Studio Moderna is a rapidly growing, multichannel retailer. Its call centers scattered across Europe serve an increasing number of customers, driving up storage requirements. At headquarters, developers had nowhere to store their data other than
on their PCs. Studio Moderna solved these issues by using the File and Storage Services feature in the Windows Server 2012 operating system. The company saved 50 percent of the costs required to expand its storage area network solution for the developers.
It opted to store 30 terabytes of data on Windows file shares running as virtual machines in an active-active file server cluster and reduced latency by 15 percent. IT staffers are saving 50 percent of their time managing this cost-effective storage solution,
and Studio Moderna is using it as a standard, scalable storage model that it can deploy at all its data centers.
Established in 1992 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Studio Moderna sells popular, branded products to consumers across central and eastern Europe through a sophisticated, vertically integrated, multichannel sales, media, marketing, and distribution platform.
The company reaches more than 450 million consumers across 21 countries through direct-response television, call centers, websites, catalogs, its own retail stores, and retail partners. Studio Moderna is successfully expanding to North America with its own
brands. One of these brands, Dormeo, has been designing, manufacturing, and marketing memory foam mattresses for more than a decade and is now offering its new, patented, Octaspring® technology.
Growing Demand for Storage
Since 2010, Studio Moderna has almost tripled in size, putting pressure on the company’s 110-person IT department to provide services while containing costs. At headquarters in Ljubljana, 10 system administrators work with 20 colleagues in regional data
centers scattered throughout eastern and central Europe. An increasing amount of the system administrators’ time is spent managing the company’s storage solutions. “As we increase our business and serve more customers in more countries, we drive up our storage
requirements,” says Domen Ferbar, Head of System Administration at Studio Moderna. “We collect large quantities of customer data. We need reliable storage so that we can access this information to analyze customer behavior and use it to increase sales.”
||It’s great for IT when we can find a scalable solution that does more to support our expanding operations, yet costs less. For Studio Moderna, Windows Server 2012 is that solution.
| Domen Ferbar
Head of System Administration, Studio Moderna
At headquarters, Studio Moderna maintains storage area network (SAN) solutions from HP and IBM that use a fibre channel infrastructure with IBM System Storage SAN 40B-4 switches. These SAN solutions contain approximately 250 terabytes of data. Studio Moderna
uses Serial Attached SCSI (SAS)-based storage solutions at the call centers where local data stores range from 20 to 50 terabytes.
It took 1.5 full-time equivalents to manage the storage solutions at Studio Moderna. The company wanted to avoid paying additional staff to manage an increasing amount of storage. It needed to find a more flexible, easy-to-manage solution. “Our data centers
range in size from 300 call center sales staff working 24 hours a day to smaller centers with 30 staffers,” says Ferbar. “To simplify things for our small network administration team, it would be great to have a single, flexible model in place for the IT infrastructure
at all call centers that we could scale up and down as required.”
No Storage Solution for Developers
To meet this need, a 40-person team of developers at headquarters is developing a new line-of-business application for the call centers that will run in a private cloud. A private cloud will enable Studio Moderna to take advantage of the benefits of
virtualization—the simplified management and delivery of on-demand IT services and applications that run as virtual machines on a shared physical infrastructure—while using its own hardware at headquarters and regional data centers.
However, the developer team did not have a centralized development platform or storage solution and had to store data on individual PCs. “A lot of time was wasted transferring data to upgrade the developers’ test environments and it was difficult to share
information and work as a team,” says Matija Vrtačnik, System Engineer at Studio Moderna. “The developers generate a lot of data because they are building and destroying test environments for more than 20 countries. But when we looked at the cost of expanding
our existing SAN solution for them, it was going to be €74,000 [US$93,000]. We wanted to reduce our investment in fibre channel infrastructures and use a less-expensive 10-gigabit Ethernet infrastructure instead.”
To complement the cloud-based infrastructure being built for the data centers, Studio Moderna wanted a cost-effective, virtual storage solution that it could use to create a flexible, scalable model for all its data centers. This is an important goal, because
the company expects a significant increase in business throughout middle and eastern Europe. “If we were to contain costs, we needed a scalable, predictable storage model that would simplify management for the data centers,” says Ferbar.
When Studio Moderna heard about the Rapid Deployment Program (RDP) for the Windows Server 2012 operating system, the company decided to investigate the new file server storage option available in the latest Windows operating system from Microsoft.
