luchschen_shutter - Fotolia

Propane provider gives SAN the gas with Violin flash array

Ferrellgas' switch from a hybrid array to a Violin flash storage array brought a boost in performance as well as surprising reductions in cost and management.

Ferrellgas IT vice president Bill Evans said he received more benefits than he expected after upgrading to an all-flash storage array. He knew performance would improve over his hybrid system, but said he also found management much simpler with one storage tier instead of three.

There were also financial bonuses. To his surprise, Evans' Violin Memory Flash Storage Platform (FSP) 7300 cost less than hybrid storage systems from legacy vendors. And the performance boost from the Violin flash array allowed him to converge data centers at a considerable cost saving.

Ferrellgas, based in Overland Park, Kan., sells propane gas in all 50 states. It's most critical data is tied to a routing application that coordinates trucks, drivers and inventory for about 46,000 portable tank exchange locations nationally. Evans said the time to run that application after switching from a hybrid EMC VNX shrunk to a Violin flash array from at least 10 hours to four hours. Other processes that used to take two hours now complete in a couple of minutes, he said.

"It's quite a bit faster than using flash, Fibre Channel and SATA [tiers]," Evans said of having only one flash tier. "We can stick all our data into flash now. Before we were taking our SAN storage [with disk] and migrating it to SAN storage [with flash]. We were expecting performance improvements, but not this much. I don't see any reason to turn back [to HDDs]."

Evans made the switch to all-flash late last summer. He said the Violin flash array presents "a single pane of glass, easy to manage, single tier, it doesn't have all the manipulations."

The timing of the deal allowed Ferrellgas to save around $1 million a year with the FSP purchase, Evans said. Ferrellgas bought another company in August, and that company had outsourced all of its IT to Rackspace. That was about the same time as Ferrellgas installed its Violin flash array, and migrated data and virtual machines from Rackspace to its own data center. The $1 million savings comes from ending the outsourcing contract.

Violin's all-flash priced out better than the hybrids we were looking at with comparable capacity.
Bill Evansvice president of IT, Ferrellgas

Evans had already received positive sticker shock when he priced all-flash arrays against hybrid legacy systems from EMC and IBM when his EMC maintenance contract was about to expire. He said the all-flash system cost less, and also saved him from hiring a dedicated storage administrator or outsourcing the task.

"Violin's all-flash priced out better than the hybrids we were looking at with comparable capacity," he said. "That was a big surprise to us."

He bought four Violin Memory FSP 7300 all-flash arrays with 44 TB of usable capacity on each one, and installed them at two locations.

"We wanted to find a way to manage storage easier," Evans said. "We had one guy managing the EMC stack, and when he left we couldn't afford to hire one person to just manage our storage. The same guy had to manage Windows servers and some Exchange, so we outsourced storage management. When we looked at new storage, one of my requirements was to find a way to manage it internally."

Evans said he hasn't turned on Violin's deduplication and compression yet but plans to test those data reduction features soon. "That will help give us more capacity," he said. "If we make another acquisition, we will be able to handle that without any additional storage investment."

He also plans to use the Violin flash array's synchronous replication when the company consolidates from three data centers to two data centers. Ferrellgas currently has data centers in Kansas, North Carolina and Missouri but will soon close the Missouri facility. Evans said he will then have production running in both remaining data centers on Violin flash arrays, and he can run completely out of one data center if the other one goes down.

The synchronization will alleviate the need for log shipping to protect his databases. "Migrating the databases is the end game for us," he said. "Then we'll have all our primary data on flash."

Next Steps

How to buy an all-flash array

Craft an RFP for a flash array purchase

Breaking down the cost of all-flash

Dig Deeper on Flash memory and storage

Disaster Recovery
Data Backup
Data Center
and ESG