Computer Weekly European User Awards for Storage: Winners

The winners of the Computer Weekly European User Awards for Storage have been announced. See who made the top spots

Five innovative IT projects have been chosen as the winners of the Computer Weekly European User Awards for Storage.

The storage awards recognise innovation in data storage projects that improve storage efficiency and effectiveness.

A panel of independent judges viewed entries across five categories: Public Sector Project, Best Technology Innovation, Supplier of the Year, Private Sector Project and Cloud Innovation.

And the winners are:

  • Best Technology Innovation: Rovio (Entered by Basho Technologies)
  • Supplier of the Year: Framestore (Entered by Avere Systems)
  • Public Sector: College of North West London (Entered by Dell Compellent)
  • Private Sector: Cancer Research UK (Entered by EMC)
  • Cloud Innovation: HMRC


Best Technology Innovation Winner: Rovio (Entered by Basho Technologies)

The popularity of Angry Birds has seen games maker Rovio grow at an incredible rate. The company had 263 million monthly active users in December 2012 and its games had been downloaded 1.7 billion times by March 2013.

With the launch of its new game Angry Birds Toons and a new mobile games set to put further strain on its infrastructure, Rovio needed to ensure its high service levels could be maintained in a cost-effective way.

Rovio needed a database that could support viral growth without failing and causing downtime

To add further complexity, data transactions across multiple platforms, including smartphones and tablets, meant investment was needed to keep the user experience consistent.

So, to deal with the high influx of data and peak load times, Rovio needed a database that could support viral growth without failing and causing downtime. Similarly, if demand was lower than anticipated, flexibility was needed to ensure that infrastructure could be reined back, avoiding unnecessary expenditure.

Rovio found the solution to their needs in Basho’s open-source distributed database Riak. The scalable, NoSQL database has enabled Rovio to economically and effectively manage increasing data volumes resulting from its growing number of data operations.

Rovio’s IT team is now able to scale from tens of Riak servers to hundreds, based on customer demand. As well as being agile, Riak has robust, low-latency features that have ensured Rovio customers receive the service levels they expect. Riak replicates data across multiple nodes within the database, providing a high tolerance for hardware failure without losing critical user data. This means if one node fails, the system maintains its high performance profile. Multiple data formats are also supported meaning consistent services are guaranteed regardless of the type of device a gamer is using.

Awards judge Henry Baltazar, senior analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals at Forrester, said: “Scalability and data distribution are key challenges in the application and storage works.

“Basho's Riak distributed database deals with both challenges and has allowed companies such as Rovio to launch its mobile applications across the globe.”

Supplier of the Year Winner: Framestore (Entered by Avere Systems)

Using Avere’s FXT 4500 Edge filer, Soho-based VFX studio Framestore improved storage performance in production stages of its upcoming film Gravity, featuring a 3D recreation of the International Space Station.

Framestore needed a reliable NAS solution to manage the company’s massive rendering and storage requirements. It was clear from the onset that Gravity’s resource demands would be enormous, eventually scaling up to over 15,000 processor cores at peak rendering.  As rendering hits full stride, the render nodes create the classic production bottleneck, consuming all available storage bandwidth and creating slowdowns on the artist and workstation side. 

To support the projected load, Framestore undertook a project to rebuild its storage and networking infrastructure. Framestore was interested in partitioning the storage so Gravity-related rendering would pull data from storage pools separate to those being used for the rest of the facility. Several competitive SSD-based solutions were considered, including building their own system based on CacheFS software and adding SSDs to the newly installed core filers.

Avere System's FXT 4500 gave Framestore's storage system the performance boost it needed

Henry Baltazar

Before Avere, Framestore artists struggled with performance bottlenecks that negatively impacted interactivity and productivity. The system was always slowest towards the end of production, when resources were most needed. With Avere, artists working on Gravity could rely on the system even when demands were enormous.

Judge Spencer Izard, IDC research manager, said: “The evolution for storage solutions has seen ongoing demand for both performance and capacity but many solutions have treated the two as one challenge.

“The Avere solution demonstrated the capability to provide a VFX studio, that typically deals in large data volumes, a stable, resilient, scalable, and globally accessible storage platform.”

Baltazar said: “Storage acceleration technologies are valuable since they allow workloads to run at acceptable levels, while preserving an organization's existing storage investment.

“Avere System's FXT 4500 gave Framestore's storage system the performance boost it needed to keep up with its rendering engines, and did so without requiring a forklift, rip-and-replace upgrade.”

Public Sector Winner: College of North West London (Entered by Dell Compellent)

The College of North West London (CNWL), a further education college offering a range of courses from beginner to degree level, has introduced a new storage solution from Dell to increase automation and ease IT management across its three campuses.

The college needed a storage platform that could scale to meet its future needs

The Dell Compellent storage solution was selected because of its ability to provide a cost-effective, scalable storage solution that allows for simplified management of data across its three campuses. By splitting the storage solution across three sites and replicating data across those locations, CNWL can ensure that in the event of a power cut or system failure, it suffers no downtime or disruption to the learning process. The College’s email system, SQL databases, virtual environment and CCTV all run off the new storage solution so, with an estimated 100GB of growth every month, CNWL needed a storage platform that could scale to meet its future needs.