The RDP provided an opportunity for Studio Moderna to evaluate the flexible and highly available File and Storage Services feature in Windows Server 2012. It decided to use the RDP to build a storage solution for its developers that would serve as the new
storage model for the call centers and run on less-expensive, industry-standard hardware. Using File and Storage Services in Windows Server 2012, Studio Moderna can replace expensive SAN storage solutions by storing server application data on file shares and
by taking advantage of the Server Message Block 3 (SMB3) protocol. This storage solution works well with inexpensive, industry-standard hardware, yet is capable of supporting critical application services, such as Hyper-V virtualization technology and Microsoft
SQL Server data management software. For high availability, the shared storage can be placed on a file server failover cluster running in active-active mode.
||We decided to avoid paying VMware €1.4 million [US$1.75 million] in licenses and go with Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V to build a private cloud model for our regional data centers.
| Domen Ferbar
Head of System Administration, Studio Moderna
“We joined the RDP in February 2012 and it was a great experience to work with Microsoft Services,” says Grega Zupanek, Senior System Engineer at Studio Moderna. “Our Microsoft consultant enlightened us about an alternative to our SAN solution at headquarters.
We also used the RDP to learn how to build a simple, scalable storage solution to support our new line-of-business application that would be running in a private cloud.”
It was partly due to its experience with the RDP that Studio Moderna decided to use Hyper-V technology in Windows Server 2012 to build its private cloud. The company has an existing VMware virtualization solution at all data centers; however, it chose Hyper-V
for its future virtualization projects. “Hyper-V gave us all the power, flexibility, and manageability we needed,” says Ferbar. “We decided to avoid paying VMware €1.4 million [US$1.75 million] in licenses and go with Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V to build
a private cloud model for our regional data centers. Add the fact that Windows Server 2012 offers cost-effective, file-based storage solutions for Hyper-V and SQL Server and suddenly we have a new platform on which to build our business.”
The other reason that the company decided on a Microsoft virtualization solution for the data centers was because it would interoperate with the file and server storage solution in Windows Server 2012. Studio Moderna wanted to standardize on one vendor with
interoperable technologies to make managing the IT environment as simple as possible for the system administrators.
Windows Server 2012 supports SMB file storage on Hyper-V virtual machines running on industry-standard servers. In July 2012, Studio Moderna configured Hyper-V over SMB3 running on four-year-old NEC Express 5800/120Rj-2 servers in a three-node active-active
cluster that contains up to 30 terabytes of data on SAS and SATA drives. For its network infrastructure, Studio Moderna uses four Intel PRO 1000 1-gigabit network interface cards teamed together. The storage infrastructure consists of two Mellanox ConnectX-3
network interface cards (10 gigabits per second).
“The number of virtual machines hosted on the cluster varies from up to 50 virtual machines running concurrently to 300 virtual machines stored in a library created and managed by System Center 2012. These virtual machines are ready to be deployed at any
time, taking the physical resource limitations into account, including RAM and CPU,” says Zupanek. “Now the developers have more than enough storage available.”
Studio Moderna is taking advantage of a variety of performance enhancements and availability improvements in Windows Server 2012 to enhance the new file shares storage option within Windows Server 2012. These include:
Cluster-Aware Updating. This feature supports automatic updating of clustered servers without the need for an administrator and with little or no loss in availability during the update process. Studio Moderna IT staffers
can use Cluster-Aware Updating to take one node of the cluster offline, install updates, perform a restart, and bring the node back online, without interrupting service.
SMB Direct. When Studio Moderna deployed Mellanox network interface cards that have Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) capability, they took advantage of this feature. They use SMB Direct, which supports RDMA-capable network interface cards,
to ensure that the SMB client has a low CPU overhead and low latency, in order to save CPU consumption for the main Hyper-V workload on the server.
Studio Moderna is also evaluating Microsoft System Center 2012, a product for managing data center resources, private clouds, and endpoint devices. The company is participating in the Technology
Adoption Program (TAP) for Microsoft System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 and plans to use the solution to manage the compute, storage, and network elements of the private cloud environment that it is building for the regional data centers.
Studio Moderna is using the File and Storage Services feature in Windows Server 2012 to accommodate the increasing demands for storage that resulted from the company’s regional expansion. “It’s great for IT when we can find a scalable solution that does
more to support our expanding operations, yet costs less,” says Ferbar. “For Studio Moderna, Windows Server 2012 is that solution.”
