Transform Your IT into a Foundation for Business Growth
If you've ever built your own home, you probably found that there was no shortage of opinions to go around. Everyone wants to weigh in on just about everything—from the curtains to the floors to the tiling. But the one thing no one wants to spend too much time talking about is—quite ironically—also the most important: the foundation.
Without a strong foundation, all you have is a house of cards. You could have what is objectively the most beautiful, eye-catching house, but without something solid for it to sit on top of, it's only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down.
Building My Foundation
After graduating second in my class, I was fortunate enough to go to college right out of high school. If you'd have asked me what I wanted to do with my life at that point, I definitely wouldn’t have said IT. Initially, I had my sights set on pre-med and becoming a pediatrician. I was in a great fraternity in college, and one of my roommates was a computer science major. Based on that, I got to assist him whenever he was working on various class projects. I got to see him take a PC apart—or build an entirely new one—all while getting up close and personal with how the technology worked. Little did I know that this tinkering would become the foundation of my IT career.
After college, my life took an abrupt turn, and I landed in the IT field. Soon, I was able to find an employer that would let me get my foot in the door and begin my IT journey. Fourteen years ago, I joined as a regional support person. This work meant I drove or flew to various job sites across the US and supported them in their operations. Whether they needed assistance with end-user computing, network connectivity, or something in between, I was who they turned to for help with making that happen. This experience helped me quickly progress further into the IT ranks of Network Engineer, then Senior Network Engineer, and now Network Operations Supervisor.
For 70 years, Cianbro has proudly served as one of the largest, most diverse, successful, and 100% employee-owned construction and construction services companies operating anywhere in the United States. We handle not only building, but also industrial and manufacturing work, infrastructure, power, and energy. Today, we operate in more than 40 states and employ over 4,000 team members with me as the company's Network Operations Supervisor.
For several prosperous years, Cianbro was growing. The market itself was growing. Our IT infrastructure, on the other hand, was not.
A lot of small problems were all coming to a head at roughly the same time. If we weren't battling constant slowdowns and performance-related issues, it was a lack of resources that was holding our team members back. We had little or no ability to scale, which meant we feared some pretty significant opportunities in the industry could potentially pass us by.
But the impact of those issues was even worse. It was more than just disruptive. Communication issues meant people in the field couldn't relay essential information back to our offices. Data access problems prevented insight we needed to make better and more informed business decisions. There was just no way that our company could keep growing with this setup. At the time, we didn't even have disaster recovery (DR) capabilities, which was the final straw. Something had to give—and soon. We didn't want IT to become a growth roadblock, so we set out to find a solution to prevent that from happening.
Combining World-Class Solutions
In those early days, we looked at everything, from on-premise to hybrid cloud, private cloud solutions, and more. Very quickly, we realized that we could get better results by combining solutions from , Dell EMC, and VMware. We relied on Cisco’s expertise, and used Cisco for switches, backend fiber SAN, and Cisco UCS servers.
The simplicity of the integrations and the scalable nature of this converged infrastructure was the final selling point to join these vendors together. Our data center took a 10-year step forward with a single purchase. Even the implementation was beautifully straightforward; it was a matter of standing back and letting our IT partner teams do their work. Then, we jumped back in when it was ready to go.
In a matter of a few days, we had completely transformed our data center into a rock-solid foundation that stood ready to support our rapid business growth.
Technology That Scales with Your Organization
Flash forward to today, and our data center transformation has allowed our IT team to be more agile in the way we support end-users. If our team—or customers—needs a new piece of technology, it’s much easier for us to comply.
The entire infrastructure is also incredibly modular. This scalability helps create opportunities for growth without a costly forklift upgrade. If I need more storage, I add more drives. If I need additional compute power, I put more compute in. I don't have to replace everything because I need 256GB more of RAM in a virtual host.
For the business, our new infrastructure has a wide-reaching impact. Take payroll, for example. Previously, when we ran payroll, we would need to proactively keep an eye on database transactions between different servers throughout that period.
Is everything going to be fast enough? Do we have enough IOPS on the SAN to handle everything they need to do? What happens if something goes wrong? All of this stress was unnecessary and unsustainable.
On our previous generation of hardware, that payroll process would take upwards of two hours of runtime. During this time, the IT team would sit around and wait for something to go wrong. But the first payroll after our migration, one of our database administrators said that the payroll person called and thought the ERP system had crashed.
When we asked why she said it was because the process only took 20 minutes. We got to tell her, "No, it's not broken... it's done."
But it wasn't just a matter of timed saved, although there was a lot of that to go around. Opportunities were easier to react to as they happened. Projects were simpler to say yes to because we knew we had the industry-leading infrastructure to back us up. The amount of time spent on trivial break-fix tasks has shrunk, allowing innovation to flourish and grow.
Making Your Case for an Upgrade
In the end, all of this was possible because we finally realized that you can't build the penthouse before you build the foundation.
When you're talking about a company as old as ours, there will always be a never-ending battle between making money and spending money. Executive management is usually on board with an investment in technology because they understand the importance. But at the same time, they also have to be mindful of the financial stability of the company. That’s their job.
If you come at them with some grand sales pitch, as we quickly learned, you'd better be ready to demonstrate how it brings business value. Buying into new technology just because "it's old" isn't going to work.
In 2015, I truly felt like our back was up against the wall. But now, with a solution like this in my back pocket, I can safely say that we won't be going back to that dark place anytime soon.
An employee-owned company like Cianbro has amazing growth potential by design. Now, with a rock-solid foundation finally at our disposal, it feels like the sky is truly the limit.