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Panzura tackles disaster recovery, cloud storage for Saints

The New Orleans Saints IT team expands its disaster recovery and cloud storage with Panzura and Google Cloud to save on hardware and storage refreshes at Caesars Superdome.

Disaster recovery has specific meanings to Jody Barbier, director of information technology operations for two professional sports teams based in New Orleans.

"There are two types of disaster recovery that I have to deal with," said Barbier, who works with the New Orleans Saints, a football team, and the New Orleans Pelicans, a basketball team. "One is natural disasters and the other is man-made disasters from ransomware and all those things."

After more than 15 years working in New Orleans, the former kind of disaster recovery remains in the forefront of his mind. Specifically, he recalls an experience in 2005 working with the Saints and the Louisiana Superdome (now Caesars Superdome) stadium, the home field of the Saints, when Hurricane Katrina struck, escalating into one of the most destructive storms to hit the United States' southern coast.

Besieged by the storm, Barbier said his team needed to move all of the on-premises hardware to another location and secure their data.

"We had to relocate and pack up racks and racks of servers," he said. "We've been fortunate we haven't had to do anything like that [lately]. We have a pretty good infrastructure here that gets through a hurricane and comes out good on the other side."

Earlier this year, however, Barbier said he worked with the leadership of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans to move some of their video and media data into cloud storage using Panzura, a cloud file system provider.

"I was loading up data on hard drives [before] the hurricane and putting it in a vehicle that would evacuate with me," Barbier said. "That's something we don't have to do anymore with cloud storage. It's going to be there no matter what happens with our building."

Saints in the cloud

Barbier and his team selected Panzura CloudFS to manage their unstructured media data in the cloud while using Google Cloud as their cloud object storage provider. The software creates a single global namespace for files across on-premises and cloud storage locations; it also synchronizes file changes and metadata across the network, enabling employees to continue working with their files as they had before regardless of where the data is stored.

Direct competitors to Panzura include Ctera and Nasuni, both offering similar hybrid cloud file systems. All three companies offer their products in a variety of capacities, such as through physical hardware or a SaaS, but have lately marketed their cloud file systems for managing hybrid environments or replacing on-premises hardware entirely.

Barbier and his IT team of five manage the Saints' and Pelicans' technology infrastructure and had previously only worked with on-premises storage systems. Barbier inherited many of these systems from league and team sponsors, which required a vendor-neutral way to move across environments.

Privacy and data security were top concerns for Saints' and Pelicans' leadership, especially regarding videos used for play analysis or personal information regarding team members.

Hurricane Katrina and the constant need to refresh hardware every five years, either due to wear or lack of space due to the growth in video files, made Barbier advocate for a cloud storage plan.

"Our ownership has always been leery about moving things to the cloud because of security. [My team and I] felt our files would be secure, more secure than they've ever been," Barbier said. "With everything that's happening with malware and cyber attacks, we thought this was the right solution to that."

Barbier selected Google Cloud and Panzura in early 2021 and has since moved about 30 TB worth of data into cloud storage. He said the organizations primarily back up unstructured files such as spreadsheets, documents and images. The data also includes video footage from security camera recordings, a common backup need frequently answered by cloud storage among sports teams, as well as general media footage of games, players and highlight moments.

I want no on-prem storage.
Jody BarbierDirector of information technology operations, New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans

Barbier chose Google Cloud due to its lower cost compared to competing public clouds -- Panzura also integrates with AWS and Microsoft Azure, among others. Google Cloud also offered a pricing structure based on the length of time data was stored for, creating consistent pricing for data such as security footage that has to be kept for extended periods according to NFL regulations.

"Your on-prem footprint can only be so big, but all of our content keeps growing and growing," he said. "I don't have to do a whole lot of extra now to go into the cloud."

Google Cloud storage has also freed up existing on-prem hardware for the Saints to back up important data the team wishes to keep entirely under their supervision, such as player contracts, game recordings for review and other important business data.

The changes keep at least 50 TB of storage on-prem across four server racks, eliminating about one and a half racks' worth of traditional hard disk storage, according to Barbier. The change has saved him and his staff some upkeep headaches, but Barbier said he'd eventually like to move even more data into the cloud.

"I want no on-prem storage," Barbier said. "There's going to be some [local storage], but everything that attaches to those servers will be in the cloud."

Picking the right team

Despite initial hesitancy from management, Barbier said the rollout with Panzura has gone smoothly with little need to train other employees.

"I started moving a few people over at a time at first," he said. "Once I felt comfortable about a few dozen people using it, I pulled the trigger on everyone else."

Barbier and his supervisors selected Panzura due to past relationships with the vendor's corporate leadership, including Panzura's CEO, but Barbier said his fellow employees and other contacts spoke positively of the vendor and their support service.

"Just make sure to do your background checks on these companies," he said. "A lot of the time you get left on your own, but Panzura was there every step of the way. … I think the biggest issue I had was I forgot my password. It was so long [since] I had to log into it, that I had to call them to reset my password."

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