HCI: Ease of Use of the Cloud with the Security of an On-Prem Solution
When you work in IT, it's easy to get caught up in buzzwords. You may find yourself looking at the latest application or network device, but it may be a poor fit for your users, and so you must turn elsewhere. After all, your company's IT infrastructure is all about empowering employees and creating better experiences that allow them to focus on your customers. And we have a lot of customers. We support 6,000 businesses and individuals across the country.
Most employees don’t think about—or realize the complexity of—servers and infrastructure needed to power an insurance brokerage organization like Assurance. Our IT infrastructure must support these needs above all others. From our domain and print services to the interoperability with our business-critical agency management systems, these systems allow our employees to build reporting and analyze data that impacts our customers on a daily basis.
No matter how sophisticated an environment we create, it is worthless if it doesn't address the needs of our users and fails to provide the resources they need. In my opinion, a good IT team finds out how employees work. Then they make it a priority to continually improve their processes while building a strong toolset to deliver exceptional customer service.
Hardware Is Not Enough: You Need a Plan
When I joined Assurance in 2016, the company had already brought IT management in-house. Before this, the IT service was outsourced to a local consultancy. We had solid infrastructure, but we did not have a strategic plan.
To remedy the situation, Assurance hired seasoned IT leadership and offered in-house positions to some of the consultants who were already working on-site. The company also switched to hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) about a year before I joined. Assurance wanted improved performance, robust data recovery, a smaller footprint, and a platform that included a strategic way to increase storage and capacity.
Hyperconvergence offered all the above and would allow us to move our data center off-site for increased security. It was also the most efficient way to back up and archive the staggering number of emails, forms, and documents generated by our insurance activities.
Start by Choosing the Best Foundation
The selection of an HCI solution came before my time, but I know we looked at three potential suppliers: Dell EMC VxRail, Nutanix, and HPE SimpliVity.
HPE SimpliVity offered the same storage and computing capacity as the competition, but its backend networking and security features outclassed the other two solutions by a wide margin. To further sweeten the deal, HPE SimpliVity cost less than Dell EMC VxRail and Nutanix, while also providing simplified single-pane-of-glass deployment and management tools.
I had never worked with HCI before, and one of the reasons I accepted this position was the opportunity to learn HCI and specifically HPE SimpliVity. After years of experience with traditional server-and-switch-based data centers, I recognized hyperconvergence as an important technology evolution on par with cloud computing, and I wanted to be part of it.
Stop Worrying About Compute and Storage
Our IT service platform is comprised of business applications, productivity tools, and databases to manage our client policies and relationship with Assurance.
While the move to HCI and virtual machines massively increased application speeds, we've witnessed an even bigger transformation in our storage environment. Thanks to HPE SimpliVity's deduplication and compression features, we no longer worry about running out of space, which is a tremendous boon because we have to store and archive so many documents.
Our deduplication and compression ratios are 4.4:1 and 1.2:1 respectively, allowing us to store nearly 200 terabytes of data in 36 terabytes of SSD space. We have over 60 virtual machines with sizes spanning from 8 gigabytes to over 10 terabytes. All this data is also fully backed up, archived, and mirrored. If one of our HPE SimpliVity clusters fails, another one kicks in and we can continue working as if nothing happened.
A Helping Hand Can Make All the Difference
Of course, things weren't always this smooth. In my early days here, one of our HPE SimpliVity nodes ran out of storage space and our systems went down. It happened over the weekend, and I spent several hours on the phone with HPE engineers to get everything up and running again.
At one point during the process, my contact at HPE was nearing the end of his shift and brought in a second engineer to ensure a proper handoff, and both helped me find and resolve the issue. After we brought everything back online, the HPE SimpliVity team continued to check in every day for two months to ensure that everything was still stable.
This level of service and support ensured we were making the most of our new infrastructure. Our partners at Sayers also helped us to implement best practices to migrate our systems into HPE SimpliVity as we made the transition.
Transform the Way You Work
HPE SimpliVity has helped us make all our data and tools available to remote workers. Assurance employees can now access key systems when they're on the road or working from home and enjoy the same high-quality user experience on their laptops and mobile devices as they would in the office.
HPE SimpliVity has helped us automate and simplify many of our everyday network and infrastructure management tasks, and this has freed our IT team to test and develop innovative applications that are transforming the way all of us work.
Spend Your Days Doing More
A few Fridays ago, we applied application updates to a set of systems. We backed up our environment, updated our systems, and validated functionality. Then we brought the whole application online with minimum effort, and without any impact on our users or our storage capacity.
That very same day, I completed several other unrelated tasks and projects. HPE SimpliVity has given me more time to focus on new strategic initiatives for our operations and bolster our development environment.
Another one of my colleagues is preparing to upgrade our Agency Management System. Using HPE SimpliVity's self-serve tools, he built a fully functional dev environment in less than a day, and he didn't have to check in with me or make a special request for the allocation of computing and storage resources. The HPE SimpliVity tools allowed him to evaluate the current and projected computing and build the new systems without issue. Setting up a test server would have taken days or even weeks in the past, but now we can spin up a virtual machine in minutes.
Use IT to Move Your Business Forward
Our hard work behind the scenes has not gone unnoticed. A couple of years ago, our head developer was named Employee of the Year. It was the first time in the company's history that the award had gone to a member of the IT team.
Assurance’s IT team has gone from fixing issues that are broken to driving innovation and moving our business forward. We started by prioritizing our employees' needs, looking at their tools, and finding ways to optimize their user experience.
Don’t Try to Reinvent the Wheel
If I could offer a piece of advice to IT professionals, it is this: Before you adopt a new solution, ask yourself, "Who's going to use this, and how will it help them do their job?" Educate yourself on new technologies and the direction the industry is going but prioritize your customer base and their needs.
Our primary business systems haven't changed considerably, but we've given Assurance employees a cutting-edge foundation. We are working harder, faster, and smarter, thanks to HPE SimpliVity. To drive innovation, sometimes you must start with the basics.