All-inclusive pricing leads to quick sale for Knight Frank

By Martin Courtney
20 May 2011 View Comments

International property agency Knight Frank this week revealed the full extent of its recent data centre storage and server consolidation project.

The project saw 150 physical servers pared down to 32 and RAID5 data storage capacity increased from 27 terabytes to 138.

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Knight Frank technical architect Hardesh Degun says the deal was sealed by transparent pricing, which meant the estate agency could pay for the storage area network (SAN) upfront, rather than be faced with hidden or escalating costs over time as new features were added or became available.

"Other storage vendors we have engaged with have a price for storing data on the SAN, but additional prices and licensing requirements for any other features, like replication or snapshots, or even a second controller," he said.

"With Lefthand (acquired by HP for £222m in 2009) those products are available at no extra cost, so each time there is a new software release – to allow integration of Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and Exchange backups from the Lefthand management software console, for example – those new features are available to us [without additional cost] and that was key."

Last year saw Knight Frank replace its ageing IBM BladeCenter 8832 and 8843 and HP Proliant DL360 and DL380 G2/G5 blade servers with 28 of HP's latest dual Quad-Core CPU ProLiant BL495c equivalents housed in two BladeSystem c7000 enclosures in its two London data centres, alongside an HP StorageWorks (previously Lefthand Networks) P4000 storage area network (SAN).  

Knight Frank's marketing department would not disclose how much the company spent on the upgrade or the value of the ongoing five-year support and maintenance contract with HP, so definitive return on investment and total cost of ownership (TCO) figures are hard to pin down.

The upgrade was planned with the aid of reseller DTP Group, who performed an in-depth analysis on energy usage and costs and virtualisation capacity planning analysis before HP was chosen as the supplier.

DTP Group is an HP-preferred Gold reseller, but also certified by IBM. It estimated that the combined energy and support costs for storage equipment at both sites was approximately £47,200 per year, rising to £86,000 a year when the servers and hosting costs were factored in.

Those figures look to have been reduced by 90 per cent, estimates Knight Frank, although this calculation is based on an anticipated reduction in energy and data centre costs (excluding support costs) over the full five-year period. The company also estimates it has reduced its carbon emissions by 47 per cent.

A critical element here was reducing the number of racks in Knight Frank's second data centre in Aldgate, which is a Level 3 hosted environment where a considerable amount of money has been saved on space rental and electricity costs.

The maintenance costs on four-to-five-year-old servers was also much higher previously, not least because the company was running 150 physical systems as opposed to 32 now.

"With the IBM servers we had 16 blades per chassis, but the 1-2U HP ProLiant BL495c servers take up less rack space, so we have gone from needing eight racks  to six in both data centres," said Degun.

"Those racks used to need two 30amp feeds, but we can make do with two 16amp feeds now."

The Aldgate data centre is used to replicate data from Knight Frank's own data centre facility within its Baker Street offices, with newly installed dual 10-Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) links providing availability and disaster recovery in  case of problems with equipment or facilities at Knight Frank's own data centre.

The servers and storage are linked by trunking four 10GbE ports on each device linked to a core switch within each data centre, and virtual servers are used to host applications, including Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint.

"We operate at about a 10-to-1 server consolidation ratio, depending on what the blade is running," said Degun.

"There are some applications that have not been virtualised (the company maintains about ten native hardware servers on each site), but only because we will need to review whether we still need them in a couple of years."

Degun originally had doubts that the iSCSI StorageWorks P4000 would be fast enough to support Knight Frank's data centre operations, compared with the previous fibre channel (FC) disk arrays, but reports no problems to date.

He estimates Knight Frank's data growth at around 20-30 per cent per year, though the company recently reduced the volume of its archived data by outsourcing email provision and storage to Mimecast.

The data centre infrastructure is supported internally by a team of seven backed by HP's 24/7 telephone helpdesk. Staff remotely monitor server and storage usage, capacity, bottlenecks, disk input/output (I/O), latency and failed CPU, RAM and PSUs, using tools from both Lefthand and VMWare.

"There is less overtime, it is easier to staff the IT department, we have happier employees, and it is easier to manage," concluded Degun.

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