How Nutanix Became a Sure Bet to Increase Efficiency and Save Time for What Matters
For some people, there is no greater thrill than placing a bet. Whether it is the opportunity to win a random chance, or a battle of wits with another person, nothing beats the anticipation and that great feeling of being a winner.
Like many other daily pastimes, modern technology provides a way to enjoy this thrill from home. Over the past two decades, the gambling experience has moved from huge glitzy buildings to couches and smartphones. More than a billion gamblers around the globe get their action online, creating a huge market for online companies.
Beginning in 2005, the Betclic Group now enjoys a healthy percentage of the industry. By all estimates, we are one of the top five digital gaming companies in Europe. We hold licenses for sports betting, horse racing, casino, and online poker. Just as gambling has evolved, so have we evolved our operation. Today, we pride ourselves on making our products simple, innovative, and entertaining.
But behind the glitz and glamor of online gaming is an impressive tech operation. Making the gaming simple but fun takes a lot of work and planning. My personal background is in systems and infrastructure management. At Betclic, I am part of the systems engineering team. We provide comprehensive tech support for the business side of the operation. We are also responsible for maintaining both on-prem and cloud infrastructures.
A Heavy Management Burden
When I arrived at Betclic in 2018, the organization was at a turning point. We had what most people would consider a fairly standard infrastructure. We used a normal network stack, including core switches, routers, and firewalls. As for our hypervisors, we used ESX from VMware. Our entire setup was commonplace in our industry at the time.
To be clear, everything worked as expected. From a technical perspective, the system probably could have continued to sustain us for years to come. However, from a management perspective, we knew there was a better setup.
For starters, updating the old stack was incredibly time consuming. We would have to begin by updating the storage array from a particular vendor. Then we would have to separately update the hypervisors, followed by the network, and so on. Updating every single piece of equipment from a variety of vendors was a complete headache every single time.
In another industry, the complicated nature of these updates may have been tenable. However, the gambling industry is constantly evolving and highly regulated. Because we operate in several different markets, we have to comply with different regulations. We get audited about five times a year, with each inspection checking to ensure we have used the most recent security updates. In addition, we also had to keep our security levels current enough to keep the credit card companies happy.
The frequency of updates, combined with our fractured infrastructure, was beginning to get tedious. After all, Betclic isn't in the updating business. We wanted to focus on beating the competition. To do that, we needed to build a new data centers. We also wanted to reorient our technicians toward a DevOps culture.
However, as you can probably guess, it is nearly impossible to refocus the team on DevOps, when they spend so much time managing the current storage, compute, network, and virtualization processes. We could not start innovating until we reduced the burden of managing our current system. Specifically, we needed an infrastructure that was audit-friendly, and prepared to quickly and easily scale and adapt.
Searching for a Better Hand
We began studying the vendors in the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) market in Spring 2019. We considered Cisco HyperFlex, but frankly the system still had too many manual tasks. Some of the update processes still required our personal attention, and a number of desired functions were not available. We also looked at HPE and a few other solutions without finding the perfect match. But once we encountered Nutanix, we knew we had found our new solution.
Nutanix came as a recommendation from our IT partner. They are experts in HCI, and as they listened to our goals, they assured us Nutanix was the right fit. We could build resilient infrastructure while freeing up time for our team to focus on more innovative tasks.
Our IT Partner helped us design our new infrastructure from the ground up, and then walked us through the implementation stages. They continued to work with our technicians through the process until we were comfortable enough to take over.
I should clarify though that our technicians were involved intimately in every stage of the process. Although we were using consultants and vendors, none of us wanted to install an infrastructure we didn't understand. As a result, once the system was in place, we were fairly autonomous. Within a few months of the installation, we were able to do whatever we needed, and at most only contacting outside help to double-check critical updates.
So far, our Nutanix solution fits perfectly within our structure. Right now, we are still running Nutanix along with some other software solutions and hardware products. We still use ProLiant from HP, in large part because our technicians understand the product and there was no need for a change.
We also use Cisco ACI for our network stack. Being hyperconverged in networking as well will give us the flexibility we need, and Cisco ACI helps serve that purpose. We hope to have our network updated completely by summer 2021.
Lessons Learned in Our HCI Transformation
For anyone thinking of making this same kind of change, I learned at least two things along the way. First, be proactive with Nutanix courses and training. It can be tempting to let the consultants and vendors hash out the details, and then figure out what you need to know after the fact. I advise having your team personally involved in the entire process, so that the transition leaves very little onboarding time. If you work with Nutanix as the new infrastructure is being built, you will know the system intimately before the changeover.
The other lesson I learned directly from Nutanix staff. There is a certain power in transparency. With some other vendors, when we have a problem they will attempt to bluff and blame. Nutanix, on the other hand, is quick to admit when they don't know something. Rather than bluff or pass me to another department, they focus on setting off to find the solution. That process ensures constant learning and improvement instead of stagnation.
In fact, from all apparent interactions, Nutanix employees seem especially focused on improvement and learning in general. Anytime I contact the company for assistance, they are beyond helpful. Not only will they help with the specific issue, but I have had personal conversations with staff that would point me to resources and links to help me build my understanding in topics of interest. In another example, an employee who helped me solve a problem contacted me three months later after Nutanix improved on the original solution. Without prompting, he called me out of the blue to offer a better solution.
This shared commitment to learning and constant improvement makes me feel more like I am working with colleagues than vendors. I genuinely feel as if Nutanix wants our organization to grow and improve along with their product offering. That is a refreshing change from other companies that turn off the charm once the transaction is complete.
Reaping the Benefits of a Full Hand
So what does this all mean? Without a doubt, the biggest feature of our new Nutanix solution is the power and simplicity of one-click updates. We have gone from a slow succession of updating multiple machines from different vendors to one-person, one-click updates. Our technician clicks one button to launch, and the system seamlessly moves along each node. One by one they are activated, updated, and rebooted without interfering with our ability to access the virtual machine. That saves us so much time and energy while keeping us current so we can pass our audits.
We also saved a ton of space in our data center because our infrastructure is much smaller. Despite the reduction, we can also handle a bigger load because our servers are more powerful. We might not have saved money as part of the upfront migration, but we definitely saved at scale. That is where you see the power of the hyperconverged infrastructure. As a growing company in a booming market, you want to focus on scale and flexibility.
I am from the data center world, so I expect to spend my career close to the infrastructure. However, success means spending your time on what matters. Nutanix gives my team an easy way to maintain and manage our infrastructure. That way, we have time to focus on implementing improvements to the customer experience. That is how we keep Betclic on top of the game.