Dell Compellent also provides the IT team with the tools needed to move away from reactively managing IT. Instead, resource and skill now can be refocused to develop and enhance the College’s IT environment through projects such as enabling students and teachers to access educational content online via the cloud.

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The volumes of data generated from the range of IT systems that organisations such as the CNWL generates from both its students and own IT requirements exerts pressure to find a cost effective solution that can grow as the CNWL does without exponential increases in costs,” said Izard.  

“The Dell solution demonstrates an opportunity for small to medium-sized organisations to leverage storage to as a backbone for efficiencies across multiple facets of its IT operations."

Batalzar agreed by saying: “Flexibility is a key attribute in any storage implementation, with customers seeking to gain maximum utilisation out of their investments.  The CNWL optimised their investment by leveraging Dell Compellent's capabilities to simultaneously run a variety of workloads.”

Private Sector Winner: Cancer Research (Entered by EMC)

The long-term relationship between Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and EMC has dramatically improved the charity’s ability to reduce IT budgets, and increase performance and targets. It has also improved employees' day-to-day IT experiences through faster access to data, reducing the marketing cycle time, improving fundraising ability and supporting mobile working through a more resilient and accessible system.

The IT team has taken significant steps to implement innovative technologies, most recently incorporating EMC XtremSW and SF Cache®. These have immediately improved storage utilisation, access to data, enabling more efficient fundraising activities. There are also reduced running costs and an expected return on investment within 18 months for the entire implementation.

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A major advantage has been provided to CRUK’s marketing team, which used to take between four to five hours to run a marketing cycle but, using XtremSW Cache, have reduced this time to 18 seconds. This means the charity can better attune campaigns to target key audiences and directly increase fundraising generation.

Since the initial implementation of storage and backup and recovery, with EMC XtremSW Cache, CRUK has expanded the project and is now able to cache its full database. With 700GB cards now strategically placed within the infrastructure, the CRUK team has seen service increase. Another benefit has been seen in the processing load on storage units, which has fallen to almost nothing from previously sitting at around 35% utilisation from one application.

Izard said:Charities by definition require donations to sustain the services they provide and this puts any investment in technology under pressure to provide significant benefit in return for the outlay. This nomination provided evidence of a significant change in ability by Cancer Research UK to act on the data it retains on supporters, donors, and other mission-critical information.

“Through the adoption of select EMC technologies, Cancer Research UK saw a four to five-hour marketing cycle reduced to 18 seconds. A step change of such magnitude demonstrates the opportunities that storage technologies can provide to improve business activities.”

Cloud Innovation Winner: HMRC

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has one of the largest and most complex IT infrastructures in Europe, with the ability to central store three petabytes of data.

In autumn 2012, the HMRC File and Print Server (FAPS) system was a legacy solution used to store user data for the Department's 67,000 staff. The system involved storage repositories on 1,100 servers spread across 650 offices. As part of storing it, this data had to be backed up on tapes. The backup tapes were collected from each location by a third party every day and transported to off-site storage sites.

HMRC continually monitors FAP performance and began to observe increasing failure rates in the backup hardware and FAP hardware.  As a result, HMRC started to look at options for replacing FAPS.

HMRC selected a cloud-based solution offered by the provider Skyscape

Around the same time, the government had recently launched its G-Cloud Framework in 2011 to transform the way the public sector buys and uses Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services. HMRC recognised that a cloud-based FAP replacement would deliver more control and improved performance, while reducing cost and improving user and business flexibility. However, this would be one of the largest cloud implementations to date anywhere in the public sector so HMRC would have little or no opportunity to draw on the lessons learned by others.

HMRC selected a cloud-based solution offered by the provider Skyscape and worked closely with its primary IT supplier, Capgemini, to ensure the provided service not only encompasses the provision of the technical elements, but also integrates with HMRC's existing systems and processes.

The solution involves storing lots of data - over 80TB, which equates to almost half of the British Library's digital archive. Data is replicated across two data centres to ensure resilience, and all key infrastructure components are duplicated to provide high availability. The platform and the supporting infrastructure is resilient across two data centres and HMRC is charged based on usage, per GB, per month. HMRC therefore receives a flexible and highly available solution and only pays for the data stored on the service.

All the data involved is sensitive, Impact Level (IL) three data so the solution provided had to be secure. Our IT provider has achieved Pan Government Accreditation for all of its G-Cloud services, which confirms its suitability for supporting IL0-IL3 data.

Izard explained that through the use of the G-Cloud Framework, a procurement process and platform for vetted public cloud solutions, the HMRC was able to use Skyscape, with HMRC primary IT supplier Capgemini, to provide a cloud-based File and Print (FAP) replacement that included government Impact Level (IL) three sensitive data to store, manage, and utilise over 80TB of data.

“The size, complexity, and scale of data sensitivity that had to be delivered through a cloud storage service is an excellent example of how cloud solutions should be considered as secure if vetted correctly for the storage and use of large volumes of data,” said Izard.

The Winners

All winners will soon be profiled in full case studies on Computer Weekly . Trophies are on their way to all of the projects mentioned above.


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