Lonely Planet embarks on Google Apps pilot

Pilot part of a broader push towards cloud at the publisher

Travel publishing company Lonely Planet is set to launch a pilot of Google Apps at the end of this week. Around 75 employees will take part in the pilot according to Bob Topping, the company's infrastructure services manager.

Employees from across the globe will participate in the pilot, which will probably last for around a month and a half, Topping said. "The pace of change at LP has always been fairly frenetic and I would see us being probably over to Google Apps before Christmas or shortly afterwards," Topping added.

"Of course that will be a relayed environment; we'll be running Exchange, copying the data up and getting people onto Google Apps through their browser, but then we've got to clean out the Exchange system and find out what legacy stuff is still talking to it...

"I think getting people's mailboxes up there is easy. Shutting down things like public folders and finding some Linux guy's set up his own SMTP server to talk to our Exchange environment that we don't know about is a different matter."

The ease of accessing Google Apps from multiple devices and the potential for global collaboration on documents and workflows were both important factors for Lonely Planet, Topping said. Lonely Planet's London office is likely to be the first to fully switch over to Google Apps.

The transition to Google Apps is part of a broader technology transformation at the publisher, driven by NC2 Media, which purchased Lonely Planet from BBC Worldwide in March. "[NC2 Media] are just starting to show their hand on how they want to approach the future as well and a lot of that's going to be cloud-based technology," Topping said.

"So the decisions I'm making now, and my team are making – we've got to take into consideration what the business now wants and how we're going to move from where we are to where they want to go. We're very much a state of change and flux at the moment."

The business wants "to be as agile and as flexible as possible," Topping said. "Because the publishing market is changing so quickly, they don't want to spend a whole lot of cash, say, on in-premise infrastructure or sign long-term contracts for anything, because they want to be able to change at the drop of a hat. They see the cloud as a way of doing that."

"Myself and the head of IT here, Julian Nikadie, have been looking at all sorts of options of how we can keep the kind of data integrity and what the enterprise has always seen as a stable IT environment and introduce that flexibility and that agility," Topping said.

Dealing with Lonely Planet's data explosion

When Topping began at Lonely Planet some eight years ago, the organisation had 8-9TB of data. "A lot of it was your normal enterprise stuff that clutters up the place over the years – from finance and HR and the like," Topping said. "But the vast majority of it was images, some video – we used to run Lonely Planet Television from here – PDF files, hi-res images."

However, growth in the business and the shift to emphasising digital mean that data grew substantially. When the publisher started to turn towards digital it started deploying large ESX server farms, and data grew to around 36TB in the space of six years – a variety of databases, baremetal VM backups and more imagery, more books and more digital content for the website. "It just exploded on us," Topping said.

A lot of content was doubled up between files for print publishing and files for online publishing. To cope with this Lonely Planet put in place a shared publishing platform: a centralised content repository that can be tapped for print, online, ebooks and mobile apps.

"It's become a lot more contained and a bit more controllable," Topping said. Some of that data ended up on-premise and some has gone into the cloud. Lonely Planet went live on Amazon's public cloud at the start of the year.

For on-premise storage in Lonely Planet's Melbourne office the business uses a NetApp 3140 with about 90TBs of disk on it, with a second 3140 located in an external data centre. Although the company has moved to a shared publishing platform, because the Melbourne office is used for print production, files still must be pulled from the database to work on. Topping is dealing with about 36TBs of actual data and can rewind incremental changes to data for around two and a half months. Storage management, including deduplication, backup and recovery, and DR, is courtesy of CommVault Simpana.

"We back up everything with ComVault," Topping said. "We do baremetal backups of the ESX environments with NDMP through the NetApp [appliance]. It's taken a load off my mind because for quite a few years there we were uncertain of whether we could get all our data back and how long it would take us. But we firedrilled the website when we had it locally, we firedrilled Exchange, SAP, stuff like that and it's been really good."

Topping is looking at ways to tie AWS and CommVault together and looking at using AWS' cold-storage service, Glacier. "Trying to mimic the stability and the ability to maintain data integrity the way we've got it now, but not locked into this office," Topping said.

"We're downsizing the data we've got in-house and rejigging that, so therefore our DR mirror of this data is going to be a lot smaller." Topping wants to look at appliances that can locally cache cloud content for offices, with Lonely Planet's London office likely to be the "guinea pig".

"AWS supplies storage gateways with caching [and] there's a couple of people that have on-premise appliances that cache on demand and handle versioning up to the cloud no matter what cloud you use. I envisage something like that once people get weened off the traditional folder structure/Active Directory way of working."

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