Working the Problem without Breaking the Bank: Mixing Flexible Financing and Elastic Infrastructure

HPE GreenLake

There’s a saying: If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve lived three lives because I’ve been fortunate enough to find what I love and turn my passions into multiple careers.

I served in the military and worked as a commercial pilot before launching a career in IT. These three areas are very different, yet they have a couple of things in common: the need for incredible problem-solving skills and a reliance on strong systems in case of failures. These capabilities allow anyone to pursue the best outcomes while taking calculated risks. I wake up every morning excited to push the boundaries of what’s possible and find the best results. 

We Work the Problem

My IT career brought me to C.H.I. Overhead Doors, which manufactures and installs a large selection of quality doors for residential, commercial, and industrial customers nationwide. I started here as a manager and am now our VP of Technology. It’s been a fantastic journey, and I’ve surrounded myself with exceptional, brilliant people.


We’re a safety-first company, and that applies to our products, factory and office procedures, and IT infrastructure. Maintaining our high standards takes a lot of effort, but we always find that we can “work the problem.” When we break something down to its lowest common denominator and perform a root-cause analysis, there isn’t anything we can’t figure out together.

Our remote location is one of C.H.I.’s challenges. Our headquarters are an hour south of the University of Illinois in the village of Arthur, which boasts corn fields, a large Amish community, and the flattest geography in the state. It’s a nice place to live (and the sunsets are great), but it can be tough to find qualified IT people. And yet, we’ve thrived. Today, we’re a $500 million company with a 24-acre facility, 800 employees, and double-digit growth.

The Fall of the “Roman Empire”

Our isolation led to what I jokingly call our “Roman Empire” phase (named after my predecessor). We had gotten to a point where everything worked, but we didn't keep up with technology. We were still using bare-metal servers and had nothing resembling hybrid or cloud-based infrastructure on the software development side, and our IT/OT network was long in the tooth. Our wiring cabinets, demarcation points, routers, and switches needed tidying up, and we were putting band-aids over bullet holes. It was 2016, and we still used FoxPro as our primary database. Our “can-do” culture enabled us to get things done and experience great growth, but we weren't following best practices. Our infrastructure couldn't scale and wasn’t going to sustain us for much longer.

When it was time to budget for new infrastructure, we had to start with our desired outcomes rather than a specific solution. We needed:

  • A platform that would provide a stable ordering experience for our customers and 2,300 professional dealers
  • Faster speeds and response times inherent in modern infrastructure
  • A more flexible network for our developers 
When budgeting for new infrastructure, start with the desired outcomes rather than a specific solution.

We were also seeking reliability and survivability for the shop floor. Our ERP connects to our factory and generates work instructions from order entries. If the paperwork doesn’t flow (digitally or otherwise), we have 500 shift workers waiting for the next thing to do—a massive waste of time and resources. If you’re not producing, you’ve created a backlog, which leads to shipment delays.

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are our order cutoff days, and there’s always a flurry of activity before the 10 a.m. deadline. That previously meant a lot of data congestion. Things would slow down, and people would get the wheel of death while waiting for the system to load. Sometimes they didn’t make that day’s deadline—an unnecessary delay caused by our own systems.

Under our Roman Empire, individual departments had built separate environments without consulting other business units. Everyone worked well independently, but we weren’t well coordinated. Upgrading our infrastructure would allow us to ask people what they needed and work collaboratively to create a standardized company-wide environment with shared resources that would benefit everyone.

Seeking "Demand on Demand"

Twenty-five years in IT (and everything I learned before that) has taught me that you’re only as strong as your back end systems. To succeed, you've got to have reliability, scalability, and elasticity to grow and react to changing conditions.

Expanding and shrinking based on volume, traffic, and workloads are critical to maintaining supercharged growth.

Expanding and shrinking based on order volume, network traffic, and processor load was critical to maintaining our supercharged growth. In essence, our ideal model was “demand on demand.”

Over the years, we built relationships with numerous vendors, including Cisco and Dell. But when we went looking for a scalable “demand on demand” solution, our partners at Burwood Group pointed us in another direction.

