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With Time on its hands, Meredith drives storage consolidation

Following an acquisition of Time Inc., Meredith Corp. dumped most of its traditional IT gear and added newer technology developed around virtualization, convergence and the cloud.

After Meredith Corp. closed its $2.8 billion acquisition of Time Inc. in January 2018, it adopted the motto "Be Bold. Together."

David Coffman, Meredith's director of enterprise infrastructure, took that slogan literally. "I interpreted that as 'Drive it like you stole it,'" said Coffman, who was given a mandate to overhaul the combined company's data centers that held petabytes of data. He responded with an aggressive backup and primary storage consolidation.

The Meredith IT team found itself with a lot of Time data on its hands, and in need of storage consolidation because a variety of vendors were in use. Meredith was upgrading its own Des Moines, Iowa, data center at the time, and Coffman's team standardized technology across legacy Time and Meredith. It dumped most of its traditional IT gear and added newer technology developed around virtualization, convergence and the cloud.

Although Meredith divested some of Time's best-known publications, it now publishes People, Better Homes and Gardens, InStyle, Southern Living and Martha Stewart Living. The company also owns 17 local television stations and other properties.

The goal is to reduce its data centers to two major sites in New York and Des Moines with the same storage, server and data protection technologies. The sites can serve as DR sites for each other. Meredith's storage consolidation resulted in implementing Nutanix hyper-converged infrastructure for block storage and virtualization, Rubrik data protection and a combination of Nasuni and NetApp for file storage.

"I've been working to merge two separate enterprises into one," Coffman said. "We decided we wanted to go with cutting-edge technologies."

At the time of the merger, Meredith used NetApp-Cisco FlexPod converged infrastructure for primary storage and Time had Dell EMC and Hitachi Vantara in its New York and Weehawken, N.J. data centers. Both companies backed up with Veritas NetBackup software. Meredith had a mixture of tape and NetBackup appliances and Time used tape and Dell EMC Data Domain disk backup.

By coincidence, both companies were doing proofs of concept with Rubrik backup software on integrated appliances and were happy with the results.

Meredith installed Rubrik clusters in its Des Moines and New York data centers as well as a large Birmingham, Alabama office after the merger. They protect Nutanix clusters in all those sites.

"If we lost any of those sites, we could hook up our gear to another site and do restores," Coffman said.

Meredith also looked at Cohesity and cloud backup vendor Druva while evaluating Rubrik Cloud Data Management. Coffman and Michael Kientoff, senior systems administrator of data protection at Meredith, said they thought Rubrik had the most features and they liked its instant restore capabilities.

Coffman said Cohesity was a close second, but he didn't like that Cohesity includes its own file system and bills itself as secondary storage.

"We didn't think a searchable file system would be that valuable to us," Coffman said. "I didn't want more storage. I thought, 'These guys are data on-premises when I'm already getting yelled out for having too much data on premises.' I didn't want double the amount of storage."

Coffman swept out most of the primary storage and servers from before the merger. Meredith still has some NetApp for file storage, and Nasuni cloud NAS for 2 PB of data that is shared among staff in different offices. Nasuni stores data on AWS.

Kientoff is responsible for protecting the data across Meredith's storage systems.

"All of a sudden, my world expanded exponentially," he said of the Time aftermath. "I had multiple NetBackup domains all across the world to manage. I was barely keeping up on the NetBackup domain we had at Meredith."

Coffman and Kientoff said they were happy to be rid of tape, and found Rubrik's instant restores and migration features valuable. Instead of archiving to tape, Rubrik moves data to AWS after its retention period expires.

Rubrik's live mount feature can recover data from a virtual machine in seconds. This comes in handy when an application running in a VM dies, but also for migrating data.

However, that same feature is missing from Nutanix. Meredith is phasing out VMware in favor of Nutanix's AHV hypervisor to save money on VMware licenses and to have, as Coffman put it, "One hand to shake, one throat to choke. Nutanix provided the opportunity to have consolidation between the hypervisor and the hardware."

The Meredith IT team has petitioned for Nutanix to add a similar live mount capability for AHV. Even without it, though, Kientoff said backing up data from Nutanix with Rubrik beats using tapes.

"With a tape restore, calling backup tapes from off-site, it might be a day or two before they get their data back," he said. "Now it might take a half an hour to an hour to restore a VM instead of doing a live mount [with VMware]. Getting out of the tape handling business was a big cost savings."

The Meredith IT team is also dealing with closing smaller sites around the country to get down to the two major data centers. "That's going to take a lot of coordinating with people, and a lot of migrations," Coffman said.

Meredith will back up data from remote offices locally and move them across the WAN to New York or Des Moines.

Kientoff said Rubrik's live restores is a "killer feature" for the office consolidation project. "That's where Rubrik has really shone for us," he said. "We recently shut down a sizeable office in Tampa. We migrated most of those VMs to New York and some to Des Moines. We backed up the cluster across the WAN, from Tampa to New York. We shut down the VM in Tampa, live mounted in New York, changed the IP address and put it on the network. There you go -- we instantly moved VMs form one office to another."

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