Colt deploys a petabyte of SolidFire all-flash arrays

European telecoms provider Colt rolls out more than a petabyte of SolidFire all-flash array storage to support cloud services

European telecoms provider Colt has deployed more than a petabyte of SolidFire flash arrays to support a multi-billion pound roll-out of cloud computing services.

The €1.6bn turnover company has 5,100 employees and operates 20 datacentres in 14 European cities.

It mostly offers voice and network services but also colocation, managed IT and, more recently, cloud platform services, which are offered at three levels: unmanaged pools of computing; managed OS-level services; and managed applications.

Cloud challenges

It was the move to offer cloud services to enterprise customers that prompted Colt to examine whether its existing storage infrastructure would be up to the job.

Colt had a Tiered storage environment with suppliers represented including EMC and NetApp, but there were challenges with the setup, said Colt vice-president of portfolio and strategy, Jon Bennett.

“We needed IOPS performance guarantees and that’s difficult with many tiers of disk storage. Also, if a customer wanted to migrate data between disk platforms, for example from test and development to production, with different physical tiers of disks this meant downtime,” said Bennett.

Colt initially evaluated 21 different storage array suppliers on a technical and commercial basis and drew up a shortlist that included EMC, NetApp and startup suppliers such as the storage software maker Nexenta.

Bennett said Colt was fairly certain early on that it wanted an all-flash solution, as it assumed its enterprise customer data would all be regarded as Tier 0 data.

Key factors in the procurement decision were the ability to guarantee IOPS performance levels for each customer and for the storage array to link via APIs to Colt’s customer-facing self-service portal.

Bennett said: “NetApp’s APIs were complicated and messy and we knew if we used old-style APIs we weren’t going to get the orchestration and automation we required.”

Solidfire’s API connectors to Colt’s portal worked well, said Bennett, and performance could be guaranteed. Customers can set performance levels from 0.005 IOPS up to 4 IOPS per gigabyte using the Colt portal.

Solidfire was also chosen because it came at a competitive price, compared with the larger suppliers, said Bennett.

Block storage for cloud

SolidFire was launched in 2010 by CEO Dave Wright, who previously built service provider Rackspace’s Jungledisk cloud storage offering.

SolidFire’s iSCSI block storage product has been engineered with cloud providers in mind. It has automation and multitenancy capabilities with the ability to assign storage volumes with different characteristics to different customers.  

Its arrays can accommodate a wide range of workloads – not just performance-hungry ones – and have data deduplication, compression and thin provisioning to help lower cost per GB price for operations outside of Tier 1 or Tier 0.

SolidFire uses a combination of multi-level cell (MLC) and high-performing single-level cell (SLC) flash drive and scales out in 1U nodes that go from four or five up to 100, with I/O performance reaching up to 5m IOPS .

Solidfire has been implemented in seven of Colt’s European datacentres so far, with three more in Europe and three in Asia to follow this year.

Bennett said Colt carried out due diligence on SolidFire’s company status. As a startup in a hot flash array market it is potentially ripe for acquisition. Colt wanted to make sure it could look forward to some stability, should it go ahead with the deal.

Bennett said: “We met with Solidfire’s private equity backers in Palo Alto, California, to understand their intent and got guarantees that they will be around for at least two years. SolidFire has presented its roadmap to us with its commitment to broadening its range of features and connectivity options. 

"That we have got this is a benefit of being a large customer.”



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