Studio Moderna is reducing IT costs, improving storage availability and performance, and simplifying storage management while gaining an extensible, flexible storage solution for its regional operations.
Reduced IT Costs
When Studio Moderna decided to create a development platform for its 40-person development team to coordinate their work on the new line-of-business application, it decided to look for a more sophisticated solution instead of just extending the existing
SAN storage solution at headquarters. It used the File and Storage Services feature in Windows Server 2012 as a less-expensive storage option. Instead of paying an estimated €74,000 (US$93,000), the company only spent €38,000 (US$48,000) because it could use
existing industry-standard servers and take advantage of a less-expensive Ethernet infrastructure, such as Juniper EX4500 Ethernet switches.
||We ran Hyper-V over SMB3 on three-year-old decommissioned servers in a four-node, active-active cluster and got the same performance as our existing SAN solution—at half the price.
| Grega Zupanek
Senior System Engineer, Studio Moderna
“Windows Server 2012 gave us an inexpensive, high-performance storage solution for our developers,” says Zupanek. “We ran Hyper-V over SMB3 on three-year-old decommissioned servers in a four-node, active-active cluster and got the same performance as our existing
SAN solution—at half the price.”
Studio Moderna gains another benefit: providing the developers with a new platform, including ample storage, means that they can work more productively to quickly finish the new line-of-business application for the data centers—a key IT goal to help the
company standardize and streamline operations in the regional centers.
Improved Availability, Performance
To function as a viable replacement for SAN-based storage options, file storage must approximate the same level of availability and performance. Server applications, such as Hyper-V and SQL Server, require high levels of CPU consumption to perform well
and expect storage to be always available. Studio Moderna got the availability and performance that it needed to prove that file-based storage was a legitimate option. Configuring the file server cluster in active-active mode and using SMB Transparent Failover
means that the developers who rely on the cluster’s virtual machines would not notice any impact on performance if IT staffers took a node offline to perform maintenance.
The new storage solution also improves performance for high performance applications by ensuring their CPU consumption when accessing storage is kept to a minimum. “We used SMB Direct RDMA in Windows Server 2012 to reduce CPU consumption for network traffic
and reduced latency by 15 percent on our existing servers,” says Zupanek. “Instead of paying for SAN-based storage, we’ll be going with Windows Server 2012 file share storage for Hyper-V and SQL Server.”
The IT staff at Studio Moderna is happy that instead of configuring hardware, they can work with intuitive Microsoft data center management tools, such as System Center 2012, and rely on automated capabilities within the Windows Server 2012 operating
system to improve storage performance. With SMB Direct, Windows Server 2012 detects network interface cards so that they function without requiring manual SMB configuration. If RDMA network interface cards are available, they will be used automatically.
“Supporting server application storage on file server clusters in Windows Server 2012 is easy,” says Vrtačnik. “I’m saving 50 percent of the time I used to spend managing storage with our SAN-based solution.”
Provided Infrastructure for Growth
Before the Windows Server 2012 RDP, Studio Moderna did not have a full scope of standardized equipment in place at its 21 call centers. This caused extra work for the 30 system administrators. Since working with Windows Server 2012 virtualization and
storage solutions, IT staffers envisioned and built a new cloud infrastructure for the data centers. “We had the idea of building a private cloud and we had the idea of implementing a different storage solution, but after the RDP, we had the knowledge,” says
Zupanek. “The RDP showed us there were alternatives to VMware and SAN storage.”
Following the release to manufacturing date for Windows Server 2012, Studio Moderna began to migrate its largest call center, in Romania, to the new line-of-business application running on Hyper-V. It will use System Center 2012 to manage the private cloud
environment in Romania, and, when necessary, it will have at its disposal a new file server storage solution that’s inexpensive, flexible, and easy to manage.
“Finally, we have a single model that applies equally well to all our data centers, which empowers IT staff to provide the same level of automated, response service to all our constituents,” says Ferbar. “You could say that Windows Server 2012 is transforming
how IT can support the business, especially in the areas where we expect maximum growth.”
Windows Server 2012
Windows Server drives many of the world’s largest data centers, empowers small businesses around the world, and delivers value to organizations of all sizes in between. Building on this legacy, Windows Server 2012 redefines the category, delivering hundreds
of new features and enhancements that span virtualization, networking, storage, user experience, cloud computing, automation, and more. Simply put, Windows Server 2012 helps you transform your IT operations to reduce costs and deliver a whole new level of
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