How HyperFlex Helps Us Scale Our Business—and Our Customers’

CISCO

Ever since I founded CompuNet at the age of 18, we’ve always tried to cater to our customers’ needs. Today, we have customers in northern Germany and beyond, who have been with us for a decade because they know whatever issues they may face, we will build them the right solution. This has led us to develop our own data center services. But after 17 years of catering to every customer’s needs, it added up to a lot of different systems: servers, networking equipment, and hypervisors.


CompuNet is an integrator and service provider located in Lübeck. When we experienced an increase in customers two years ago, I started thinking about whether I could bring our systems all together. 


Our old setup—with its various techniques to manage the networks—was getting complicated and unwieldy. When your networks use different switch types and server models, you can’t rely on automation. All new solutions you build for customers must be handmade.  
 

Two years ago, we started migrating CompuNet to VMware, but that presented its own hassles. It required a great deal of infrastructure. Also, upgrading a classic VMware cluster to keep it alive on the newest VMware version is a manual process and takes a long time. You have to look at each node, the storage controller, and the BIOS. You have to dive into five different devices. Upgrading a typical cluster, including hardware and firmware, took us two days. The switch didn’t help us move faster—it was slowing us down.

Not Just Another Hyperconvergence Solution

Being an ICT provider, we have our finger on the pulse and see all the best technology out there. This is why we knew hyperconvergence could solve our problems. It also means we know all the big brands and their solutions. When I started our search, I read all the papers on it, but you know there’s always a difference between what the whitepapers say and how the product performs in the real world. 


As we explored our options, we knew all of the major players help consolidate the network, storage, and computing power. That’s easy. But when you look at the companies selling the solutions, you have different parts from different vendors. You buy Dell servers and you put VMware vSAN on them, or you buy HPE servers and put Nutanix on top. That bothered us, because any problem would mean we’d call two or three vendors to get it fixed.

Consolidating your IT infrastructure means fewer vendors to deal with when things go wrong.


We do a lot of work with Cisco Meraki, so we’re constantly in touch with the people from Cisco. When I mentioned this issue we had with hyperconvergence solutions, they said, “You have to look at HyperFlex.”


But we never take vendors purely at their word. Our next step of action is always to read the technical admin guide, where it describes how to set up and work with the product. That’s where we learn how it’s intended to work in the real world. When we read the HyperFlex technical admin guide, we realized this one solution truly does handle all the issues we were facing. We would have the storage and compute management of VMware, along with the upgrading and monitoring—all in one solution.

Speed Matched with Easy Management

Our next step moving forward with Cisco’s HyperFlex was to examine it in-depth. We spoke to Cisco engineers and consultants about the setup and fine-tuning. We never did any Webex calls or tutorials beyond reading the setup guide and that initial call. We just brought it to our data center, we put it onto the rack, cabled it up, turned the power on, and ran through the setup process. It was that simple. The installation only took a day.


After some performance testing, we began migrating a few customers onto the system to get some real-life experience. It performed really well: fast, with extremely easy handling in one console.
 

That upgrade process that used to take us two days? It now takes an hour and a half for a total renewal. With HyperFlex, I have three things to upgrade: VMware, the firmware, and the UCS switching. Not only is this process shorter, but it’s hands off. I just take the upgrade file from Cisco, put it in the right place, and press start. HyperFlex does the work for me. 

High Performance and Low TCO: An Easy Sell

After seeing tremendous value ourselves, we started selling HyperFlex to customers. We can sell this because we know its impact and simplicity. Over the last couple of months, we’ve had several Hyperflex projects. I’ll like to give you two examples. The first was a financial services company here in Germany. The equipment shipped straight to the customer, who is also an IT guy. He was able to rack it up, and then I got onto his system from here in Lübeck and did the setup process remotely. The entire process took only three hours.


The second system was for a company in Lübeck with a U.S. customer that needed their own VM solution located directly at their data center in Miami. I had someone do all the cabling and racking for me, and then we started provisioning the system remotely. I would love to go to Miami once or twice a month, but it’s a long flight from Hamburg. The solution is so reliable and manageable that those trips are unnecessary. 


The first thing customers notice is the performance: It’s really fast. And you’ll get these high-performance results alongside an easy setup. You have four cables per node: two power cables and two fiber cables. You plug it all together, and without any tuning or tricks, it works. The simplicity of that out-of-the-box readiness is important for my customers.

Don’t Get Complacent—Get Updated

So often when we see a new customer’s infrastructure for the first time, it’s clear that they invested in new switching, storage, and servers maybe four or five years ago, and then they haven’t touched it since. Why? Because it was a big, complicated process to set up, and they’re afraid of breaking anything. I see a lot of systems running a VM version five years out of date for this reason.


The simplicity of HyperFlex takes away that fear. For starters, I tell them, “I can do the upgrading for you, because it’s a very fast process and I don’t even have to come to your office to do it.” But when the customer sees how simple the system is to set up, they also gain the confidence that if they want to do the upgrading themselves, they won’t break anything.


Being able to upgrade the whole setup during a normal workday without any outages or problems leads to the second, longer-term benefit that customers enjoy: stability. HyperFlex self-heals if there's a hardware failure, meaning it’s incredibly reliable. 


That long-term benefit is important, because while it’s true that HyperFlex is a little bit more expensive compared to other solutions, when you consider the costs of setup, management, and stability, it’s a lot cheaper in the long run. 

Don’t let the sticker shock of hyperconvergence throw you off. You’ll often find the TCO lower than your current setup.


Performance and lower total cost of ownership (TCO) are the two biggest reasons our customers buy HyperFlex. HyperFlex offers them that all-in-one solution.

A Future-Ready, Scalable Solution 

Our faster processes mean we have more time to add value for the customer. While we’ve always prided ourselves on listening to customers, time was limited when spending two days a week on upgrades. Now, with that cut down to under two hours, time spent working on the infrastructure has turned into time with the customer, listening to them, and finding new solutions for their needs.


We got the performance we wanted, eliminated the complication of managing the system, and I have the assurance that HyperFlex will scale with us as we have future growth spurts. Normally when you buy infrastructure, you size it, run it for four or five years, and if you need more resources, you buy another system because touching the current infrastructure is complicated.


But I know the next time our infrastructure is fully loaded, it’s as simple as calling Cisco to buy another node and cables. We simply plug in another node, start it up, it gets provisioned, and that’s it: We have a totally certified, validated system. We can increase our capacity within a day or so without worrying about potential problems arising from adding a node. Being able to easily grow is important to any business owner, but it’s especially vital given our growth trajectory. 


For a long time, the cloud has not amounted to much in Europe, but that’s changing. We’re doing more and more infrastructure work as Europe becomes increasingly cloud-aware. When our customers want to go in that direction, we’re ready. As we grow, we may think more about redundancy, replication, and doing a split configuration—all those functionalities HyperFlex has built-in. We’re not there just yet, but we know it will be there when we need it.