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Real estate firm eliminates file junkyard with Panzura file locking

Essex Property Trust decommissioned its NetApp array and moved its primary storage to Amazon cloud with Panzura Quicksilver appliances that lock files to reduce sprawl.

Essex Property Trust Inc. cleaned up a "junkyard" of duplicate files by turning to Panzura cloud storage gateways connected to a public cloud.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based real estate investment trust last year installed the Panzura Global Cloud Storage System with file locking to replace a NetApp on-premises storage array. The company decommissioned the NetApp array and started using the Amazon Web Services cloud as its primary storage tier.

Panzura enabled local file sharing and cloud-based backup, helping Essex gain control over a "junkyard pile of files," IT director Sam Ghnaim said. Panzura enables Essex to develop policies for long-term data retention, he said.

The Panzura Global Cloud Storage System consists of Panzura Quicksilver Cloud Controller hardware, Panzura Storage Operating System software and the Panzura CloudFS Global File System. Panzura appliances include solid-state drives and the system uses APIs to migrate data from on-premises storage to public clouds.

Panzura storage automatically locks a file in the background, enabling multiple users to see the same file structure. When a file is in use, users at any location who try to open that file are given read-only access until the lock is released. Changes made to the file are tracked in the background and synced to cloud storage.

"With Panzura, you're always working with the latest copy of the data," Ghnaim said.

Copy data sprawl hindered local file-sharing networks

Essex Property Trust develops and manages nearly 300 upscale apartment complexes in California and Washington. The company put Panzura appliances at its main corporate data center in Santa Clara, Calif., as well as secondary California data centers in Woodland Hills and San Jose.

Storage is centrally managed at corporate headquarters. Panzura virtual appliances (software-only) are installed at individual properties and branch offices. The Essex Property Trust properties connect to 10 TB of shared storage via VMware virtual private networks (VPNs) running across a Cisco Meraki backbone.

Prior to implementing Panzura, copy data sprawl resulted in roughly 2 TB of older data that became increasingly difficult to manage.

"People were saving files all over the place," Ghnaim said. "Someone would open a file, make changes and save a new copy. They had no way of seeing if the same file was already open and in use by someone else. It was crippling our business, because it meant someone had to try and merge the files together, figure out who had the latest copy and who had made changes to it."

The duplicate copies strained network bandwidth and hindered employee collaboration. Branch offices experienced wait times of several minutes when opening large files. Essex compensated for the lack of a data-retention policy with what Ghnaim called a "Band-Aid fix" of buying additional storage.

"We had data sitting on our network that hadn't been touched in years, but we had no policy to determine what to do from a legal standpoint with this historical data," he said.

File locking emerged as priority during pilots

Essex sought to resolve issues related to file sharing on local VPNs while maintaining centrally managed storage.

"We knew we didn't want to add storage that didn't fit the company's business model," Ghnaim said. "We wanted to go with a hybrid cloud services model that keeps production files for faster local access and automatically does some data retention by moving older files to the cloud."

Essex first ran a pilot with Panzura competitor Nasuni, installing Nasuni cloud-connected appliances and controllers at several locations. The Nasuni implementation addressed the slow VPN access, but Nasuni's UniFS file system did not yet support file locking. (Nasuni added the feature in August 2014).

Essex completed its Panzura implementation in January 2014, at the same time Essex was finalizing a merger with BRE Properties Inc. Ghnaim credits Panzura storage with simplifying the integration of the two companies' IT infrastructures.

With help from Panzura technical support, he configured Quicksilver controllers to establish Active Directory trusts across disparate domains.

"When the merger closed on April 1 of last year, we wanted Essex employees to be able to share and collaborate immediately. We thought it was going to be a big challenge to do drive mapping and data migration," Ghnaim said.

"We dropped the Panzura appliance into BRE's network, created a trust and people were able to collaborate from day 1. It gave the business a quick win right off the bat," he said.

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