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UK and Middle East PR firm ditches NetApp for Nutanix and Talon Fast

Four Communications needed better connectivity for collaboration between the UK and its gulf sites, so dumped server/storage for hyper-converged and a distributed file system

London-based full service marketing and PR agency Four Communications ditched its traditional server and NetApp storage IT infrastructure for Nutanix hyper-converged infrastructure with Talon’s distributed file system.

The move allowed it to spend 20% less on a hardware refresh than it would if it had simply upgraded existing infrastructure and has boosted connectivity between its UK and Middle East offices.

The company employs around 400 people in five UK offices as well as in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Core to the organisation is the creation of content that includes digital media and video, which means large file sizes. Having the ability to work on these collaboratively between regions is vital because of difficulties in getting skilled resources in some areas.

That can be especially difficult in the Middle East, and the IT refresh was in large part aimed at solving these issues, said Jake Fraser, IT operations director.

Four Communications previously had in place physical servers in each location with NetApp FAS filers in the UK – holding around 140TB between two nodes – and the virtual appliance Ontap Edge version in the Middle East offices (2TB on each), with SnapMirror replicating selected files between the two locations.

“Collaboration between regions was difficult because of available network speed. Downloading to Abu Dhabi or Dubai is fine but upload speeds are not very good, so with large files it’s difficult over that connection,” said Fraser.

“This also presented difficulties in disaster recovery terms,” added Fraser. “If one of the Middle East offices lost data, it would be difficult to restore.”

Fraser’s team looked at using the cloud – Microsoft Azure – with local StorSimple caching appliances, but the sector the company works in isn’t keen on keeping data in the cloud, and, according to Fraser, “there’s no level of maturity for the public cloud in the Middle East”.

The firm also looked at using replication and caching with limited datasets kept in remote locations, but this was dismissed as likely to be onerous to manage in an industry “that always needs things yesterday”.

Eventually Four Communications opted for Talon Fast, which uses so-called core and edge servers to create a distributed file network. The core servers can be pointed to any source of storage, including file servers, iSCSI LUNs, or as in the case of Four, Nutanix storage on hyper-converged nodes.

Then the deployed edge servers in remote locations are pointed at the core servers to give access to aggregated storage. Talon Fast incorporates a form of WAN optimisation with block-level replication. To the end use it looks like they’re on a local file share with files locked globally.

Key benefits are that the amount of storage in remote offices has been halved. A cache is kept in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with data allocated to it according to hot/warm/cold policies. Data from beyond the cache can be topped up fairly rapidly if required from the UK.

Fraser also calculates the company has spent 20% less by going with Nutanix coupled with Talon than it would if it had stuck with Nutanix and traditional (albeit VMware virtualised) servers.

He also said the benefit of being able to collaborate smoothly between offices and to not have unused resources sitting idle is hugely important.

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