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Nuclear waste body cuts energy use by 20% as Pure replaces HPE

French nuclear waste agency Andra has cut storage energy use by 20% and strengthened its disaster recovery capabilities by deploying Pure Storage and 10-year controller upgrades

The French agency for the management of radioactive waste (Andra) has cut power and cooling costs by a fifth in an upgrade that has seen HPE 3PAR arrays replaced by Pure Storage FlashArray flash storage hardware purchased over 10 years with non-disruptive controller upgrades.

Among the issues with the existing 3PAR deployment were a lack of integrity in replication between arrays and a difficult user interface.

HPE 3PAR: Replication didn’t work; poor management UI

After several years of loyal service, the organisation’s HPE 3PAR storage arrays went out of support in 2018.

“Until that time, we were 100% HPE,” says Olivier Tardy, head of infrastructure operations in the department of the CIO at Andra. “The former CIO believed it was best to use just one supplier to avoid dealing with numerous support desks in case of an outage. We revisited that question in 2018 and decided it would be best to evaluate different suppliers to get the best service possible in each area of infrastructure.”

At that time, there were issues with some basic functionality, even though Andra had gone with 3PAR arrays based on their claimed durability.

“I’m not saying the 3PAR arrays broke down,” says Tardy. “They were able to perform well in terms of throughput, but we regularly had redundancy problems. For example, we had arrays that were active-active but had 200GB to 300GB at the end of the day not replicated between them. In such situations, our disaster recovery plan was a house of cards.

“Also the environment was not an intuitive one,” added Tardy. “We regularly had problems knowing what capacity we had left. The admin interface back then wasn’t clear. The [outsourced] helpdesk was always complaining about it and had to go on training with every update.”

Pure Storage sales demos trounce Dell and HPE

The Andra CIO’s team spent three years replacing servers, but by 2021, there was no doubt that the 3PAR array was solely responsible for the problems faced. Tardy and his team evaluated the market and met Dell, HPE and Pure Storage to hear about their solutions.

“We saw Pure Storage first, and they set the bar high,” says Tardy. “Firstly, the GUI [graphical user interface] was really simple. But better still, we were in a datacentre in Paris in front of a production array where they removed SSDs [solid-state drives] and memory cards while the array continued to work. Unbelievable!”

“We asked the other two array makers to give us a similar demo. HPE refused. Dell just unplugged a cable. In short, Pure stuck in the minds of our team,” he added.

The Pure Storage demo set the bar high. We asked the other two array makers to give us a similar demo. HPE refused. Dell just unplugged a cable. In short, Pure stuck in the minds of our team
Olivier Tardy, Andra

Among other Pure Storage advantages for Andra, the company’s drives gave claimed performance numbers above those from HPE and Dell. Also, data reduction ratios made an impression on Tardy and the team.

“HPE told us their solution allowed for a certain data deduplication ratio. Pure Storage deployed software on our sites that analysed our data and calculated the rate of data reduction before our eyes, which was 7:1.”

But what really swung it for the Andra team was Pure’s commercial proposition.

“Pure Storage said we could buy a storage array over 10 years and at regular intervals would get controllers replaced with new ones non-disruptively,” says Tardy.

“The other vendors wanted to replace the whole array at the end of five years,” says Tardy. “In fact, Pure Storage was more expensive to buy, but if you take into account that the others required data migration while production work continues – which comes with a cost – then the least costly total invoice is the one from Pure Storage.”

Unforeseen difficulties in migration

Andra’s evaluation of the market took place in 2022. Pure Storage FlashArray hardware was delivered in December and in production at the start of 2023. It came with 300TB of capacity – the old 3PAR arrays had held 120TB – and would be expanded over the coming years in tranches of 50TB to 80TB.

The migration from 3PAR to the FlashArray went without snags. Andra’s core applications reside on VMware, and it was VMware that handled the migration over time. One difficulty was that network-attached storage volumes originally configured to not exceed 16TB were difficult to reconfigure without this old setting.

A similar problem arose a year later, at the beginning of 2024, when Andra acquired a FlashBlade NAS array from Pure to store Veeam backups. Here also, the initial configuration was made to suit Veeam on an HPE StorOnce appliance, but was not adaptable to FlashBlade. At the time of writing, the Andra IT chief admits the issue is not 100% resolved.

Less energy used, more resilience gained

Key among the advantages of the move to Pure has been reduced energy usage.

“The key benefit has been the environmental aspect,” says Tardy. “The arrays each occupy 6U, which is less to cool than 3PAR. Pure’s SSDs consume less energy than our previous storage, which mixed SSDs and HDDs [hard disk drives]. Our electricity consumption has been lowered by 20%.”

The other benefit has been in the robustness of the solution.

“In previous years, we carried out an exercise where we turned off half the hardware to verify whether we could maintain operations,” says Tardy. “With the 3PAR arrays, it was complicated. You had to stop it via software, wait until it was sufficiently cool and then finally cut the current. That didn’t correspond to a real incident. Meanwhile, with a FlashArray, we could directly cut the power and the service continued without human intervention.”

In a little over a year, Tardy has also noticed the usefulness of proactive alerts. This is where Pure messages Andra to warn of potential minor incidents, usually way ahead of when the outsourcing contractor notices.

Now the new deployment is on course at Andra headquarters, Tardy plans to replace the HPE arrays at radioactive waste sites too.

“I would like to say we will install Pure Storage arrays there too, but their specs are too oversized for that because they don’t go over 30TB,” says Tardy.

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