TGI Fridays dishes up modern hybrid cloud storage

TGI Fridays' corporate IT team traded business headaches from end- of-life hardware to a modern hybrid cloud storage system using Nasuni and Microsoft Azure.

TGI Fridays had to face an expiration date that went beyond the perishable ingredients on its menu.

The restaurant chain had storage servers that reached the end of their extended life, said Michael Oehlert, infrastructure team lead at the Dallas-based company, which is owned by investment firms TriArtisan Capital and MFP Partners.

The chain operates close to 400 restaurants in North American and another 446 internationally. To support its organization, TGI Fridays used StorSimple hardware on premises and in the cloud with Microsoft Azure to support its backup and storage. The StorSimple device supported not only user data across the company but also data for the IT department, such as application code and maintenance code at both the company headquarters and in stores nationwide.

But StorSimple's days are coming to a close, with extended support for the 8000 series ending Dec. 31, 2022. This prompted Oehlert to find another hybrid cloud storage option.

Special orders

StorSimple was among the first storage gateways to the cloud in the early 2000s, and the company was ultimately purchased by Microsoft in 2012. StorSimple's hardware and software served as a device connecting to Microsoft's own Azure cloud. Knowing Microsoft planned to end StorSimple service, Oehlert approached the vendor about next steps.

"I originally went to my Microsoft [sales team] and got a few recommendations," he said. "Nasuni was on there, NetApp was on there, AWS was on there."

Oehlert had specific requests for hybrid storage software. He wanted support for Microsoft Azure, interoperability with Dell server hardware, and the ability to let end users keep their data at a lower cost to the company's bottom line.

"We do encourage users to get rid of old stuff, but the beauty of this [hybrid] environment is that things [that] are not touched for long periods of time are stored in the least expensive way for us," he said.

For him, keeping files available to users regardless of perceived value is a core function of his IT team.

"I always stop short of mandating users," he said. He added that he believes his responsibility is to support the business, not hamstring it.

Although NetApp, Nasuni and AWS were competitive in cost, Nasuni offered additional support during initial configuration when moving storage to the cloud. Nasuni wasn't the cheapest among the three main competitors, but Oehlert believed the additional support during setup was worth the extra investment.

Nasuni responded to TGI Fridays' migration needs using Robocopy and was willing to dedicate additional support resources where necessary, according to Oehlert. He also appreciated Nasuni's willingness to delve into TGI Fridays' setup and proactively ask the team what it wanted.

But there was additional rationale for choosing Nasuni. A full move to the cloud was unlikely, and Oehlert preferred his familiarity with Azure over starting anew in AWS. He also recognized the company's significant investment in Azure and wasn't interested in using more than one cloud environment. Plus, neither AWS nor NetApp responded quickly to Oehlert's project deadlines, he added, whereas Nasuni was willing to start work immediately.

Nasuni's hybrid storage eliminated several bottlenecks Oehlert and his team encountered daily when using StorSimple. First, the addition of a console enabled the team to track data movement and consumption in a way the team was unable to do using StorSimple. Second, the new setup eliminated the need to mount entire storage drives for simple or individual file recovery. Instead, the new hybrid storage console lets the TGI Fridays IT team quickly restore to earlier versions saved in the cloud.

"Restoring a file required mounting an entire volume where the file was in a virtual machine," Oehlert said. The new system operated with a simple point-and-click to restore, which was a sea change for the TGI Fridays team.

Happy hour

The company also moved from Dell EMC PowerStore hardware onto new Dell Technologies PowerEdge R440 servers. Oehlert wanted to stick with Dell hardware as his team was familiar with it and he calculated better savings and performance.

Oehlert said TGI Fridays brought in additional workers to guide the team through each step of the process. The move involved prepping data for migration, primarily by ensuring proper data rights and assigning new ownership. The team then created migration paths using Robocopy commands, assisted by the Nasuni's support team, which helped set appropriate parameters. TGI Fridays made the final migration itself using Microsoft Distributed File System to point data located in old sources to new destinations.

They never even knew we were there, which is exactly how we planned it.
Michael OehlertInfrastructure team lead, TGI Fridays

Oehlert warned TGI Fridays' employees that a migration was forthcoming, but the event was so seamless that on the day of the migration, some users asked if it had been postponed. "They never even knew we were there, which is exactly how we planned it," Oehlert said.

Now the team keeps 17 TB under its control with about 3 TB on premises for faster access. The company moves remaining data to the cloud and stores it at colder and colder storage tiers, which cuts costs by about a quarter, Oehlert estimated.

More importantly, the team didn't disrupt employee workflow with a tiered migration to the new hardware, which kept everyone's sanity in check, Oehlert said. He also appreciates Nasuni's platform acting as another endpoint to scan and test for potential cyberattacks. The new storage system's file versioning and snapshots can make a fast recovery should an attack occur.

"We love the flexibility of having a foot in each environment," he said. "It was a good call to switch to this. We have a whole lot more control of our data."

Tim McCarthy is a journalist living on the North Shore of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news.

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