The Sweet Spot Between Technology and Financing 

I came from an enterprise world, where everyone has their favorite SAN flavor. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) is always in the mix, and going with an HPE solution has always been a safe bet. But the solution that our channel partners suggested was more than a safe bet—it was perfect for our unique challenges.

The HPE GreenLake edge-to-cloud platform offered a way for us to accommodate peaks and valleys in demand and supply the capacity needed to move from FoxPro to a modern Microsoft SQL Server. What’s more, we had gone through a series of acquisitions, so while most people appreciate the opportunity to move to an OpEx model, we had a strong desire for more of a CapEx model. They offered that, too. The cherry on top was HPE Managed Services (formerly GMS), which included remote infrastructure and application monitoring, management, and optimization.

I worked with Zach Steffan of Burwood Group to develop a hybrid purchase agreement that addressed our CapEx/OpEx balance. We signed a 60-month term for flexible HPE Greenlake storage and compute as a managed service and HPE ProLiant DL 380 Gen 10+ servers for our Cohesity DR setup.

In adopting this new model, we consolidated all our service contracts. We had various three-year deals and some five-year agreements, none of which aligned with each other. Keeping track of dates and financial terms took a lot of work and again, it varied by department. Using the HPE GreenLake platform puts everyone on the same page, with only one contract to manage.

Enhanced Capabilities and $400k in Savings

We’ve seen a tremendous return on investment from the HPE GreenLake platform. Over our five-year contract, we’re saving 14% on our infrastructure spend. That’s over $400,000! IOPS is tremendous. The HPE Alletra storage arrays are fast, and every generation is faster. We can snapshot our system every half hour and our SQL database every five minutes, protecting transactional data in our ERP, order entry, and accounting systems.

Now our RPO is five minutes, and our RTO is 15 minutes. Let's say there's a cyber attack—at most, we’ll lose five minutes of data, and our systems will be back online in 15 minutes. We take multiple snapshots daily, and for added security, Cohesity creates an off-site backup of our entire system every hour.

This latest refresh has enabled us to offer a better end-user experience to our 2,300 dealers and sales and product teams. Transactions are lightning fast, and we can store, view, and transfer large AutoCAD renderings between our factory in Arthur and our Terre-Haute facility without paralyzing our network or filling our hard drives. Sales teams don’t have to worry that our systems will prevent them from meeting that 10 a.m. order deadline. The ability to easily process massive files allows our salespeople and dealers to move more product, boosting our bottom line and spurring our growth. 

We recently grew our Cohesity environment on the HPE GreenLake platform, adding additional capacity to the existing nodes while deploying a new greenfield DR site and replicating between all three including an instance on Cohesity's cloud.

Proactive Tech Support 

One of the best things about HPE Managed Services is the proactive tech support. HPE doesn’t wait for a drive to fail before jumping into action. Before we see an amber light on the dashboard, a replacement drive shows up on my desk, without ever having asked for it. If there’s a severe issue on the horizon, they’ll pick up the phone and call to let me know we’re nearing capacity, a component is malfunctioning, or a driver needs patching.

That matters to me because, well, I like my sleep. I’ve got the best pillow, the best mattress, and I don’t want to be woken up in the middle of the night because something’s gone down. I don’t like starting the day nervous that there will be a flood of emails waiting for me in my inbox about a failure. Having HPE Managed Services means that I can enjoy my sleep. I feel confident knowing they’re on top of things, and we aren't caught off guard if something fails.

A Platform for the Future

In thinking about our life after we started using the HPE GreenLake platform, Star Trek comes to mind.

Every week, the Starship Enterprise would face some sort of crisis. In my version, the level-headed Captain Kirk calls over to Lieutenant Scott, “The ship is breaking up!” The camera pans to Scotty, who replies, “Captain, I’m giving her all she’s got!” But then, there’s a pause. Scotty visibly relaxes. “Wait!, there’s still more Captain— we’re using the HPE GreenLake platform!”

If I look at where we were before HPE GreenLake and compare it to where we are now, it’s like going from the cockpit of a single-engine Cessna to the helm of the Starship Enterprise. There’s always more in the tank to use if necessary.

We didn’t know how much we needed until we didn’t have it. The Burwood Group and HPE gave C.H.I. a way to move forward: a reliable, highly-available, and elastic platform with infinite potential.