Penrith Panthers get flashy with new storage trio

​The Panthers Group saved itself from a potential IT wooden spoon by overhauling its infrastructure and deploying three new flash arrays to cater for its multiple properties, facilities, restaurants, and bars.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Sydney-based Penrith Panthers rugby league team entered the National Rugby League (NRL) competition back in 1967 and in that 50 years, the club's homebase has expanded from a tiny shed to a multi-million dollar entertainment venue.

In association with the rugby league club, the Panthers Group owns and operates a large football stadium as well as six licensed venues in the state. The NRL club has more than 120,000 members and the group employs some 650 people across its multiple properties, facilities, restaurants, and bars.

Craig Conway, Penrith Panthers IT manager, is responsible for all IT-related ventures across the whole Panthers Group gamut.

Speaking with ZDNet, Conway explained that not too long ago, with planned redevelopment about to begin at its Penrith site, the Panthers Group realised the potential disruption site redevelopment could have on its core IT infrastructure and connections to other venues, as all clubs point back to the Penrith base.

"We were running all of our systems using on-premise infrastructure and everything supporting our other properties was based in our Penrith datacentre," Conway said. "We could see there was a potential for problems if the precinct redevelopment caused disruption to data connections. This was particularly concerning as more than a third of our business operates from sites outside the Penrith precinct."

Conway explained that the facility running 100 percent of the club's business systems shared a common wall with the major piece of development work, noting the thought of a slight mishap with a wrecking ball left him nervous that a complete computing facility could be totally out of action.

"Whilst I can still sell you a beer, without that technology online we actually can't trade," he said.

After considering a range of options, a decision was taken to lease space in an off-site datacentre and replicate the group's production environment there. Part of this required purchasing new storage arrays and servers to house a range of business-critical applications.

Conway said such a change gave the organisation the opportunity to upgrade its infrastructure and it headed to market to seek a new storage vendor.

Bound by regulation to have certain systems hosted or be on-premises, Conway said the organisation chose to deploy flash arrays from Nimble Storage, with the club opting for three CS-Series arrays with a total capacity of 35 terabytes.

Once the new arrays arrived, they were deployed into Panthers' existing datacentre, replacing legacy EqualLogic arrays. Conway said the time it took from opening the boxes until the arrays were fully operational was less than four hours.

"We got the Nimble Storage guys in and we haven't really looked back," he said.

"We decided to deploy three CS-Series arrays, not because we necessarily needed the extra performance, but because we have constraints around how some data associated with our systems is stored. Having the three arrays enabled us to readily meet these requirements."

The Nimble arrays now support all core applications including a full Microsoft stack, SQL databases, a point of sale system, financial and ERP systems, as well as a CRM and membership management platform.

Initially, Conway setup the Nimble arrays in the club's production environment, taking away the previous storage and server hardware and turning it into a disaster recovery environment. Production workloads were gradually migrated to the new storage arrays with the entire job completed inside of 48 hours.

"So through the process of building business continuity, I've actually managed to get an uplift in the performance in my production platform as well as solve a few business risk problems," he explained.

As a result of moving to Nimble Storage -- which the organisation has now been running at 100 percent for over six months -- Conway and his IT team noticed a range of benefits, including seeing batch processing jobs, such as financial reporting and analytics, become between 30 and 50 percent faster than before.

"While performance improvements had not been a key goal for us, we were pleased to see that they were an unintended consequence," he said.

"We got some extra little things out of it, too. One of our data warehouse loads dropped to 30 percent of its previous time -- down from 45 minutes to 15. We've had another warehouse load that's dropped by hours, not as higher percentage, but a much larger time.

"That's the sort of stuff I wasn't planning on gaining."

Over the last couple of years, Conway said the Panthers Group has invested heavily into its technology platforms, noting the business and management teams have embraced having fit-for purpose technology.

"[Panthers is] aiming to ensure that the technology supports our staff to service our members and in the case of the club's business and the rugby league team, that the technology supports the guys to win a trophy," he said. "That's what we're here for -- to serve our members and win football games."

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