Aug 25 2014

Converged Storage Options Level the Travel Business Playing Field

SMBs find that by deploying next-generation technologies, they can take on much larger competitors — and win.

How do trendy hotels such as Hard Rock and Virgin prevail in the hypercompetitive hospitality industry? One way is through tapping an innovative partner that can enhance their brand and use the latest marketing tools to boost revenues.

Case in point: Vizergy supports hotels and resorts around the globe with a full suite of digital marketing services, search marketing, website and application hosting, CMS, email, social and planning tools all wrapped in a single hospitality marketing cloud. This industry-leading application is critical for savvy property marketers to create a successful online presence. The 15-year-old company, based in Jacksonville, Fla., keeps pace with the hospitality industry’s seismic changes by making savvy technology choices for its internal operations.

“Our success comes down to achieving the most efficient use of technology,” IT Director Eric Miller says. “We look for very low-touch, no-training-required solutions that also provide the enterprise-class features and scalability for growth that a lot of small and midsized ­companies need.”

Vizergy is part of a growing number of companies taking advantage of converged storage systems and other next-generation storage technologies, says Terri McClure, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, an IT research and consulting firm.

“In the past, one of the challenges with the latest storage technology was you had to have a Ph.D. to run it,” she says. “In newer iterations, vendors are focusing on ease of use.”

SMBs can capitalize on innovations typically found only in large, resource-rich organizations, McClure says. In addition to converged storage ­appliances, these advancements include unified storage, automated storage tiering and thin provisioning.

Vizergy’s IT team implemented a converged storage system from Nutanix, which integrates solid-state flash drives, spinning disks, computing power, networking capabilities and advanced management software within a single device while replacing all of the storage capacity that used to run on a traditional storage area network (SAN). The new box delivers faster performance for core business systems, which help to book 10,000-plus reservations and crunch more than 10 million database transactions a day.

“Our competitors are driven by old-school tools like spreadsheets and email,” Vizergy President Robert Arnold says. “We’re a technology-enabled agency that relies on the technology to make us more scalable and more accountable to our clients.”


Percentage of IT chiefs who named ease of operation and management as their No. 1 selection criterion when buying data storage products and services.

SOURCE: Enterprise Strategy Group, “SMB Storage Market Trends,” April 2013

The Technology Powering Customer Service

Like Vizergy, ACES is a small business that has benefitted from recent advances in storage. The 250-person company in Carmel, Ind., helps power plants across the country find buyers for the excess electricity they produce or purchase energy to fill supply gaps when demand outstrips their own resources. Backend systems, supported by flash storage and automated tiering, ensure ACES meets its customers’ service requirements.

“We need to store large volumes of data and spin up new applications quickly when we move into new markets,” says Brandon Robinson, executive director of network services for ACES. “The storage systems we’ve selected allow us to do very fast provisioning.”

ACES recently added the latest version of EMC’s VNXe hybrid storage array, released in the spring, which Robinson says offers large-­enterprise features in a smaller package that's easier to afford. The arrays use ­automated storage-tiering software and dedicate about 5 percent of the total capacity to flash drives, 30 percent to spinning-disk, serial-attached SCSI drives and the remainder to slower but higher capacity drives. ACES can allocate the fastest resources to business applications that need them most, while taking advantage of low-cost capacity for other systems.

Software automation is another plus for the small IT staff of six. “We don’t have a dedicated storage administrator, so storage tasks must be simple enough to do by using a wizard or a well-designed graphical user interface,” Robinson says.

Additional benefits come from the EMC device’s ability to handle both block and file storage without the need for a separate compute server.

“That reduces a layer of complexity, and gives us the ability to bring up file shares quickly,” he adds.

Upfront planning helped the ACES IT staff find the right storage solution. Before speaking with vendors, team members gathered detailed statistics about required input/output operations per second and how much data the system would have to store.

“We could accurately evaluate different products using a level playing field because we did the research ahead of time,” Robinson says.

When the Passion for Innovation Pays Off

Even for a company steeped in IT innovation, Vizergy moved carefully before committing to converged storage. One consideration was the higher upfront cost it would require compared with purchasing a new SAN. Miller began promoting the idea only a month after he joined the company, but he built a strong business case for converged storage by comparing the option with that of an additional SAN investment. One selling point: It would provide more than twice the compute performance of a SAN and require 20 percent less in power, space and cooling costs.

“We decided we’d come out ahead in the long run with the converged appliance,” says Addams England, Vizergy’s vice president of IT.

Vizergy also has an enterprise system that’s ready for the future: “If we reach the point where we need to scale out, we can just purchase another node. In less than an hour, we can be up and running with additional capacity,” he says.

Jensen Hande