Investing in Cloud-Based Infrastructure and Laying the Digital Foundations of Tomorrow’s Buildings

HPE Global Stories

In today’s competitive business environment, the digital economy is king, and IT is often seen as a strategic partner to the business. However, the IT department is often a cost centre, and spending is always under scrutiny. As IT professionals, it is our job to balance budgets and find applications and technologies that add value to our companies and contribute to our employers’ profitability.

As Operations and Technology Manager at Frasers Property in Australia, I oversee general IT operations, infrastructure, enterprise architecture, and cybersecurity across our Australian platform. Our Australian operations are split into two business units: Frasers Property Australia and Frasers Property Industrial, both led by respective leadership teams. Our Australian platform utilises the same core business platforms and systems—meaning our IT solutions must meet the business requirements of both organisations. 

We Added Additional Storage and Capacity—Then Disaster Struck

Frasers Property in Australia is primarily a Microsoft shop. We also use SAP extensively as the company’s ERP to manage procurement, construction projects, real estate assets, general finance, HR, reporting and analytics, and to power our CRM. After 19 years at Frasers Property, I’ve seen (and been) through several upgrade cycles. Pre-SAP, everything was run on-prem. Adopting an ERP made us move to a different Data Centre type. That was back in 2009. Everything ran on bare-metal Dell servers and Equal Logic SAN’s because that was the most cost-effective solution.

Adding on-prem servers and storage as capacity grows means more in-house maintenance as your company scales.

We added additional servers and storage capacity as the company’s needs grew, and we continued to manage infrastructure in-house, which is quite resource intensive to maintain. Whilst we were acknowledged for keeping the lights on, our IT team were also beginning to realise there was more value our team could add.

In 2015, we upgraded our infrastructure again to Dell blade servers and EMC storage arrays. Everything was working as expected until disaster struck with our primary data centre hardware on Boxing Day 2019. 

The EMC SAN failed, and we spent 26 hours troubleshooting the issue before switching the organisation’s business systems to run from the DR data centre. Ultimately, we had to replace several drives and rebuild the SAN at the primary data centre. We were nearing end-of-life support for the hardware and had already started looking at our options before this. The incident was the trigger to accelerate that search.

Moving to the Cloud with HPE Pointnext Services    

We knew we wanted to move to the cloud. But that changed when we spoke to David Brown at HPE Pointnext, who steered us in the right direction. Since Frasers Property was already a Windows and Microsoft 365 shop, David introduced the possibility of using Microsoft Azure as our cloud platform. Why? It was better suited to our primary office tools and worked well with SAP. HPE Pointnext provided the on-prem hardware that suited our needs, that integrated well and the professional services that could move us to the cloud. 

We had never bought HPE products before. Pointnext Services worked hard to ensure we were comfortable with this move and to onboard our team. HPE Vice President and Managing Director Stephen Bovis and Head of Advisory and Professional Services Tim Diggens offered great support. They assured us that HPE had the resources to run the Data Center Transformation Project with us—either moving to HPE hardware or using Azure. 

The Frasers Property IT team worked with HPE engineers to architect our new network. It was a great learning experience for our organisations, who together mastered a new platform to implement and support the solution that best suited our needs.

Moving Our Primary Systems in Two-Week Sprints 

Frasers Property and HPE started work on our Azure infrastructure in June 2020. By the end of August 2020, we had run workshops for our teams, costed the upgrade, and finalised our network architecture. A new hybrid network and servers were running on Azure by the end of November 2020.

The move to our new infrastructure happened in two-week sprints, through developing and testing new environments before moving them into production. We also started with the most-used applications and then moved to secondary and tertiary systems in a staged and tiered approach to maximise project efficiency.   

Migrating mission-critical applications to your new infrastructure first can be risky, but it can also lead to immediate impact.

Most engineers will first migrate low-level systems to a new environment, since any risk must be mitigated first. But we’d successfully taken this approach before, by thoroughly testing everything in a sandboxed environment before moving it into production. The move was a ‘lift and shift’—we moved our existing production environments straight into our new infrastructure. With one further change, we updated the IP addresses of the virtual servers and let the DNS servers catch up, and we were done. 

We also built a geographically-distanced DR data centre, even though Azure automatically backs everything up and provides a failback in a virtual environment. Our previous backup site was s few kilometres away from us here in Sydney. The new one is in a completely different location. That added layer of security gives us extra peace of mind in a worst-case scenario. 

For now, Frasers Property will use a hybrid model. We still have a few servers that run legacy on-prem apps. A few of our legacy machines are still operational, but we’ll be taking them offline next year. The bulk of our assets—including SAP and IBM TM1—run on the Azure cloud.

Investing in Cloud-Based Infrastructure Is Money Well Spent 

Many IT professionals think that moving to the cloud costs less because you’re not paying for physical infrastructure, but that’s not always true. We are investing more in our hybrid infrastructure, but this annual investment in cloud-based infrastructure is money well spent for the scalability, security, and stability the solution provides. There is also peace of mind that Microsoft manages our cloud environment and meets our cyber security compliance needs.

Our new infrastructure means the Frasers Property IT team isn’t plugging and unplugging cables. We can spin up a virtual server or add storage at the push of a button. We no longer focus on maintaining physical infrastructure and are free to talk to our internal customers, manage existing applications, and develop new ones. We are learning new skills and exploring exciting new technologies like machine learning, Internet of Things, and Robotic Process Automation. 

In the coming years, big data and intelligent buildings will transform property management. Remote sensors and dashboard analytics will help us reduce property management costs, potentially boosting our rate of return on capital. HPE Pointnext Services has given us the tools to master the digital foundations of tomorrow’s residential, industrial, and commercial properties. We are investing in the future of our business and the future of real estate.