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NHL's San Jose Sharks pick all-flash storage array over hybrid

The IT director for the NHL's San Jose Sharks wanted to give equal performance throughout his company, so he picked an all-flash storage array.

When Uy Ut, director of IT for Sharks Sports and Entertainment (SSE), went looking for a flash storage array this year, he knew he wanted nothing but flash.

With 64 TB of spinning disk sitting in his data center already, Ut had no use for a hybrid system. He wanted as much performance as he could get. He acquired a Pure Storage FA-420 all-flash storage array in June as his storage for SSE's virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and all of its Windows applications.

"The argument for hybrid flash is it gives you a ton of IOPS, but also the space," he said. "I already had the space. I wanted performance."

Ut said he wanted that performance across the board and didn't want to bother with tiering data across flash and spinning disk.

"I needed consistent results," he said. "I had to know my latency would be sub-one millisecond, no matter what. I knew I was going to use the box for VDI and Exchange, SQL and everything our business runs on. I wanted everything to be on flash. That's what all users want -- they want the fastest possible service.

"I don't have a PhD in storage. I'm not going to do tiering and say, 'Hey, this is our busy month. You guys in marketing get tier-one service, but in sales you're going to get tier two.' I didn't want to go through all that -- I just wanted to set and forget it."

SSE is the parent company for the National Hockey League's (NHL) San Jose Sharks, as well as its minor league affiliate, Worcester Sharks, in Worcester, Mass. SSE also manages the SAP Center in San Jose, where the Sharks play, and three additional rinks in Northern California.

Ut is responsible for the IT for all of those properties, as well as a staff of about 250 that includes players, coaches and scouts.

"I had been waiting for flash," Ut said. "I didn't want to make a huge investment because I saw the trend that storage was going to flash. I skipped over the whole hybrid situation and made our situation work as long as we could until flash was more mainstream."

Ut said he looked at as many flash arrays as he could before choosing a system. He said he went with Pure's array because it was easy to set up and manage, yet still gave him primary data reduction capability that will extend the life of the system and redundancy for high availability.

"We have four folks who run IT here," he said. "When I did a proof of concept with the flash vendors, Pure was just so easy. They showed me, 'This is how it's set up. This is the dashboard. This is how you set up an iSCSI target,' and you're done.

"The other thing was they have deduplication and compression. Today, flash is a premium. If there is anything that can extend the life of flash or give me more of it, I want to hear about it."

SSE has 4 TB of raw capacity on the Pure array, and Ut said he gets about a 5-to-1 data reduction.

He also liked that the FA arrays have all-redundant parts. "It's your data. You want it protected seven days 'til Sunday," Ut said. "I felt good that if a controller went down, the other one could still do everything it needed to do."

VDI was SSE's first use for the all-flash array. "When I did a proof of concept with spinning disk, the first 10 folks could have a good experience with VDI, but I could see degradation with User 11 or 12," he said.

Running VDI with Citrix XenDesktop, Ut said the flash array easily supports 125 VDI users now, and his goal by the end of the season is to have all 250 employees on VDI.

"I didn't make the box sweat running 125 VDI users, and I barely used any capacity," Ut said.

He then added general-purpose storage to the box, including all of his Windows applications -- such as Microsoft Exchange, SQL, Active Directory -- and all file storage.

Before buying the Pure array, SSE had an iSCSI SAN consisting of StarWind Software virtualization software that turns disk -- in this case, a Hewlett-Packard JBOD -- into an iSCSI target. He has repurposed that box for bulk storage, mainly videos and backups.

"You can't compress or dedupe video," he said. "When you're doing HD video, you're talking gigs and gigs worth of data. I don't think flash storage is the place to put it."

One reason Ut wanted flash was to run VDI to provide the same service to all of the Sharks' sites -- giving the American Hockey League's Worcester Sharks the same IT features the NHL team gets. He rolled out VDI first in the San Jose and Worcester sites. The ice centers near San Jose will be next.

"My issue isn't the amount of people, but we're spread out all over the place, including scouts, players and coaching staff," he said. "The remote sites felt out-of-sight, out-of mind. This levels the playing field. Now, I've given Worcester all of the things that headquarters has, so they can't say IT is holding them up. Other than putting a data center and IT staff out there, this is the way to do it. It's all about making everybody feel like a first-class citizen."

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