Design Firm Scales Up Its Storage Infrastructure

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
storage infrastructure

The Mill implements a sophisticated storage approach to better manage the huge quantity of data it produces and to enhance availability and performance.

Few industries require the storage capacity and performance of a digital design and post-production firm that creates commercials and advertising for the television, gaming and music industries. At The Mill—which serves industry heavyweights such as Nike, Samsung, Anheuser-Bush, FIFA, KFC and many others—the focus is on achieving the highest level of availability and performance.

"We are constantly pushing the limits," says Jonathan Brazier, group computer systems manager at The Mill, which operates offices in London, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. "Digital animation and production becomes more complex and realistic all the time.

"There's a need to accommodate and manage enormous files and data sets in high definition. Storage plays a critical role in ensuring that we can perform at the necessary level, and the requirements keep on increasing."

In the past, The Mill relied heavily on network-attached storage (NAS)-based systems to store and share data among the company's 900 employees. However, "We noticed over time that the boxes were getting busier, and throughput was slowing down," Brazier recalls. "The systems in place simply weren't adequate. We were running up against physical storage limits."

With upward of 250 terabytes online for its various jobs, that meant the company had to either expand an older system or move to newer, more advanced technology.

The Mill turned to Avere FXT Series Edge filers to scale up its storage infrastructure. The system, which supports more than 200 artists, provides 1.6TB of high-speed Flash Solid State Drive (SSD) capacity per node, which is accessible via both Network File System (NFS) and Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocols.

Brazier reports that the NAS environment is delivering both cost savings and simplified management capabilities. He points out that the company had to find a way to better manage the sheer quantity of data it produces but also improve caching capabilities. "We now have excellent visibility into our data and excellent reporting," he says.

Among other things, the speed and responsiveness of the storage environment has helped the company operate more quickly and efficiently. Artists can tackle changes—including last-minute adjustments—faster and at a much lower cost than in the past.

What's more, Brazier says that patches and upgrades have become far simpler. With two partitions residing in the operating system, it's possible to install the upgrade and flip to the other partition. "If you have a problem, you simply go back," he points out. "The system eliminates many of the headaches we've had in the past."

The switchover at the London office took place in August 2013, and the Los Angeles office was migrated earlier this year. Brazier says the process took only a couple of hours and simply required pointing the client to the new device and rebooting it. "It took place flawlessly," he reports.

At present, the company relies on more than 300 clients at the London office and another 250 clients in Los Angeles. Brazier plans to expand the use of the Avere NAS storage technology to the company's other offices during the coming months. The NAS storage and infrastructure will make it easier to share and manage files and data between offices.

"We knew we had to invest in more hardware and build a more robust environment," Brazier says, "and we have taken a significant step forward."

This article was originally published on 2014-08-13

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for Baseline.

eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.