Both the AFL and the Australian Grand Prix upgraded their data centres to include all flash arrays. The enterprise level flash storage – described as significant investments by both organisations – came with an expected performance boost over more limited disk storage. 

But according to IT leaders from both organisations the simplicity and reliability of flash has just as much appeal, and the systems were helping shift IT from a support role to a value add one.

Generally flash storage provides better performance, reliability, and predictability than disk storage but it comes with a price tag to match. Typically organisations will reserve flash storage for “tier one” data and workloads, relying on spinning disk for less accessed data or less critical workloads.

The economics of storage are arguably shifting in flash’s favour as hardware prices decrease and requirements increase but for now the spend still needs to be well justified.

Two major Australian sporting bodies Which-50 spoke with argue the price tag is indeed justifiable, and, perhaps more important, demonstrable to those holding the purse strings.

Why flash

Under pressure from their digital and marketing teams, the AFL and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation needed a faster option for storing and sharing digital media. With traditional disk based storage, editors and designers, for example, would need to move large media files to individual devices to work on and then re-upload to the enterprise database. 

Flash storage, however, means media teams can work on files directly from the database – an early win identified by both organisations.

Clint Watson ICT manager for the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, says a growing demand for digital media from fans means the capability is quickly becoming table stakes.

“The more we did in the digital space, the marketing space, we realised we had to have access to our images and videos as quickly as possible to get the message out there as quick as possible,” Watson told Which-50 at the Pure Storage annual conference in Austin Texas.

The Australian Grand Prix Corporation stages two major race events each year, the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Melbourne’s Albert Park in March and the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island in October.

On race days the IT requirements swell as both internal employees and contractors and media outlets need access to data.

“They needed something highly available [and] high performing over those [race] days.”

Watson selected vendor Pure Storage and upgraded the organisation’s data centres to be almost entirely flash (some archival race footage is still stored on disk). 

Watson uses a flash array as file share to cope with the increased demand. On race days it quickly grows from zero to 4.5 terabytes of data. The flash storage also runs the corporation’s ERP and CMS applications year round.

“The [all flash] environment we have is probably a little overkill for what we do for the majority of the year but from a performance perspective come event time it is absolutely critical,” Watson said.

As a one man IT team the new storage also brought much needed simplicity, Watson told Which-50.

“I don’t have 12 months of the year to focus on managing storage everyday. There’s six months of the year where I’m focused on building two circuits.”

Watston said the upfront cost needed to be justified to the c-suite but the requirements of the race events meant flash was necessary, and at other times the simplicity and reliability of all flash could be seen as an added bonus.

“The CEO did ask why do we need a Ferrari down there? 

“I know we don’t really want to drive a Ferrari year round but you don’t want to drive a Mazda around on race weekend so which way do you want to go?”

AFL

The Australian Football League also saw the need to share media quickly and easily as a driver for its flash upgrade. The organisation is a Pure Storage customer too but has opted for the tiered approach to storage.

Cameron Spark, the AFL’s systems and infrastructure manager, told Which-50 he runs virtualised environments on flash as well as the storing the files needed by the league’s design department so, like the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, they too can work directly from a server.

“The biggest benefit for us is the performance of our virtual environments; the applications sitting on those environments, and also for our design department, to be able to give them the performance that they require to make their workloads a lot easier.”

“The boost in performance of the applications and reliability has really been the best thing to us.”

Spark says the difference after upgrading from legacy systems is quickly noticed by others outside IT.

“When the end user comes and says ‘this is unreal’ you know that something is right. Because we are coming form eight year old infrastructure the performance is noticeable, that was a big thing for us.”

The ageing infrastructure and its rising maintenance costs also adds weight to the upgrade argument. Spark said the the AFL’s previous all disk data centre was experiencing regular drive failures and an increasing maintenance cost.

“That’s where it started to make financial sense that here we were paying all this money on support for an old system that wasn’t performing as we needed it to.” 

The flash system has been easier to manage for Spark’s infrastructure team and, he says, while flash storage is not necessarily cutting edge, the Pure infrastructure has a “next-gen” feel.

“I knew we needed something that was simple for them to be able to manage. And something that wasn’t going to be time consuming – take them out of worrying about storage and actually start to add value to the business rather than just supporting the business.”

Spark said the Pure offering had provided many of the benefits cloud providers offer but the infrastructure remains on premise.

“It’s like having cloud storage anyway. We’ve got the hardware on-prem but the upgrades are seamless, non-intrusive, so we’re getting the benefits of being in the cloud without actually being in the cloud. Performance is great and the maintenance is being done by someone else.”

Australia’s mature market

Pure Storage generates 28.5 per cent of its revenue from international markets. The company’s VP of International, James Petter, told Which-50 Australia is a mature market for enterprise flash storage with “forward thinking” enterprises.

“[Australian enterprises] are very demanding. They are very much thinking of anything they buy as a utility. So they don’t want to have the big [capital] expense. They actually want to buy it like they buy electricity.”

Petter said Pure’s new service model – Pure as a Service – has been more successful in Australia than any other market.

“Because I think the buyers are that much more advanced [in Australia]. And they’ve had experience of it, other vendors have also done it. We’re seeing that getting real momentum.”

Disclaimer: The author travelled to Pure Accelerate as a guest of Pure Storage. 

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