From Maintenance and Management to Strategy and Growth: How Hyperconvergence Put the City of Roswell Ahead of the IT Curve
I've worked in IT for decades. I was born in Jamaica and grew up in a South Florida tourist town. When the tech bug hit me, I knew I had to move because Atlanta was the right place for a person with my interest and love of technology.
That was back in the 1990s. I didn't want to venture too far west, and this meant looking at New York state, North Carolina, and Georgia, which were tech hubs at the time. I started working at HP in Atlanta in 1998, but I soon recognized that I wanted to have an impact beyond corporate IT, and this led me to spend a few years teaching IT at the college level.
In 2013, I accepted the IT Manager role at the City of Roswell, and it felt like I had finally come home. My work here has a direct effect on the lives of our 100,000+ residents and 1,000 municipal employees. My team manages every aspect of our IT infrastructure, from the ERP system that runs many key functions for our municipal operations to the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) platform that routes our 911 calls.
Our Infrastructure Was Holding Us Back
I like to keep things lean. We are a small and mighty team, but we can only do our best if our tools help—rather than hinder us. When I started here, it was clear that certain parts of our virtual environment were holding everyone back. We were only running VMware vSphere on traditional Dell enclosure with the servers and were stuck in break-fix mode. Our compute and storage were at capacity in no time. We could only do so much, and slowly at that.
For example, our Recreation and Parks department runs year-round activities for adults and children, including visual and performing arts, sports and aquatics, and community health and wellness programs. Registration opens four times a year—in January, March, July, and October—and our servers couldn't handle the load. People were unable to sign up because everything came to a crashing halt. I have always worked toward making any externally facing website scalable to meet the size and speed of e-commerce everyone is used to. HPE SimpliVity gives us the ability to scale and delivery services at a much faster speed.
Utility billing was another significant pain point. Depending on the service, we have to generate monthly and yearly bills and reports for tens of thousands of households. It used to take two to three days, assuming that everything was working well, and we didn't have to go in and reboot any of our internal servers.
Then, one day, disaster struck. Our 911 system went down. We tried to fix it ourselves, but we lacked the in-house expertise. We called Dell who said they couldn’t help us until Monday morning. Lives were at stake. Thankfully, we had started talking to a rep at HPE SimpliVity. Our initial conversations were around replacing our Dell servers with HPE servers, so I thought I’d reach out. I needed to fix this issue immediately, and he connected me with Greg Tinker and Bob Gibson of SereneIT.
Thankfully, Greg and his team saved the day. They replaced our Dell equipment with HPE SimpliVity. The combination of our aging infrastructure and that downtime was the perfect storm that drove us into hyperconvergence.
An End-to-End Hyperconverged Solution
Hyperconvergence was already on our radar. Given our limited human resources, the combination of streamlined hardware and infrastructure management was irresistible. We took a look at other hyperconverged players, but I had my doubts. Their technologies were solid, but I didn't feel that these companies showed end-to-end ownership of their solutions. I also wondered whether all of them were in it for the long haul. Where would we be if something went wrong three years down the line?
HPE SimpliVity was the only company that offered the right combination of high-powered hyperconverged hardware and single-pane-of-glass dashboard-based infrastructure management and orchestration. On top of that, HPE has been around for decades.
HPE SimpliVity transformed Roswell's IT environment. Everything is faster and smoother now. For example, our Recreation and Parks server can handle the seasonal influx of registrations. We now generate our utility bills in two to three hours, not two or three days. Our compute, storage, and network resources are far more reliable.
Of course, there are always blips in any transition. We uncovered a bug in our Mellanox switches, which brought down certain parts of our network for a short time. Fortunately, SereneIT and HPE were responsive to the problem and we were back up and running in no time.
Another crucial feature of our new hyperconvergence setup is always-on architecture. We now have two separate data centers and mirror our production environment to a disaster recovery site. We back up our data at set intervals, and if ever we're hit by malware or a server crashes, we can always revert to a previous state. There's no fussing with tape archives or disk images. We press a button and can restore a backup or flip over to our secondary site.
We haven't run a full-blown test yet, but in the coming months, we're going to simulate an outage by powering down our primary data center and switching over to our DR infrastructure to see what happens. I'm confident this exercise will confirm that HPE SimpliVity is as robust as we believe and that we won't have a repeat of the major outage that affected our 911 data center.
Less Maintenance, More Strategy and Growth
I'm also excited about another HPE innovation, HPE InfoSight. This new infrastructure management uses AI, machine learning, and analytics to predict and prevent network and server issues. We can drill down to a single corrupted server or zoom out to look at our entire network topology, all from a single pane of glass. We can accurately predict capacity, performance, and bandwidth needs.
The combination of HPE SimpliVity and HPE Infosight helps my IT team better support the municipality of Roswell. Instead of just maintaining or repairing infrastructure, we are thinking strategically and helping add value. We are looking at improving our IT governance and usage policies, bolstering security, and expanding our fiber optic footprint.
We are also in talks with various city departments, evaluating their needs, and trying to map our IT policies to their KPIs. Fortunately, we no longer have to worry about running out of computing power or storage capacity. Now, we can spin up virtual machines and allocate drive space for any department the press of a button. And thanks to HPE InfoSight, we can also forecast demand and growth.
Our IT environment is also a little greener. Roswell's hyperconverged infrastructure uses probably 20% less electricity than our previous datacenters that ran on traditional Dell server architecture.
With HPE SimpliVity, we are on the cutting edge of IT. We have put ourselves far enough ahead of the curve to plan for the future and whatever that might entail. It’s good to know that whatever comes our way, we’ll be ready for it.