Building a Fast, Secure, and Reliable IT Foundation
When building a house, everyone visualizes the home theatre system with their friends over for a movie night. But before any of that can exist, you have to lay down a solid foundation and then you have to put a roof over everything. That's also how you build a business: from the foundation up.
Our company is a leading volume builder in Australia that constructs around 1,500 houses a year. We are known for our floor plans and our designs, and are very much a digital business. Our sales team helps owners lay out their dream home and then outsource our construction to local professionals and subcontractors. We've won all kinds of awards for our many innovations and are seen as an industry leader, even though we're not the biggest player.
The cornerstones of our business are operational efficiency and a commitment to delighting customers. We would rather focus on quality than on trying to increase the number of homes we build each year. We rely on IT to streamline our operations, manage our suppliers, and keep our home buyers happy.
Shifting Priorities to Delight Customers and Internal Users
I came to this company in 2018, at a time when the company's legacy systems were reaching their end of life. Our IT infrastructure was stifling our ability to embody our core values. To delight our customers, we needed modern systems that empowered our sales teams to engage buyers in conversations and to prompt them through the design process. We also needed to shift our IT team's priority from maintaining our infrastructure to coding solutions that create a better user experience for our internal resources and for our customers.
To achieve these business goals, we needed our systems to be always available, and this meant putting an end to outages and memory shortages and replacing our ageing and increasingly-unreliable HPE ProLiant DL350 servers and EMC VNX storage arrays.
Our old server room was like a broom closet, and lacked cooling, fire suppression, and power distribution and conditioning functionalities. From a facilities engineering perspective, it was a mess. To further complicate matters, we didn't have the human resources to manage the space, so the responsibility fell upon our IT team, drawing even more of their attention away from coding and other duties that had a positive impact on our business goals.
Making the Case for HPE SimpliVity
I knew from the onset that a state-of-the-art solution had evolved. We were running our core ERP Dynamics AX DB and AOS app and web servers, along with our integration connectors on this infrastructure, so second-best wouldn’t do. We were no longer looking at separate storage and compute modules, and I'd already scouted out hyperconverged infrastructure solutions from Nutanix and at my previous job and was leaning toward the latter.
When it came time for us to upgrade, I made a case for HPE SimpliVity, despite the higher initial cost of HPE's solution. My reasons were HPE SimpliVity's architecture and integration with VMware, and the ability to scale compute and storage independently. HPE SimpliVity would also allow us to finally implement an effective and efficient disaster recovery (DR) solution, which was one of the weaknesses of our existing infrastructure.
HPE SimpliVity blows away the competition when it comes to its storage and backup and functionality. The built-in compression and deduplication features allow us to reduce our data footprint, which is massive for a company like ours, as we are continually generating 3D models of people's houses and also using analytics and reporting tools to build these homes.
We can also spin up or back up servers in a matter of seconds. With the press of a button, we can clone a single server or our entire production environment and set it up elsewhere.
Clustering to Eliminate Risk and Boost DR
As part of our DR strategy, we have set up HPE SimpliVity nodes in two separate locations that are some 20 km apart. Instead of going with a traditional primary data centre/DR setup, we have created a stretched cluster with dual active data centres connected by redundant and diverse fibre links.
This stretched cluster is designed to be highly available. Both of these data centres have multiple power feeds and are on separate power grids. Should either site go down, we can continue to operate from the other with little or no interruption as our RPOs and RTOs have gone from days to minutes. Fortunately, we've never experienced such a scenario, except in limited test situations.
We have also applied this cluster approach to enhancing and accelerating our dev environment. Recently, we brought in two new HPE SimpliVity nodes and used them to create a production cluster, which we then linked to a backup cluster.
Our developers use the production cluster to create and code new desktop, web and mobile apps, BI dashboards, and business process automation tools. They can then spin up VMs on the backup cluster to run dev tests and UAT workloads. We can now move forward with our fail-fast, agile development workflow without risking our primary production environment.
Thanks to HPE SimpliVity, I can now focus on orchestration and providing better infrastructure services to developers. That should be my focus, instead of worrying that they are running out of compute and storage resources, or that they haven't had time to properly test a new app that may end up crashing our entire production environment.
Simplifying with HPE InfoSight
A final but crucial aspect of our HPE SimpliVity journey is our enrollment in the HPE InfoSight evaluation program. We are one of a handful of evaluation users worldwide, and I am guessing we were selected because we were using HPE Nimble storage arrays and HPE InfoSight incorporates some of its legacy stack.
HPE InfoSight uses predictive analytics and AI to help us understand how our data is growing, how our workloads and workflows are evolving, and how our HPE SimpliVity environment is performing.
Instead of sending out boring Excel spreadsheets every two weeks, or watching my colleagues' eyes glaze over as they sit through another PowerPoint slide deck, I can use HPE InfoSight to point, click, and generate easy-to-understand, interactive graphs that explain how our IT infrastructure is performing.
Even better, anyone with access to HPE InfoSight can look at the data and analyze it for themselves. That’s because HPE InfoSight offers the same killer feature as HPE SimpliVity: Anyone with a solid grounding in IT can use either of these products to monitor, manage, and understand our IT infrastructure. There's no need to assign a team of specialists to perform these tasks.
Less Is More in a Booming Housing Market
At the moment, we are experiencing explosive growth. We're talking 30% a year in a super growth housing market, and the competition keeps growing. Everyone wants in on the action, and many startups are rushing in because they fear that the real estate bubble might burst at any moment.
I'm in this business for the long haul. However, part of me is hoping that new tools like HPE InfoSight and HPE SimpliVity will make me redundant. Or, at the very least, free me to concentrate on the creative aspects of IT instead of allocating compute and storage resources to engineers, or monitoring network threats.
In many ways, HPE SimpliVity is like a Swiss Army Knife you bring on a hike or camping trip. It's a compact, all-in-one multi-tool that you keep in your pocket in case you need it. It helps you pack light and do more of the things you need in the wilderness than a full-size tool chest, and truly proves that less is more.
The all-in-one solution is what you need when building your IT foundation. It’ll give you less to manage and worry about, and you can better focus your efforts on the parts of your business that truly matter.