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AET gets Ctera to smooth hybrid cloud access to big files

Remote locations with unreliable WAN connections needed to share large files, which was a real headache until US engineering firm got Ctera edge filers with Azure cloud as a tier

US-based environmental and engineering testing company AET has deployed Ctera HC100 hybrid cloud edge filers that allow rapid local access to large files and shares with clients, in particular from locations that are not well served by WAN connectivity.

The company, American Engineering Testing in full, has its HQ and central datacentre in St Paul, Minnesota and employs 400 to 500 people during the year at about 20 regional locations, some of which have patchy internet connections.

That is a problem because AET’s business involves unstructured data in large files sizes, including specialised industrial and scientific surveys using Autocad and ArcGIS software, plus data generated by drone footage, thermal imaging, and so on.

“It was getting very hard to share things with clients, and traffic between local offices and the core HQ would often be difficult,” said Sean Kelley, systems administrator at AET. “People would have to wait for file transfers instead of working. There were a lot of headaches for the end-user.”

The local offices used to hold data locally on NAS storage, but this led to maintenance issues such as having to maintain hardware at multiple remote locations.

So AET moved to a setup where storage was centralised at the HQ datacentre and all locations accessed that, but this led to performance problems.

“We did tests for bandwidth and latency and found some locations were negligibly affected while for others it was night and day,” said Kelley. “That meant some locations couldn’t upload files.”

AET evaluated Ctera as well as Nasuni and Panzura edge filers. All provided some local cache for frequent access with connectivity to a cloud for longer-term storage. But at the time, Nasuni and Panzura lacked the ability to share files directly with external clients, said Kelley.

“Nasuni does now,” he added, “but not as smoothly.”

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Last December, Kelley’s team implemented a proof-of-concept in which a Ctera HC100 was deployed at St Paul with Microsoft Azure cloud storage planned for local offices. When it came to the actual roll-out, that was redesigned so that remote locations that had poor connectivity to Azure also got Ctera edge filers.

The Ctera HC100 edge filer provides 1TB of NVMe flash with CIFS and SMB connectivity. Up to 20 users can be supported on a single HC100 appliance. Organisations can connect any number of edge devices to a single namespace, according to Ctera.

“We may deploy HC100s to the other locations,” said Kelley.

So now, in the locations that use Ctera, frequently used data up to about 1TB is cached locally, while from those sites and all others, file data and backups are also tiered off to Azure, which amounts to several tens of TB in total.

Key benefits are that in the locations where HC100s have been deployed, the company no longer needs to carry out backups. That has led to a projected saving of two-thirds of AET’s backup storage, which is currently on three Dell MD1400 arrays.

Main production storage is about 140TB held on Dell Compellent SAN arrays, which largely means VM disks and data as well, as “things that don’t make sense to be moved to Azure”, said Kelly, citing reasons of security as an example.

“The main benefit is that there’s no disruption from uploads and downloads like there used to be,” he added. “We can continue to work and share large files and they don’t have to be moved to a separate space, with all the implications for integrity that involved.

“We’re also saving around 20U of rackspace.”

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