Scotland-based law firm MacRoberts has replaced six racks worth of servers and storage with 4U of Gridstore flash-based hyper-converged appliances in a move that has drastically cut physical footprint and power use, as well as bringing near real-time replication.
MacRoberts has more than 200 people employed in offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee and works with public and private sector clients of all sizes in Scotland.
The two key sites for the IT infrastructure are Glasgow and Edinburgh. Core applications are legal sector document and client management systems, plus a Microsoft estate of Exchange, SQL and other applications.
MacRoberts IT infrastructure was provided by three racks of 42U each at the Glasgow and Edinburgh sites. These comprised around 40 HP DL580 and 380 G6 generation servers plus a HP Lefthand SAN deployment that was – according to head of IT Robert Crichton – “over-burdened and beyond capacity”.
Challenges with the existing setup included an onerous management overhead and difficulties scaling the environment, said Crichton.
“We had 40 different tin boxes, with different VMs and – in some cases – limited virtualisation, with direct-attached storage. It was a business risk and we really needed to consolidate and reduce that complexity and gain the ability to add capacity, pizza-box style,” he said.
With regard to data protection, the firm was carrying out backups once or twice a day, which ran the risk of losing more data than was acceptable.
Making the choice
MacRoberts began to evaluate alternatives to this situation and looked at products from Hewletter Packard Enterprise (HPE), Cisco, EMC, Nimble Storage and Nutanix.
Crichton said he rejected these for a variety of reasons. “But a key [reason] was value – old-fashioned pound signs. There was also the simplicity of Gridstore’s system compared with different VMware-based systems. Gridstore runs on Microsoft technology that we’re familiar with.”
“Getting Microsoft Hyper-V and not an entirely proprietary system and a supplier that could change it at some point was important.”
MacRoberts eventually deployed a single 2U Gridstore GS3000SDN hyper-converged appliance at each site. Each Gridstore unit consists of three compute blades that deliver Hyper-V virtual machines plus 9.6TB useable of flash storage. Replication between sites is set to every five minutes using Hyper-V Replica.
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The company has around 75 virtual machines across both key sites. It has also added storage capacity to a total of 112TB at each site using Gridstore Hybrid Storage Nodes. This bulk capacity is used for backups, which are carried out by Veeam software.
Gridstore supplies 2U, four-node hyper-converged appliances that come with the Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor.
Hyper-converged infrastructure combines compute, storage and networking in one box. This is a trend in part inspired by the modular hyperscale architectures pioneered by web giants Google and Facebook, for example. Other key players in the market include Nutanix, Simplivity, Pivot3 and VMware with its EVO:Rail.
Benefits of Gridstore
Gridstore’s status as a relatively untried startup was a consideration for Crichton, but not a deterrent.
“Gridstore was a niche company we hadn’t heard of before. MacRoberts makes a point of being cutting edge with regard to technology but, for the sake of our clients and our own sanity, we were very careful in our selection process and carried out due diligence,” he said.
Key benefits for MacRoberts are increased resiliency, scope for future growth and a much-simplified platform as well as improved backup RPOs (recovery point objectives) and space and power savings.
“We had 40 tin boxes of five-year-old equipment and we’ve got them off the electricity bill. That wasn’t a main driver for the project, but it’ll be important to the company in years to come,” said Crichton.