Cisco Is Simplifying IT Management and Enabling Business
IT is an enabler that can drive new business, boost sales, and improve customer relations. Technology can alter the way a company operates and push it in bold new directions. This can only happen with the proper backing. IT can’t be a company’s afterthought.
At my company, every day we connect farmers with markets, customers with ingredients, and people and animals with the food they need to thrive. We combine our experience with new technologies and insights to serve as a trusted partner for food, agriculture, financial and industrial customers all over the globe. Ultimately, we'll only be able to accomplish this goal if our company operates in an effective way. That's where IT comes in.
While we haven't necessarily been an IT-centric organization in the past, our attitude is changing dramatically. Modernizing our digital core along with stepping up our digitalization and analytics capabilities becoming our main priority. Where once the answer to new technology was "no," the new approach presents opportunities. It's a matter of looking at what new technologies can offer, then choosing the most impactful ones. After all, we have finite budgets.
Maximizing the value of our budget is where I come in. I'm a part of the Global IT Infrastructure team operating in the EMEA region. As one of the company's IT leaders in the region my focus is on Network & UCC services. I'm responsible for all things financial and contribute to our long-term IT investment strategy.
The Right Partner
One way to ensure we select the right technology is to go with a reputable partner. Nobody has a better reputation than Cisco. They constantly innovate in areas like network automation: around self-procuring and self-defending infrastructure. Cisco coined the term "self-defending network" in 2005. That's how forward-looking the company is.
We worked with Cisco to upgrade the network and related services of our data centers in the EMEA region. Now, while everyone's bullish about the cloud, we chose to continue with an in-house data center. This was due to business and security strategy. We realized that not every service is can be migrated to the cloud. Regulatory compliance was another key concern.
The previous technology in place was ancient—we had Cisco 4500 series routers and switches. These are the grandparents and great-grandparents of Cisco's current product line. We needed to find a way to change over to new technology without disrupting business operations.
Upgrading a Data Center Without Any Interruptions
This data center is a good example of how we approach new technology. Everything starts with people. Our people are the biggest asset. Great ideas get generated in the right environment and motivation is not ever a question. Upon careful study of the requirements, Scott Ogden and Ian Sheridan, our wizards from the infrastructure projects team, proposed a swiss knife solution! They worked with the Enterprise Architecture division to bring in a brand-new technology from Cisco. We chose VXLAN (Virtual Extensible LAN) technology running on Nexus 9000 series.
It was the best way to transition from the outdated architecture to an up-to-date system. We'd had previous experience updating another data center to older Nexus 7000 hardware, but that didn't work as planned. The setup was too complex, and it was a challenge to move the legacy systems, but certainly we leant our lessons.
During that previous installation, we learned we couldn't transfer everything to the cloud. Some applications had to be redeveloped. That's part of why we decided on the internal data center for the time being. We worked with our infrastructure managed service partner to ensure a smooth transition. Once we'd met the onboarding requirements and secured ongoing support, we moved ahead. On this journey we leant that sometimes we need to invest in training of our managed partner’s staff to ensure the new technology is made a part of the standard support services.
Improvements, One Server at a Time
One of the benefits of Cisco VXLAN technology is the way it splits the network into an overlay and an underlay layer, thus creating "tunnels" between servers. This enables us to migrate one server at a time instead of clusters of 10, 20, or even 50.
Moving a single server at a time reduces the risk of outages, and minimizes the potential for lost business. Traditional networks are also very rigid about mapping subsets of servers. Drives, databases, and Windows installations must all be individually mapped.
We no longer have to follow that old procedure with Cisco VXLAN technology, where mapping is far simpler. We can focus on implementing the core infrastructure. The migration of devices becomes a re-patching exercise and we can absorb the old network into the new one without interfering with our operations. Then, we can move each device and service at the time that best suits the business.
The Perfect Fit
The whole process took eight or nine months. It was transparent to our users and was also a great relief to our support staff. The previous data center had reached its capacity—it was bloated and out-of-date. The data center simply didn't fit in with our current technical needs, or our business aspirations. Cisco VXLAN makes it easy to increase the capacity of our data center. Integrating a new system is no longer a big project. It is now a simple request and a matter of plug and play.
Mergers and acquisitions is an important vector of growth for the company and Cisco VXLAN technology is a perfect fit for that. It’s a flexible way to integrate the IT infrastructure of the new business units into our global network.
The benefits of the Nexus 9000 series and VXLAN are tremendous. Simplified architecture makes it easy to integrate legacy networks and add capacity. On top of that, the ability to absorb old networks into the new one reduces setup time and the flexible migration method reduces business risks.
Because there are fewer devices to build and manage, the total cost of ownership is lower and the return on investment is higher. The core network is scalable and the capacity can be expanded or contracted without losing capability or functionality.
Building the Future
I see a lot more in the future of our partnership. I envision Cisco moving from being a manufacturer of hardware to being a provider of Software as a Service. I’m intrigued by the possibilities this will open.
I truly believe that IT is the ultimate enabler, but I also believe in people. I've stayed with our company because of our staff. Our corporate culture gets things done. It’s clear that when you combine effective IT with our people, amazing things happen.