Gold medals for data

Last week was the end of a wonderful summer of sport from Rio, where the Olympics and Paralympics gave us sport at its best, people achieving life time goals, setting new records and inspiring a new generation of athletes.

I’m sure many of you enjoyed the games as much as I did, but why bring it up here? Well for someone who writes a BLOG it’s almost a contractual obligation in an Olympic year, to write something that has a tenuous Olympic link. So here’s my entry!

One part of the Team GB squad that really stood in Rio were the Olympic cyclists, winning more gold medals than all of the other countries combined (6 of the 10teamgb_trott_archibald_rowsell_barker_rio_2000-1471125302 available) a phenomenal achievement.

This led to one question getting continually asked “What’s the secret?”. In one BBC interview Sir Chris Hoy was asked that question and his answer fascinated me, during his career the biggest impact on British cycling was not equipment, facilities, training, or super human cyclists. It was data, yes, data, not just collecting data, but more importantly the ability to extract valuable insight from it.

We hear it all the time

“those who will be the biggest successes in the future are those that get the most value from their data”

and what a brilliant example the cyclists where. We see this constantly in sport where the smallest advantage matters , but not just sport, increasingly this is the case in business, as organsations see data as the key to giving them competitive edge.

We all love these kind of stories, how technology can provide true advantage, but it’s always great to see it in action.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a call with the technical lead of one of our customers. He and his company see the benefit of technology investment and how it delivers business advantage. I’ve been lucky enough to work with them over the last 4 years or so and have watched the company grow around 300% in that time, we were talking with one of his key technology vendors and explaining to them how their technology was an instrumental part of their success.

During the call I realised this was my opportunity for a tenuous Olympic link BLOG post and how, as with the cyclists, getting the best from data was delivering real bottom line success to the business.

The business is a smart energy company, doing very innovative stuff in the commercial and private energy sectors. They’re in a very competitive industry, dominated by some big companies, but these guys are bucking that trend and a great example of how a company that is agile and knows how to exploit its advantage can succeed.

In their industry data is king, they pick up tonnes of data every day, from customers, from devices, from sensors, and manipulating this data and extracting valuable information from it is key to their success.

Until about a year ago they were running their database and reporting engines (SQL based) on a NetApp storage array, running 7-mode. That had worked but a year ago we migrated his infrastructure to clustered data ONTAP to provide increased flexibility, mobility of data and more granular separation of workloads.

However, the smartest thing they did as part of the migration was to deploy flashpools into their environment, why was this so earth shattering?

A big part of the value of their SQL infrastructure is reporting. This allows them to provide better services to their customers and suppliers giving them advantage over their competitors.

However many of those reports took hours to run, in fact the process was request the report and it would be ready the next day.

The introduction of flashpools into the environment (flashpools are flash based acceleration technology available in NetApp ONTAP arrays) had a dramatic effect taking these overnight reports and delivering them in 30-60 minutes.

This significant reduction in report running times, meant more reports could be run, more reports producing different data that could be used to present new and improved services to customers.

Last year the technical lead attended NetApp Insight in Berlin. One of the big areas of discussion that caught his interest was the development of all flash FAS (AFF), NetApp’s all flash variants of their ONTAP driven FAS controllers.

They immediately saw the value in this high performance, low latency technology. So earlier this year, we arranged an AFF proof of concept to be integrated into the environment, during this POC, the team moved a number of SQL workloads to the flash based storage and it’s no understatement to say this transformed their data analysis capabilities, those 30-60 minute reports where now running in 2-3 minutes.

aff-performance-on-sql
An example of the kind of performance you can get from AFF (this is an AFF8080 cluster running ONTAP 8.3.1 – new platforms and ONTAP 9 have increased this performance further)

But this was not just about speed, this truly opened up brand new capabilities and business opportunities, now the organisation could provide their customers and suppliers with information that previously was impossible, providing quick access to data was allowing them to make decisions on their energy usage that gave true value.

They knew the proof of concept had gone well, when on taking it out the business began asking questions, why is everything so slow? Why can’t we do those reports anymore? And that was the business case, the deployment of NetApp flash was not just doing stuff quickly, or using flash because that’s what everyone says you should, this was because flash was delivering results, real business advantage.

As Chris Hoy discussed at the Olympics, it was not just getting the data because they could, it was getting the most out of it and in a sport where often 10th of seconds are between you and a gold medal, any advantage is critical.

A competitive business environment is no different, so an investment in technology that gives you the slightest edge makes perfect sense.

Today, all flash FAS is integrated into their new datacentre running the latest iterations of ONTAP, ensuring a low latency, high performance infrastructure, ensuring that they can continue to drive value from their most critical business asset, their Data.

A great use of technology to drive advantage, in fact Gold medals for data usage all round.

gold-medals

Hope that wasn’t to tenuous an Olympic link and if you have any questions then of course, @techstringy or via LinkedIN are great ways to get me.

If you’re interested in Flash you may also find this useful “Is Flash For Me?” from my company website.

 

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