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Engineering firm spruces up AWS storage with caching appliance

Graef-USA combined AWS storage with a Panzura appliance to slash thousands of dollars from its budget and also streamline backups.

As the cloud era begins in earnest, organizations must balance on-site resources and cloud services to optimize both costs and performance.

One engineering firm did just that, and slashed its budget for data storage, backup and replication from hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to hundreds of dollars per month with a combination of Amazon Web Services (AWS) storage and an on-site caching appliance from Panzura, Inc.

"For our environment, and our line of work, [Panzura is] key to leveraging the cloud," said David Neumann, director of IT for Graef-USA, a Milwaukee-based engineering consulting and design firm. Graef-USA regularly deals with files that are hundreds of megabytes or gigabytes in size, so accessing the raw files in the cloud via the Internet is difficult.

Today, Graef's total AWS storage bill is between $360 and $390 per month thanks in part to Panzura's data deduplication and the recent slash in AWS storage costs.

Instead, Panzura's network-attached storage appliance performs deduplication on data before sending only block-based changes to Amazon's Simple Storage Service while also acting as a front-end storage cache with its solid-state drive capacity to ease network access.

Panzura also performs global file locking more efficiently than AWS storage alone, Neumann said.

"With those files in the cloud, you can sometimes do a check-in or checkout, but it doesn't save you from overwriting the file if someone else had it open as well," Neumann said.

These benefits were enough to convince Graef to purchase six Panzura appliances for $140,000 in 2013, one for each of its offices that span Wisconsin, Illinois and Florida. This was in contrast to the $160,000 price tag on a new EMC Corp. storage area network, plus another $80,000 to $100,000 in costs for backup software and hardware.

"We were also looking at $30,000 to $40,000 per year in storage expansion costs," Neumann said.

Today, Graef's total AWS storage bill is between $360 and $390 per month, thanks in part to Panzura's data deduplication and the recent slash in AWS storage costs. Graef's bill dropped to less than $400 per month from approximately $800 per month before the price drop.

The Panzura boxes at each remote office make collaboration on large files easier and storage less expensive, Neumann said.

"Previously, if Milwaukee had a job that Madison was working on, we would have to take chunks of that job and replicate it to each branch office," Neumann said. "Our projects had an additional five to 20 hours of administrative overhead time, to try and put the pieces together and then get the client the deliverable."

Panzura has been a boon, Neumann said, but there are still items he would like added in future releases of the product, including centralized management of all the devices at branch offices and redundant network interface cards (NICs). Today, the Panzura appliances have a single NIC for connection to the local area network and a single NIC for connection to the Internet.

Panzura has numerous competitors in the hybrid cloud storage caching appliance space, including Nasuni, TwinStrata, StorSimple, and AWS itself.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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