Webinar recap: How Ancestry.com shrank its data center footprint by 90%

When we read digital transformation stories, we don’t necessarily expect a visible change in how the business is run. Transformation can be a slow, baby-steps kind of journey. But when international genealogy leader Ancestry transformed its entire storage strategy by utilizing Zadara, the change was big – and so were the outcomes.

Nolan Fluckiger of Ancestry.com tells the full story in a new Zadara webinar. It’s the story of a business that was ingesting up to 70 TB of new data every day, and whose staff were constantly replacing drives in the data center. Today, the company manages only 30 rack units (down from 2,500) and can scale storage capacity and performance without breaking a sweat.

Ancestry isn’t alone in facing storage challenges. Henry Balthazar, Research Director of Storage at 451 Research, joined Fluckiger on the webinar to explain the wider context. “Annual data growth is over 40% at some businesses,” says Balthazar. “As data grows, other problems like disaster recovery, performance, compliance, and the cost of buying storage all become more painful.”

So, what can the rest of us learn from Ancestry?

Challenge: Transforming while running

The company’s goal was to move 100% of its compute and storage resources from its on-premises data centers to the AWS cloud. That would eliminate 90% of its data center footprint. It would also help the company shift from the traditional “capex” model of buying hardware, to a cost-efficient “opex” model that aligns costs with business outcomes.

Moving to the cloud would also reduce the management burden. Before its transformation, the company was maintaining more than 60 dedicated storage racks and 1800 drives across their data centers. “Prior to our move to the cloud, we were always in the data center swapping or replacing drives,” says Fluckiger. “Now there’s no need for that.”

All that sounds challenging enough, but Ancestry also had millions of global customers to serve. At the company’s HQ in Lehi, Utah, researchers were archiving up to 70 TB of historic data per day. The company needed to keep its existing applications and services running throughout the project.

“We couldn’t risk slowing down or disrupting the information ingestion centers in Lehi that power the content for our customers,” explains Fluckiger. “The new solution also needed to support the storage protocols our applications depend on.” These included Samba and CIFS, which are not supported by AWS.

Why Zadara and AWS?

Ancestry.com chose Zadara storage-as-a-service as it was the only solution that supported NFS and Samba for CIFS for file sharing.

“After several failed attempts to move to AWS, we found Zadara was the only solution that supported our existing protocols and didn’t require costly changes to our content infrastructure,” recalls Fluckiger. “There was no way for us to solve this without Zadara.”

With Zadara, the company’s employees and users can access the files without expensive and resource-consuming changes to their existing infrastructure. Workflows haven’t changed, but Ancestry now has the benefits of moving to the cloud with Zadara and AWS.

The impact on performance

By moving its storage to the cloud with Zadara, Ancestry.com also reduced the number of rack units (RUs) it managed from 2,500 down to around 30. That’s a more-than 90% reduction in data center footprint – but the company hasn’t had to sacrifice performance.

“Zadara has enabled us to get the performance we need, such as running a higher performance node as we moved to the Virtual Private Storage Arrays (VPSAs),” says Fluckiger. “Performance is consistent and with Zadara’s built-in support, we can be more efficient with fewer resources and get the same output.”

Our users are seeing better performance than they did with our prior storage-intensive operation. And even as we are scaling, we’ve been able to reduce expenses.”

Storage no longer limits growth

Today, Ancestry.com can scale its storage needs up, or down, paying only for what they use with Zadara. “Storage is no longer a concern for growth,” says Fluckiger.

New challenges came up in 2020, when data center availability became a problem for many businesses and users around the world. In the past, Ancestry IT administrators would have needed physical access to pull drives, but they are now able to actively manage storage without entering the data centers.

“For the internal customers working at the company that manage the data pipeline, this means they consistently have access to available high-performing systems and that is really important.”

Watch our webinar now for the full story and an in-depth discussion of today’s storage challenges. You can also try Zadara enterprise storage for yourself – click below for your free trial.

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