From Clipboards to Hyperconvergence: Why GoodLife Fitness Chose HPE SimpliVity to Lay a Foundation for the Future

HPE SimpliVity

When you work in IT, you're like the Wizard of Oz. You're the person behind the curtain pushing the buttons, pulling the levers, and operating the contraptions that bring the Emerald City to life. People marvel at your creation and use it every day, but they have no idea what makes it tick.

Good IT is transparent and is a lot like wallpaper. You don't notice that it's there until it starts peeling. As Manager of ITS Operations and Support at GoodLife Fitness, my job is to ensure that our staff almost forget I exist. 

Helping Canadians Live a Fit and Healthy Good Life

I used to work in healthcare, but I was never a frontline worker. I don’t think I could handle the emotional rollercoaster of working directly with patients, but I do love helping people, and I love technology, so I try to use my skills and my talents to contribute to their wellbeing. Part of my job is to show GoodLife what technology can do. 

GoodLife is Canada's largest fitness chain, and 4th largest health club operator in the world. We own over 400 clubs across the country, and our 12,000 employees help over 1.5 million Canadians achieve their fitness goals. I am very proud to contribute the IT tools that support our trainers, associates, and office staff as they help members build healthier lives.

GoodLife was founded in 1979 in London, Ontario, by David Patchell-Evans (Patch). A life-long athlete and a one-time competitive rower, Patch was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash two weeks after he started university. He developed a passion for exercise because of the way it helped his recovery during his rehabilitation process. Eventually, he bought the gym where he'd been working out and rebranded it as the first GoodLife Fitness.

The Paper Chase

Until recently, our processes were incredibly paper-based. IT played a role, but not like it does today. The most cumbersome paper process was membership applications. Back in the days before iPads and point-of-sale terminals, the best way to sign up new customers was using a clipboard.

All of this paper was a challenge. Every day, a fleet of courier trucks would pull up at our headquarters with box after box of new membership contracts. We had two floors of data-entry clerks, and we kept adding more. For every three clubs we opened, we had to hire another person to input all the new membership contracts.

It was unsustainable. If we didn't find a better way to process membership contracts, it would start to impact our growth. In a way, I was lucky that this—and many of our other internal processes—had yet to be digitized because I had an opportunity to create new ones from scratch. Better yet, GoodLife was constructing a new headquarters in the west end of the city, and this presented a chance to build new infrastructure from the ground up.

A Clean Slate

I'd started at GoodLife in 2013 as the Helpdesk Manager and had just been promoted to Manager of ITS Operations and Support in the fall of 2014, so I didn't have any of the baggage that came with the job. I was free to chart a new course, and I took advantage of this opportunity to implement a very different vision of what a data centre could be. Here was a chance to lay a brand new foundation for future innovation.

Opening a new office? Use this as your chance to lay the IT foundation of your future.

To begin, I knew what I didn't want. Our previous data centre hosted rack after rack of traditional storage and compute modules. It was mostly Dell hardware, the majority of which were due for a technology refresh. All these machines took up too much space, used too much power, and cost a fortune to cool.

To further complicate matters, we had no disaster recovery plan. We backed everything up to tape. In the event of a failure, we could eventually recover most of our data, but there would be some loss, and it would take days to get up and running again.

The answer to both of these problems was hyperconvergence. I could fit more power into less space at reduced operating costs, and I could automate backups and move them to the cloud, making data recovery painless in the event of a massive failure. When GoodLife gave me the go-ahead, I started looking for a vendor.

Support and Service Carry the Day

I considered all the major players: HPE SimpliVity, Nutanix, VxRail, and Cisco UCX. I read one case study after another, and then I started talking to their reps. I have to be perfectly honest here, the top players all offer a different twist on similar functionalities. I did not find a killer feature that drew me to one platform over another—I mean, anyone can store zeroes and ones—so my decision came down to support and service.

In a world where you feel most IT vendors offer the same thing, prioritize support and service.

Then there was the procurement process itself. The reps at HPE SimpliVity went all out. They crunched the numbers and put in the most attractive bid. 

The other vendors treated me like a number. It seemed like they were too big to care about acquiring my business. Their apparent indifference reinforced the positive message HPE SimpliVity was sending.

HPE SimpliVity provides excellent support and service. I've been in IT for 25 years, and I'm so tired of all the empty promises that sales reps make. HPE SimpliVity may be the first piece of technology I've used that does everything the sales guy said it would. It was a refreshing experience. 

“I’ve been in IT for 25 years, and HPE SimpliVity may be the first piece of technology I’ve used that does everything the sales guy said it would.” -Chris Frank, GoodLife Fitness

Switching Over to a New Data Centre

The move to our new HPE SimpliVity data centre was painless. We started by migrating the systems on our old Dell servers to virtual machines on our HPE SimpliVity frames in London, and at our failover centre in Toronto. When it came time to move into the new offices, we powered down the servers at our old building, routed all traffic to Toronto, and installed the data centre at our new headquarters.

Two days later, we powered up the new data centre, and everything went live. The transition was seamless, and we experienced no downtime. The only hitch was the five or so minutes it took for DNS propagation, which was to be expected. 

In many ways, the switchover to the new data centre was a disaster recovery exercise. Our primary servers were offline, and all our IT operations were running on our backup environment. It was a promising future for us. 

Infrastructure with Room to Grow

With HPE SimpliVity, I'm no longer pulling daily or weekly backups off tape. Instead, I'm dealing with automated incremental backups. We could run them every three seconds, but our frequency is a little more conservative.

Still, it's good to know that if we get hit with ransomware or experience a system-wide failure, we'll be back online in a matter of minutes.

The other significant change is storage density, which was a big goal of ours coming into this project. We've reduced our entire data centre to a single rack thanks to a data deduplication ratio of 45:1. Considering our rep said we should expect 10:1 reduction in storage, it’s definitely an area where HPE SimpliVity under promised and over delivered.  

Finally, I love how HPE SimpliVity leaves us room to grow. I just ordered a new HPE SimpliVity node that I'll be powering up next month. I don't have to rip out cables and spend days configuring server after server. I can do everything with HPE SimpliVity and VMware dashboards. Today’s IT tools are far more sophisticated than they were in the days of physical servers.

The Future of Fitness

I’m very proud of how far we've come in the last few years. Clipboards and vans full of paper are history. Our next big thing is predictive analytics. GoodLife has adopted big data, and we'll be using it to enhance our members' fitness journeys.

We now have the tools to consume all kinds of variables to help us determine how we can improve our fitness centres to keep these members coming back and remaining physically active. This is the future of fitness. But without the foundation we built with HPE SimpliVity, this wouldn’t have been possible. 

If you look at me, you can tell that I'm not a gym guy. I'm an IT guy. I’m never going to be a personal trainer or a mountain of muscle. However, I have the same commitment to health and fitness as Patch. HPE SimpliVity is helping me give every employee at GoodLife Fitness the tools they need to give every Canadian the opportunity to live a fit and healthy Good Life... Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go back behind the curtain.