Four Communications cuts storage cost and infrastructure with Talon

Company Overview

Four Communications is one of the leading independent integrated communications agencies in the UK and the Middle East. They offer a truly integrated approach with services spanning advertising, digital, social, media planning & buying, marketing, PR, public affairs, events, insights & planning, and sponsorship. They excel in key sectors
like property, health, travel, financial services, retail, culture, and the public sector.

Four Communications

Challenge: Providing Easy File Access to Globally Distributed Sites

As a PR, marketing, and creative agency, Four Communications relies heavily on collaboration between offices. Over 400 employees need access to files for ongoing projects like extensive video files, high-resolution photographs, office documents, and marketing materials daily to maintain proper workflow. They had only manual processes to handle disaster recovery in satellite offices, and if one server suffered critical failure in these offices it would lead to disruption to users and significant workload on their IT team.

Without a proper solution to provide a smooth file-management and collaboration experience, Four Communications was relying on local on-premise hardware and VPN tunnels to provide basic access to live data.

With their projects relying so heavily on minute-to-minute data metrics and regular file-sharing between offices, Four Communications IT director, Jake Fraser, was hard-pressed to manage each site individually, let alone provide a cohesive file experience for the end users. Jake described the environment as “A joined workforce using disjointed file shares.” The entire network was comprised of individual servers strung together by simple data sharing tools, and it wasn’t good enough.

A Region-Based Collaborative Workforce
Four Communications resides in two primary regions: the UK and the UAE. Each region necessitates different costs and different infrastructure, but each operates on the same basic principle: regional collaboration.

The large UAE offices needed a solution to combat the domestic bandwidth limitations and access issues from distributed locations caused by excessive latency. They needed an intelligent storage solution that delivers the
consistency and scalability of a global file system and the performance of a traditional file server.

In the UK they faced challenges outside of major metropolitan areas. While they had their primary regional datacentre and offices located in London, the costs associated with remote branch offices far exceeded what they wanted to pay. Four Communications was looking to cut down on circuit and fibre costs outside of the primary office, but they needed a storage software that could optimise the network traffic within those offices.

Hyper-converged Infrastructure
Hyper-converted Infrastructure (HCI) through Nutanix would allow Four Communications to unite their distributed network across both regions and simplify daily data management. HCI uses software to consolidate servers into clusters, each of which is then tied to a global network that handles minute-to-minute data management. Four Communications entire network, including servers, storage networks, and storage arrays, could all be consolidated into a single HCI instance through Nutanix. Jake Fraser and his IT team could focus on improving the global network instead of managing 50TB of global data one office at a time.

To achieve this level of control Nutanix HCI operates on two planes: Distributed Data plane and Management plane. The Distributed Data plane runs across the clusters to deliver storage, virtualization, and networking services for applications, either VMs or container-based applications. The Management plane allows for manual administration of all resources and eliminates the need for individual management of infrastructure elements like servers, storage networks, and virtual applications.

Additionally, the Nutanix software handled all daily data management tasks normally performed by a layered system of software. The Nutanix platform runs on Flash SSDs while automatically tiering all data and maintaining hot and cold file locations for access by users. This system provides instant response times and almost unnoticeable delays when accessing and saving files, as well as deduplication and other necessary file management tools.

While they had addressed the distribution problem within their infrastructure, they still needed a solution to deal with the massive files being sent over the network. Access to a central data set wasn’t providing any benefit to users when the local network still bottle-necked their ability to collaborate and deliver on projects.

Local Caching with FAST™
For Four Communications the Intelligent File Caching feature of FAST™ was game-changing. FAST™ Intelligent File Caching stores active data at branch locations and delta differences any changes made to those files back to the central cache in the datacentre or cloud. This massively cuts down on local bandwidth traffic and FAST™’s Global File-locking tool prevents users from creating excess copies in distributed branch locations. These two features, in addition to FAST™’s ability to centralise and consolidate distributed data across their regional networks, transformed the way {Four Communications](https://fourcommunications.com/) managed data.

The UAE region had offices with 40-50 users in one location and a large amount of local caching required for design libraries, video files, and high-resolution image files. Pre-caching the data within nearby regional offices provided a 5-millisecond response time and a local data experience for users—a feature incredibly important to Four Communications IT staff.

Jake Fraser loved the impact this had on daily data management and had this to say: “Users have a local experience from the first file access. Moving to an environment where Talon and Nutanix take away a layer of complexity, makes the management of VMs and files simple, and handles the complex back-end through caching and self-management is amazing.”

Additionally, the FAST™ software transforms how users in the UAE deal with office recovery and backups. The in-country copy of local data ensures disaster recovery for a local office is instantaneous, as the nearby pre-cached data can be transferred to the affected office instantly.

The Talon FAST™ solution allowed Four Communications to avoid investing in costly block storage or separate storage stacks, and instead integrate a seamless file-sharing experience for their users into their existing infrastructure. FAST™ runs on top of the self-managing, High Availability (HA), self-optimising, Nutanix clusters to provide a file management experience unlike any other. By using HCI and FAST™ Four Communications was able to unite their users across the world and deliver a local file experience to each individual user, regardless of location.

The Impact
Four Communications united their distributed servers through Nutanix HCI software. Nutanix turned their distributed storage network into a series of clusters, each connected to one another. Now Jake and his team could manage every server at the same time, instead of stretching their team thin. Nutanix’s HCI software handled deduplication, hot and cold tiering, read and write permissions, and continuously self-optimised, which massively cut down on the headaches for Jake and his team.

Talon FAST™ software complemented the Nutanix HCI software through Intelligent File Caching, Global File Locking, and data centralisation. Users could utilise the local data cache instead of relying on global file sets to be transferred over their slow network. FAST™’s Intelligent File Caching allowed Four Communications’ users to work from a global data set in a local environment. FAST™ simplified the user experience across the board and allowed Four Communications to focus on how to upgrade and improve their infrastructure in the future.

With the two working in tandem Four Communications could finally deliver a smooth and responsive file sharing experience to all end users. Nutanix HCI and Talon FAST™ software transformed Four Communications distributed network into a responsive highly-efficient network, no matter the location or the files involved.

Results

  • Nutanix Hyper-converged Infrastructure software turned Four Communications distributed infrastructure into a united cluster-based system which could be easily managed globally, instead of focusing on individual locations.
  • Nutanix HCI integrated smoothly with virtualization and backup software and provided Jake and his team with a myriad of automatic data management features like data deduplication, hot and cold file tiering, self-optimisation, automatic read and write permissions, and more.
  • Talon FAST™ provided local file caching for the regional workforces, which eliminated the need for data backups, simplified disaster recovery, massively sped up file transfer speeds, cut down on network traffic, and centralised all regional data for ease of access.
  • Talon FAST™ provided an accessible and maintainable local environment for Four Communications’ IT staff, which resulted in end users being able to access the 50TB data repository for their daily operations.

Jake Fraser had this to say about the Talon team, “Talon is committed to tailoring and on-boarding the product. Talon doesn’t provide basic deployment, but instead creates a comprehensive and exhaustive framework for every detail of the deployment. They put in the effort to make sure everything runs as it should and we see the results of what we invested in.”

Vision for the Future
“We’re looking at how we give designers and video file editors a better experience and save money on fibre services. We want to use Talon software in the UK to give those isolated offices faster file access and cut down on circuit and fibre costs outside of London. With Talon software we can optimise the WAN and application usage to continue to cut costs while still providing that local file experience to users.”

Find out how local file caching with FAST™ and Nutanix solves the challenges around distributed storage
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Four Communications - Cuts storage cost and infrastructure with Talon

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