated the software-defined storage approach as a way of lightening the storage admin load for its IT teams.
“Since 2019 we have started to unify IT across the group on the model used at our HQ. The first site equipped in that way was Wichita, Kansas, in the US. All we had to do was send two servers pre-equipped with ESXi and a SANsymphony VM, plus two Ethernet switches for them to connect,” says Auroy.
“There isn’t even any external disk. SANsymphony simulates a SAN using internal server drives. So, if a remote site wants to upgrade the system all they need to do is add RAM and disk to the server node.”
The group has modernised three more sites (in France) this year and plans to roll out SANsymphony to three more annually.