Engineering a Cloud-Based Storage Framework

For many organizations, particularly those with professionals scattered across a country or around the world, moving data from point A to point B at the moment it’s needed is a challenging task. There are often file synchronization issues to deal with and security concerns to address.

At Moffatt & Nichol, a global multidiscipline professional services firm with approximately 650 employees in 34 offices in seven countries, the need to seamlessly connect people forced the company to fundamentally reexamine its storage strategy.

“We seek out highly talented engineers who don’t necessarily want to move to the company’s main offices,” says CIO Jason Jewett. “As a result, we tend to open up smaller satellite offices closer to where these engineers live. So, there’s a need to share documents and collaborate on projects.”

In the past, Moffat & Nichol relied on file servers with drive mapping to store and share data. Every office had a local drive, but when workers in multiple offices attempted to collaborate using Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), conflicts sometimes erupted over designated shared drives.

“The approach was very old school, and it created a lot of challenges,” Jewett explains. This led to collaboration breakdowns, engineers inadvertently overwriting files, and people having to redo work.

“If a person in a branch office was working on a file, [he or she] might copy it down to a local server but not inform anyone,” he explains. “When the [worker] copied it back onto the main server, that would overwrite the files someone else had worked on.”  

Although file backups previously existed, reconstructing them devoured valuable time and resources. So, in early 2014, the company began to explore other storage and file-sharing options.

Implementing a Hybrid Cloud Storage System

After surveying the landscape and reviewing different approaches and vendors, Moffat & Nichol opted for a hybrid cloud storage system from Panzura. The firm conducted a four-month proof of concept and then went live with the new infrastructure in mid-2015. It now relies on 14 controllers, which eliminate local network-attached storage (NAS) and file servers at each office,  making local backups unnecessarily. The system also offers robust disaster recovery capabilities.

Today, teams can access files from different office locations without any sacrifice in performance. The system accommodates large and complex AutoCAD files and geospatial data, as well as videos, audio, spreadsheets, text documents and presentations.

“We can put just about anything in the storage system,” Jewett notes. For now, the only major exclusion involves huge 3D visualization files that sometimes demand hundreds of terabytes of disk space.

In addition to introducing a more flexible and streamlined work environment, the system incorporates Windows domain authentication. “We didn’t have to go back and add security because it was already build in,” Jewett explains.

The lower cost to manage and maintain the system, coupled with a much improved framework for business collaboration, has helped Moffat & Nichol take its operations into the digital age.

“People are able to manage their work and interact in a way that wasn’t previously possible,” Jewett reports. “We’re a lot more efficient as an organization.”