Virgin Media O2 is one of the UK’s largest ‘quad-player’ providers, where it delivers a mobile network, gigabit broadband, TV and landline services all under one company. Unsurprisingly, this service provision across the UK comes with huge data and process demands, as well as analytics requirements, that need to be executed efficiently and with minimal fault.
In addition to this, Virgin Media O2 has set itself a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions across its entire value chain by 2040. This challenge of increased data demands, which places pressure on the company’s infrastructure, as well as targeting net zero carbon emissions, means that the company has been making smarter choices about its technology.
To help with this, Virgin Media O2 has been working with Pure Storage for a number of years – which has resulted in faster processing times and a significant reduction in energy consumption. We spoke with Ajit Sharma, Business Optimization Manager at Virgin Media O2, who explained that the company selected Pure to replace some old EMC technology that was costing too much in ongoing maintenance and support, and was failing to hit the company’s sustainability targets.
Virgin Media O2 replaced its legacy disk infrastructure with Pure Storage’s FlashArray, opting for its Evergreen Gold delivery model. At the time of selecting Pure, the Evergreen option was particularly compelling. Sharma said:
Having an Evergreen model helps promote and remove legacy and obsolescence in our IT infrastructure. That for us is absolutely key and essential. And Pure were the only ones that were doing that back in those days.
After three years at the end of the contract, or within that three year period, you could get a controller refreshed, provided you then went and bought a new Evergreen model. That for us is really attractive because purchasing a new support model isn’t seen as OpEx, it’s seen as CapEx, because it involves new hardware. So from a business perspective, that’s seen as really healthy from a financial side.
Sharma explained that during the RFP processes, Pure was coming out as the fastest and most efficient option for Virgin Media O2, which coupled with the Evergreen solution, meant that the company would not have to think about running the technology down until its end of life. Instead it could focus on delivering services to its customers, whilst taking advantage of the latest tech. Sharma said:
The way the business was growing, we needed faster analytics. Our business back then was O2 WiFi and that specialized in analytics. So we cross-sold information, say from McDonald’s to Subway, Subway to McDonald’s, and vice versa, amongst 180 different organizations under our portfolio. So we needed faster analytics and at that time data was absolutely key and essential.
It was the fastest that we could see and cost efficient. And the problem that we had was that keeping it alive typically meant more investment. And as you can imagine, businesses like ourselves, we spend all our money on 5G, digging up the road to put in new fiber – who really wants to buy another storage platform three, four years later? No one.
One of the key things that surprized Sharma and his team about the use of Pure Storage was the speed at which Virgin Media O2 was able to migrate away from the old legacy system to the new FlashArray. Sharma said:
We were really flabbergasted to be honest. Back in those days, Pure used to do this one business card. And that used to have instructions on both sides on how to install it. That was it. And my team, including Pure, managed to migrate from our old stuff to the new within a few hours over two nights. With no complications.
It was the easiest migration we’ve ever done. The business was a bit apprehensive because clearly we had a lot of data, that having lost that data, it would have been a massive loss to the business. But we managed to migrate it all over a couple of hours, over two nights. It was the easiest we’ve ever seen in our life and my team still to this day can’t believe how easy it was.
That’s not to say that there was nothing that caught Virgin Media O2 off guard. The company uses elastic search, which is normally encrypted before it goes into the storage infrastructure. However, Pure typically encrypts data for unencrypted data sources, so there was a challenge in that the Pure array wasn’t working as intended and the efficiency gains weren’t being seen. Sharma describes this as an oversight and advises:
Be quite open and transparent with Pure in terms of what it is that you’re using the storage platform for. And if you’re a little bit nervous, maybe run a proof of concept to see. To see what it would look like in comparison to what you have now.
I think in most cases you will see chalk and cheese, you’ll see a huge significant difference. But make sure Pure understands all your data storage demands. And if you’ve got the time and the viability, run a PoC, because you’ll see the difference straightaway and you might even see some niggly bits that you didn’t quite understand that need exploring before you go into full production.
However, the use of Pure Storage has resulted in significant benefits for Virgin Media O2. Sharma describes these as threefold: speed of business processing and outcomes; data center footprint; and energy consumption. He said:
The most important benefit is business processes and outcomes. We were able to measure those previously around using old legacy infrastructure, on how long would it take for us to run a process, a file or maybe run a backup? We were able to measure how long it would take for us to process certain files overnight, and how that compares against Pure. Some of them were half the time.
The second one was the data center footprint. We went from a full rack to basically 3U. That was instantaneous success – it’s a 90% reduction in our data center footprint.
And then the third benefit was energy consumption. We went from something that was consuming a tonne of power to something like Pure, which is 90% more efficient. We would never envisage where we are now, six or seven years later, whereby the cost of energy has gone up, data centers have put the prices up.
The alignment between Pure Storage and the company’s sustainability strategy has meant that Virgin Media O2, coupled with rising energy costs, means that the technology has essentially paid for itself. Sharma said:
So we look at that and that alone has saved us tonnes of money. The amount of money we’ve probably saved, it probably covers the costs of buying Pure Storage in the first place.
Given where we are now when you, given where the business is going on sustainability, trying to be energy efficient, carbon efficient, it kind of fell really well in our strategy.