Goodbye Outdated Hardware, Hello Innovation: Our Hyperconvergence Journey

HPE SimpliVity

Climate change is transforming the way the world does business. And when it comes to construction materials, wood can be a highly sustainable and environmentally friendly option—when done right. At our company, we use every piece of the log—nothing is wasted, thanks to our sawmill’s cutting-edge technology. It’s one of the reasons I’m proud to work for this company.

We invest significantly in technology and automation to optimize our sawmills to run as efficiently as possible. The smoother our operations, particularly on the factory floor, the more we reduce our carbon footprint and the greener we are as a company. 

We have a proud and extensive history across Australia. Our sawmill has operated at our current site since the 1980s and has steadily expanded in size since then. It’s a massive operation with growing IT needs.

Over the past several years, there’s been a clear IT evolution as we’ve overcome some massive hurdles. 

System Slowdown, Shop Floor Shutdown

Our company has several data centers scattered all over the mill, with two specific ones for the business side: the main one for administration purposes and the other for disaster recovery (DR). But your company is only as good as the pieces that hold it together, and our aging and increasingly outdated system was in desperate need of an upgrade.

Your company is only as good as the technology holding it together.

Our data centers were complex, which required us to have significant technical understanding of our wide range of products. We had a hodgepodge of equipment from multiple vendors—from EMC to Brocade to HPE. Old gear, complicated contracts, more providers than we could count—our entire system needed an upgrade. 

But these issues paled in comparison to the true disadvantage of our infrastructure: It was slowing employees down and hurting our business. Because of the slowdown to our ERP system, employees’ screens would constantly freeze and people just eventually got used to that. But I didn’t want people to get used to that. 

The reports we ran on our ERP could take as long as an hour to complete. This became a huge burden at the end of the month when management expected us to run important monthly reports. They’d call to check on the status and we all cringed at how long it took to run them. 

But things got worse. All this translated to forced downtime at our mill, since our ERP software couldn’t do an offline month-end rollover. There we were: A sawmill, brought to a halt; our employees told to put down their tools and take a break while we ran the report. This wasn’t a way for a business to function. This sawmill shutdown translated into a significant cost to the business. 

When IT infrastructure slows down, company productivity suffers.

We were constantly fielding support calls from colleagues, asking if there was anything we could do about our slow systems. The lost productivity cost just kept growing. It was a highly frustrating and costly time, since our system had issues with RAM, storage, speed, and complexity of the hardware, which hindered everyone’s productivity. 

I wanted to consolidate the support and administration overhead, and the contracts that we had in place. There were four warranty maintenance contracts for all our equipment and I hoped to streamline it all; it didn’t need to be so complicated.

An Obvious Decision: Hyperconvergence 

Our board of directors convened and decided it was time for a major upgrade, so we began searching for new solutions. As I researched our options, I knew hyperconvergence was the logical next step—it was clearly the direction the industry was headed. I started to look at SimpliVity, before HPE acquired them. 

Once HPE acquired SimpliVity, it became a no-brainer over the other options. HPE SimpliVity simply fit every criteria and, since we already had HPE hardware (like our servers), that saved the company even more money. 

As I ran the numbers, it became clear that a hyperconverged solution with HPE SimpliVity would cost a lot less than upgrading to the newest version of our existing infrastructure. Replacing the servers and the yearly support maintenance with our current setup would be exorbitantly expensive. It just didn’t make sense. 

A Breath of Fresh Air

We had the HPE SimpliVity team come in and run a demo for us. Our team was blown away by what HPE SimpliVity could do for us around performance and processing speed. It almost seemed too good to be true. 

But once the install was complete, I noticed a significant improvement in several areas, particularly having an SQL server with inline dedupe and compression. You sacrifice CPU processing power at the cost of improved disk I/O, but when it comes to the SQL server, disk I/O is usually the bottleneck. 

In order for us to make use of that, we would’ve needed to upgrade to SQL Server Enterprise, which is a significant cost coming from SQL Server Standard. But with HPE SimpliVity, the compression comes built into the product. The HPE SimpliVity team even recommended we turn off our own compression and make use of theirs. There was a notable improvement in querying speeds.

The system’s storage inline deduplication and compression is also wildly efficient: We’re using 500 terabytes on the admin data center that’s only taking up 6 terabytes of space. And in the DR site, 1 Petabyte of data only takes up 3 terabytes of space. The efficiency ratio is almost 300:1.

In our admin data center, we reduced our racks from 31U to 9U, and in our dry mill DR data center, we reduced our racks from 21U to 7U. All in all, we’ve gone from a total of 52U of rack space to 16U, yielding a three times savings in consumed space. 

Time for Innovation

I’m incredibly impressed with HPE SimpliVity’s technology. All of the inline deduplication and compression happens on the fly without any intervention from us. Because so much is automated, it has significantly decreased my regular maintenance. And those reports that used to take an hour to run before, that also shut down our business? Now that’s down to 10 minutes yielding six times application delivery improvement. This transformation has had a huge, company-wide impact. 

Thanks to our new infrastructure and the backing of our managing director, we now have the technology and resources to make us one of the most efficient sawmills in the world. 

Less time on administration = more time for your team to innovate.

Instead of simply maintaining our infrastructure, I can shift my focus to improving processes out on the shop floor, delivering data into the hands of stakeholders who need to make key decisions. That’s a direct result of our reduced administrative overhead. Now, there’s time for innovation. It feels good to finally look forward, instead of back.