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Scottish farm subsidy body slashes dev time with Pure all-flash

Rural directorate ditched hybrid flash EMC SAN for Pure all-flash storage and cut developer time in half, while beta testing Cloud Block Store and planning container project

The Scottish government’s Agricultural and Rural Economy (ARE) directorate has ditched a struggling EMC VNX hybrid flash SAN and deployed Pure Storage all-flash. The move saw it halve build times for up to 100 developers and boost performance all-round.

ARE is the department responsible for the claims process and paying subsidies to about 20,000 farmers that have totalled around £750m a year, pre-Brexit. It runs Red Hat and VMware virtualisation with up to 600 virtual servers and 350 virtual desktops.

The VDI environment with Windows 10 is the primary development environment for a raft of applications that are constantly changing as ARE adapts to EU and UK farming policy. The department is also subject to audit at short notice and must avoid downtime at all costs.

It previously ran an EMC VNX SAN, but, said head of IT infrastructure Neill Smith, the existing infrastructure began to suffer “IOPS challenges”.

“The hybrid flash VNX wasn’t giving us enough IOPS, in particular for developer builds, which were of a high volume with developers doing four a day,” he said. “This placed a high read/write load on the storage.”

Also, said Smith, the VNXs were used to replicate to a secondary site, for which the application was quite “chatty” and here again, IOPS issues caused delays in replication that led to one or two hours of lag.

When it came to selecting up-to-date storage, Smith’s team carried out proofs-of-concept on Dell EMC Xtremio and Pure Storage all-flash hardware.

“Pure won out on cost, performance and its dedupe method [that doesn’t use compression, unlike EMC’s],” said Smith.

Initially, an FA405 was deployed with a few TB of capacity. Now ARE has Pure across its VDI estate, virtual servers, satellite imaging and database operations, said Smith.

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Now it has four arrays, which are all-flash FlashArray//M20s with just under 90TB total capacity. Two support the development environment and two are for production, with one of each pair sited at the disaster recovery location.

Pure’s snapshot cloning functionality is used, which is managed via Ansible. Also, most VMware VMFS datastores have been migrated to VVOLs for increased control over volume attributes, said Smith.

Key benefits for the ARE lie in costs saved on development time, as well as the ability to use the cloud with ease.

“If you have 100 developers and it takes them 30 minutes for each build and you can cut that down to 15, you’re cutting idle time in half and you can imagine the cost savings, especially when you’re working with a supplier,” said Smith. “It’s usually difficult for government departments to give ROI [return on investment], but this was easy.” He would not disclose the actual amounts saved, however.

“In terms of general performance, everyone noticed a huge improvement,” he added. “Previously, performance was hampered and everyone moaned about it.”

Smith’s team have also made use of Pure Storage’s Cloud Block Store beta programme, which provides a tier of cloud-based block storage to which on-site assets connect seamlessly.

ARE also plans to containerise some applications and will do a proof of concept using Portworx persistent storage for Kubernetes later this year, said Smith.

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