An Aging Platform Gets Improved Stability and Performance with Services from HPE

HPE GreenLake

When your systems are outdated, you spend a lot of time ensuring everything works well enough to keep the lights on. That’s what Matt Simmans and I found ourselves doing in January 2021. It was a new year, but we spent virtually every day on incident calls trying to keep our ageing platform up and running for our end users. It was stressful—and it wasn’t even a part of our role and responsibility.

I’m a data manager at Tesco Underwriting, a UK insurer affiliated with the country’s biggest supermarket chain and its banking group, Tesco Bank. I head the data team and handle ETL processing to transform data into usable information for our analysts. Matt is one of the senior pricing managers who heads our data and implementation team and liaises with senior stakeholders about our long-term data vision.  

The burden of managing our old platform fell on our shoulders, and we needed to find an alternative.

Our Infrastructure Was Near the Point of Failure

I’ve been with Tesco for eight years. When I started here, we operated very similar to a startup and we were attempting to process large amounts of data on desktop machines. As we grew, we’d upgraded our systems to 64-bit processors to handle more information. Eventually, we transitioned to a traditional, off-prem data centre managed by a third party. We had a lot more capacity, but every time we needed more storage or CPUs, we had to go through a lengthy IT change approval process, which could take months.

By 2020, this off-prem data centre was reaching end of life, and we were close to exhausting our existing hardware. We had no free rack space for additional storage, so we were moving data from one server to another to keep things running. When our operating systems had reached end of support, we had to wipe the server, clean-install the OS, and restore files from a backup. It was manual and laborious. To complicate matters, our team had limited IT experience, so we were stumbling in the dark to maintain infrastructure that was near end of life. 

If you had to choose, would you continue adding new servers at tremendous expense or start from scratch with a new vendor and new technology?

We were at a critical juncture. We could throw money at a burning fire by adding new servers at tremendous expense. Or we could start from scratch with new technology.

Neither situation was ideal, but we were looking for both short- and long-term benefits. We wanted infrastructure that could run our existing systems and was well-supported, stable, and up to date. At the same time, we noticed that more companies and data centres were moving to the cloud and considered the implications of this new technology: we could easily add more storage and CPU, apply patches faster, and simplify maintenance.

We looked around and began a tender with multiple organisations. Of the vendors we talked to, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) offered the solution that best fit with the IT strategy of our mother company, Tesco Bank, which was moving to Microsoft Azure. HPE tendered a managed services package (GreenLake Management Services) that leveraged the power of Microsoft’s cloud computing platform and freed my team from having to maintain our infrastructure.  

HPE Took Tesco Underwriting Seriously

HPE stood out for several reasons, but we liked working with them right away because they always took us seriously. Other vendors supplied stock responses to our inquiries, but HPE took the time to read and understand our questions. Their answers always addressed our concerns and they offered meaningful responses to our issues. They understood us as an organisation and we knew their understanding was backed by the resources of a world-class brand. We found the HPE GreenLake platform to be reliable and knew it could scale to support our growth.

Moving to the cloud makes it easy to add more storage and CPU, apply patches faster, and simplify maintenance.

So, in 2020, we signed a contract with HPE Services to migrate and transform Tesco Underwriting’s workloads from our previous platform to the Microsoft Azure public cloud. We met once or twice weekly with the HPE Services team to plan the migration and held quite a few brainstorming sessions to overcome some of the hurdles.  

It took three months to architect our cloud-based data centre, and the HPE Services team handed us control in May 2021. We spent the next three months migrating data and applications to our new infrastructure. We obviously didn’t want to impact end users, and with the help of the HPE Services team, we transferred it over our WAN using WinSCP. The team was always attentive and responsive, resolving potential issues and setting up everything we needed to migrate our data and systems in advance. 

We had a hard deadline of the August Bank Holiday as our cut-over date—that marked the end of the contract with our previous data centre provider. There was no going back after that. 

A Managed Services Partnership That Leaves Us in Control

Once the migration was complete, we began working with the HPE GreenLake Management Services team. They handle tickets and proactively monitor our systems, recommending remedial actions following ITSM Change Enablement practice, like patches before minor issues escalate into major problems. They also provide weekly reports that outline our storage and compute costs and help us forecast our expenses based on usage patterns. 

Our monthly review meetings and frequent reports give us detailed information about our systems, right down to the performance of individual VMs. These deep dives give us early insight, especially when we’re making changes to the platform, like adding memory or CPUs. The HPE GreenLake Management Services team supplies information we can present to our management team, detailing the upgrades we need and how much they’ll cost. Having these figures at our fingertips helped tremendously to speed up our approval process. 

Accurate insights about upgrade costs helps speed up the approval process.

We have completed the first phase of our migration, which was a basic lift-and-shift operation. We migrated our existing systems without adding new features or extra capacity, achieving our short-term goal. Now, we can focus on our medium- and long-term vision. Our business is constantly generating new data, and the HPE GreenLake platform makes it easier and more affordable to add storage capacity when needed, which alleviates the massive upfront costs of adding capacity before we actually need it.  We are also exploring our long-term goals of adding new infrastructure to optimise our operations and enhance our ability to share data with wider Tesco Group.

Although HPE GreenLake Management Services manages our environment, HPE also provide a self-service edge-to-cloud GreenLake platform portal that allow us to monitor storage, compute, and usage trends. We can see if a VM is reaching capacity and increase its resources, route traffic, and balance workloads at will. We can also check the status of our infrastructure and open a ticket with HPE if we find a problem.

The Value of Stability

The real value of HPE and Microsoft Azure to the business is stability. Tesco Underwriting’s end users support regulatory reporting on extremely tight timelines and actuaries who analyse market trends and help us implement price changes. It’s challenging yet rewarding work, and having stable IT dramatically reduces stress.

In a way, HPE has also restored our department’s reputation. We took a lot of heat over the old platform. Although we didn’t own it, we were forced into a support role and were associated with its many failings. We lost so much work and productivity when the previous platform would go down—sometimes for hours. We used to get endless complaints, and now, all we hear is silence. I know it’s a cliché, but you know your IT infrastructure is working well when no one talks about it.

HPE takes care of the basics, and with their technology specialists managing our infrastructure, we can become a more agile organisation that can quickly adapt to market changes. The system is reliable, service is impeccable, and Tesco Underwriting’s teams can look forward to fast, flexible IT infrastructure that will continue to meet our needs for years to come.