Hyperconverged infrastructure has allowed MercuryGate to maximize the efficiency of each member of its small IT staff, says IT Director Chris Cary.

How Small Businesses Use HCI to Get More from Each IT Staffer

The simplicity of hyperconverged infrastructure makes multitasking easy for IT shops.

As a provider of transportation management software, MercuryGate’s developers are the soul of its business. The Cary, N.C.-based company needs to provide those developers, many of whom work remotely, with world-class technology.

But as a small company with an even smaller IT staff, MercuryGate must do so with solutions that are simple to manage and support.

That’s why the company runs its virtual desktops on hyperconverged infrastructure from Nutanix. The virtual desktop infrastructure dramatically reduces the complexity of deploying compute resources to developers, and its combination of storage, compute, and networking makes it easier for the company’s IT staff to monitor ­performance, troubleshoot problems, update the infrastructure, and expand the environment over time.

“The hyperconverged infrastructure is great for us because it’s a single point of management,” says Chris Cary, IT director for MercuryGate. “You have all the resources you need in one box, and you have the ability to manage it from a single place.”

This ability to be flexible with staffing has turned out to be one of the key advantages that hyperconverged organizations enjoy, says Andrew Smith, research director within the enterprise infrastructure practice at IDC. That’s hugely valuable for small businesses that need their IT professionals to wear multiple hats.

“I think the most interesting thing we have seen is not the shifting of IT staff to higher-value, business-oriented tasks but the shift from IT specialists to IT generalists,” Smith says. “Instead of having different network, virtual machine and storage administrators, you have a single infrastructure generalist in charge of managing all three.”

That’s exactly how hyperconvergence has played out for MercuryGate. “I had my virtualization engineer,” Cary says. “She is now a storage engineer, a network engineer and a virtualization specialist. She’s able to do it all, where before, I would have had multiple people doing this.”

“It’s hyperconverged infrastructure,” Cary adds, “but it also kind of creates a hyperconverged technician.”

73%

The portion of IT professionals who say that either hyperconverged or converged infrastructure platforms give their organizations the best chance to become more cloudlike and deliver IT as a Service.

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

HCI Makes Troubleshooting Trouble-Free

With traditional, three-tier data center architecture, Cary notes, it often takes IT staff a fair amount of time and effort to locate the source of performance problems. But HCI simplifies troubleshooting, he says, because there are fewer systems to investigate.

“If we get a ticket in from someone saying that their virtual machine is running slow, we can quickly see what the issue is,” Cary says. “We can look in one place rather than logging in to a storage system, then logging in to a router. It’s all right there.”

Cary says it’s also simple to move workloads from one HCI node to another if necessary because of the way that HCI shares resources across nodes. “It’s a matter of ‘click, click,’ and you’re running on another node,” he says. “We’re able to eliminate a lot of hardware issues.”

PeoplesBank, a community bank in Western Massachusetts, moved its entire production environment to HPE SimpliVity hyperconverged infrastructure. Richard Nichols, senior systems administrator for the bank, says that the hyperconverged environment makes troubleshooting simpler than with traditional infrastructure. “As far as finding an issue, we only have four nodes, and it’s got to be one of the four,” he notes. “You don’t have to go hunting for it.”

Another benefit of HCI is that a single vendor is supporting the entire environment, says David Luke, director of IT engineering for International Speedway Corp., which owns or operates 13 major racing facilities in the U.S. The organization recently moved away from traditional three-tier architecture when the lease for its previous equipment ended. It now runs all production workloads, including business-critical applications, on HCI from Nutanix.

“We just had to get to something that was going to be simpler and easier to use,” Luke says. “If we have any issues, it’s one call. It’s not a finger-pointing game, like it was in the past. The support has been far superior.”

But often, ISC doesn’t even need to escalate issues to vendor support. “Nutanix has visibility from the software layer all the way down,” Luke notes. “You can go in and say, ‘This application is having performance issues,’ and you can layer all of the components and see where the issue is. The resolutions to issues are a lot quicker.

Expand Capacity as You Go With Hyperconvergence

Patching disparate systems with three-tier architecture was often an ordeal, says Luke. “We never had a patching event that went flawlessly,” he says. “We had to relearn all of the procedures with each upgrade, and we were always afraid of breaking something during the process.”

The Nutanix solution makes patching much simpler, leading ISC to be more p­roactive about updating its infrastructure. “It’s easier to update, and it just works,” Luke says. “With the introduction of Nutanix, we’ve been able to be more proactive, where before, we only patched when we hit a nasty bug. Now, we’re upgrading more for new features that become available. There’s been a transition to being more ahead of the curve with the new infrastructure.”

PeoplesBank has found expanding the capacity of its infrastructure is also more efficient since it moved to hyperconverged infrastructure. “With three-tier architecture, you would have had to attach the storage area network, and that can be a challenge on a good day,” Nichols says. “And running all that cabling takes a while. With hyperconvergence, it’s very easy to add a new node in. Adding another host probably takes less than an hour.”

MercuryGate recently added two new nodes to its existing four Nutanix nodes. “We were running out of resources to support VDI, and we needed to add capacity,” Cary says. “We had no issues with it being integrated. Pretty much all you have to do is throw another node on.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Learn how to prep for an HCI launch.

HCI Simplifies Disaster Recovery

Those who have made the move toward hyperconverged infrastructure cite additional benefits, including simplified disaster recovery, a reduced footprint and performance improvements.

Before implementing HCI, Nichols says, PeoplesBank had two SANs and two compute nodes at both its primary and disaster recovery sites, in addition to “a backup appliance that was monstrous.”

“We were looking to compress our footprint,” he says. “You save power, you save cooling, you save a little bit on cost as far as supporting it.”

PeoplesBank has seen performance improvements as a result of the data compression and deduplication of the SimpliVity solution.

At ISC, IT officials have seen an increase in the availability and performance of tier-one applications, as well an improvement of up to 90 percent in completion times for Oracle database processes. And the organization has migrated a portion of its DR environment to the HCI. Part of the reason for that move is to save on licensing costs, Nichols notes.

But also, he adds, DR is another area where HCI introduces simplicity, because his team can manage the process through Nutanix’s interface. “It is easier to manage,” Nichols says.

Geoff Wood/BizTech Magazine
Dec 04 2019

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