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Australian council removes costly bottleneck with traditional storage architecture

Redland City Council chose to return to a traditional storage architecture when it was struggling to get rates notices out in good time

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW ANZ: CW ANZ: Harnessing the power of server/storage architecture

Redland City Council needed to break a storage bottleneck that was causing problems getting important notices about property service rates out on time.

The council covers a diverse area of just over 500km2 to the south and east of Brisbane, Queensland. It includes large suburbs of greater Brisbane such as Capalaba and Cleveland, but also more isolated spots such as the islands of southern Moreton Bay, including North Stradbroke Island, the second largest sand island in the world.

Two years ago, the council was facing difficulties in generating the rates notices that are critical for revenue generation, according to CIO Glynn Henderson.

“The problem started when we had extremely long periods of rates notice processing. Rates are our revenue, so we do this four times a year and it needs to be done in a timely manner and it needs to be done correctly,” said Henderson.

He said there was a bottleneck and it was taking 28 hours to process the rates notices.

“We had a NetApp environment that was very node-based and very dispersed. That profile just didn’t suit the applications we had because it was slower disk and there was latency between the servers and the storage,” said Henderson.

Swapping NetApp for Dell

The answer to the storage performance bottleneck lay in switching from the NetApp system back to a more traditional server/storage architecture.

“There are two approaches,” said Henderson. “There’s the massive storage device plugged into a large server environment with a whole lot of bandwidth between it, which gives you high input/output ops and high throughput. Then there’s the node-based architecture, which gives you more resiliency, more opportunity to shift information around and have a lot more information.”

The council’s applications didn’t respond well to the node-based architecture of the NetApp system, so Henderson went looking for a system based on the server/storage architecture with an abundance of input/output grunt.

Redland City Council settled on Dell’s Compellent storage system.

“The applications needed horses under the hood, so we moved away from the dispersed, node-based architecture to the raw power of the Compellent,” said Henderson.

The council now has three Dell Compellent SC8000s systems with about 300TB of storage across two sites. The system has just been refreshed and is running at about 68% capacity.

“As part of the shift we added in a solid-state design which gave us really fast storage with low latency,” added Henderson.

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Speed and stability

Coupled to a Dell blade server system, the Compellent kit helped Redland City Council make a radical reduction in the time it took to grind out its rates notices.

“We managed to bring those timings down from 28 hours to as little as four hours. It was a big saving in time and hassle and effort. It got the notices done in plenty of time to send to the printers and invoice creators.”

Uptime on the storage system also increased dramatically. The council has a fully managed version of Dell’s Copilot support system.

“Each month we get a full report on how the storage is and a whole lot of recommendations about how we can make it better,” said Henderson. “It’s been live now for two-and-a-half years, and we have had no problems whatsoever. We’ve had failures with the hardware, but it’s never caused any compute or storage to go down. That’s been a really good win.

“There’s not a lot for the on-site techs to do, other than look out the windows,” he joked. “The Compellent just goes. It maintains itself, it reports back to Dell and lets them know how its feeling. Then they tell us and come and do some optimisation.”

Henderson also likes the power-on-demand and self-management features – such as automatic tiering of storage – of the Compellent gear. “If it needs to be quick access, it will put it in the fast section. If not, it will tier it back to cheaper and slower disk,” he said.

Each Compellent system has three tiers of storage, with 1TB of fast write flash memory, 4TB of fast read flash memory and 80TB of spinning disk.

Other large applications helped by the storage speed boost include the council’s asset management system, which presides over 600,000 assets, the data warehouse system, and human resources and financial data.

“We found speed increases right across the board on those,” said Henderson.

Public cloud ambitions

The council is also gearing itself up to use public cloud in the future when there is more secure bandwidth available. It has set up an on-premise hybrid cloud environment which has the advantage of making workloads public cloud-ready for the future.

“The on-premise hybrid cloud is virtually the same stuff as what’s in the cloud, just scaled back,” said Henderson.

So far, about 20% of the council workloads sit in the on-premise cloud segment, which employs a local instance of the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

The council can’t use public cloud at the moment due to connectivity issues, so it’s trialling the public cloud regime on-site. The council is looking forward to the roll-out of the National Broadband Network in its area to boost connectivity, but that is still several years away.

Workloads currently placed in the cloud are light grunt applications, such as web-based applications – anything that’s important to the business but not used as much.

“The council is also putting its geographic information system in the cloud, and applications it wants to trial and socialise,” said Henderson. “We don’t think cloud, even in the medium to long term, is somewhere you can put your grunty workloads. We want to keep those on-premise.”

That means the Compellent stays, according to Henderson, who sees the Dell system remaining in place for the next three to five years. “It’s a traditional style of storage, but it’s just so robust and powerful,” he said.

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