A Unique Partnership Transforms
Tennessee Data Systems
In 2016, Tennessee Data Systems faced a dilemma. A regional provider of enterprise data storage services, it was serving a customer base looking for new and more cost-effective ways to manage exploding data storage requirements, but was itself limited in how effectively it could meet this demand. The solution arose from a unique partnership between NTT Communications (NTT Com), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Integris Solutions Group, an IT consultancy.
Established in 2013, Tennessee Data Systems (TDS) manages numerous data center facilities on behalf of its parent company, TNDSYS. Situated 300 miles from the nearest coastline and more than a thousand miles from tornado alley, these Tier 1 facilities offer enterprises archival storage with added protection from the effects of common natural disasters.
Yet keeping up with the growing needs of existing clients while attracting new ones proved to be a challenge. Not only is the sheer volume of enterprise data expanding, but retention periods are also lengthening, especially in the financial and medical services industries. At the same time, many businesses using unstructured data are now seeking something other than traditional block-and-file storage solutions. And they are looking for higher certifications of uptime and reliability. All at lower costs.
In the case of TDS, these customer demands outpaced the resources available to address them. “We needed to transform our business to stay relevant and competitive, but the cost of upgrading our data center facilities would run into the tens of millions of dollars, which we couldn’t afford,” said Fabrizio Bortolon, Chief Operation Officer of TNSDYS. “We needed to find a better way.”
Trifecta of Power Brokers
The answer to this dilemma came in the form of a three-way partnership. As part of a corporate initiative to leverage all available resources in-state, Hewlett Packard Enterprise introduced Tennessee Data Systems to Integris Solutions Group and NTT Com. Each party in turn contributed to finding the best way to meet the data center operator’s current and future needs.
For its part, HPE brought a powerful combination of hardware and software. The business-focused division that emerged as part of splitting Hewlett-Packard in 2015, HPE in recent years has increased its field-level engagement with leading service providers like NTT Com, and offers not only storage-optimized servers, but also software-defined file and object storage capability from strategic partner Scality.
NTT Com is the information and communications technology (ICT) solutions business within NTT Group, one of the largest telecommunications and IT services companies in the world. NTT Com’s internet backbone and software-defined private network connect 196 countries, providing the ability to securely connect to anything, anytime, anywhere. And, the company is one of the top providers of data center services worldwide, with more than 140 data centers and more capacity than any other IT services provider. Being an HPE Partner Ready Service Provider primed NTT Com for collaboration in this case. With hundreds of experts supporting one-stop shopping of private cloud hosted solutions, NTT Com could offer both granular support and massive connectivity and data center resources.
Integris Solutions Group has a practice that was tailor-made for this situation. It consults with businesses to help transform their IT organization, processes, and infrastructure. Focused on ensuring robustness and scalability, Integris leverages its expertise around storage, converged, hyper converged and resilient infrastructures. They also serve as a value-added reseller (VAR) for HPE.
To meet the affordability, flexibility, performance and scalability that TDS was looking for, NTT Com designed a hybrid, software-defined cloud storage solution in collaboration with all stakeholders. An overview of the plan and its elements included the following:
Process. The initial meeting between TDS, HPE, Integris and NTT Com occurred in June 2016. Follow up meetings took place over the summer. A plan was presented in August, and signatures obtained in October.
Design. The plan called for a hybrid architecture. NTT Com would deliver a common infrastructure in five locations: three TDS facilities and two additional NTT Com-owned facilities. Two of the TDS sites were in Tennessee, the third in North Carolina. NTT Com’s sites were in Virginia (Ashburn) and California (Sacramento). This design leveraged the respective strengths of both customer on-premises and NTT Com colocation.
Technology Stack. Each common 47u stack would consist of an HPE router, switch and cluster of seven to nine ultra-dense Apollo servers; Scality RING software to power a distributed, fully-parallel scale-out system; and a firewall from HPE strategic partner Fortinet. HPE would provide premium hardware and software support services, and NTT Com would provide various ongoing management services.
Connectivity. NTT Com would provide 100 Mbps (burstable to 1 Gbps) Internet connectivity to its data centers and 100 Mbps between them; TDS was responsible for connectivity at its sites.
Finance. The solution called for NTT Com to purchase all HPE equipment and software and TDS to enter a four-year agreement for all technology and services. Structuring the project in this way transformed it from a capital-intensive to operational expenditure model.
Deployment. Following a proven NTT Com development and implementation methodology that includes detailed and agreed roles and responsibilities, governance plans and other project management best practices, NTT Com’s two data center sites went live by the end of March 2017. The three TDS sites were operational within the following month.
This hybrid cloud solution solved a number of technical and business challenges facing TDS. In the first place, it addressed the need for greater storage capacity and capabilities.
In particular, the Scality RING software created scale-out storage as a distributed system across these five clusters. While enabling petabyte-scale object storage (and expandable to thousands of servers), Scality at the same time can independently scale out the access nodes - or connector nodes - to meet TDS’s input/output (I/O) throughput requirements as they increase. Scality also provides data durability protection mechanisms and optimizes the storage strategy for each object by size.
Running on the HPE Apollo ultra-dense servers, Scality has dramatically increased capacity for TDS while reducing its overall footprint; and it added storage capabilities that the operator lacked in its legacy archival storage system.
On the business front, the solution has opened up a range of possibilities. “The Integris, NTT Com and HPE partnerships has made it easy for us to free up capital and make other investments to grow our business,” said TNDSYS COO Bortolon. “Integris designed the workflow to move to NTT Com’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform. And NTT Com made it easy for us by purchasing all of the HPE equipment and Scality software, packaging it together with colocation, network and managed services, along with a finance package to create an operationalized agreement with a 48-month term.”
By simultaneously upgrading TDS’s storage infrastructure and expanding its reach to NTT Com’s two top-tier (i.e. Tier 4) audited data centers, this brokered solution is enabling TDS to grow from a regional cloud and archival storage provider to a national provider of IaaS, offering affordable object storage and other services to an increasingly demanding enterprise market.
At a time when whole industries are undergoing digital transformations, businesses are receptive to sharing IT workloads in ways that allow them to focus on core and differentiating technologies. To serve those needs, however, data center providers must position themselves on the technological leading edge.
No data centers need be left behind. The mix of technologies that enabled Tennessee Data Systems to upgrade and expand its storage capacity and capabilities is proof that with the right partners, even remote and resource-constrained facilities can reach the next level without financial exhaustion. While apparently unique, this partnership could well become a model for similar projects in future.
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