Sep 03 2020

Modern Data Centers Give Businesses the Agility They Need

Cloud, hyperconverged infrastructure deployments help keep organizations nimble, just when they need it most.

The term “community” has been central to FNCB Bank’s identity since its founding 90 years ago, down to the equipment in its data center from local vendors. But by 2018, FNCB was due for a complete infrastructure upgrade. It would need new servers, networking gear and firewalls within two years, and the specific point technologies from its local vendors were restraining the
bank’s growth.

“We were driven by the vendor as opposed to being driven by the need,” explains Kirk S. Borchert, vice president and technology services officer at the Dunmore, Pa.-based bank. “We thought long and hard about how we wanted to proceed: Did we want to stay a community bank, or did we want to grow? If you’re going to grow, you have to shed the ties to vendors that aren’t growing with you.”

FNCB completed a data center upgrade to Lenovo switches and hyperconverged infrastructure powered by Nutanix in December — just in time for this year’s business, economic and social turbulence.

Businesses across industries and geographies have spent much of the year pivoting — from the size of their workforces and the way their employees work to the work that they’re doing. And many have spent much of the year scrambling to ramp their operations up, down, then back up again. But those that have upgraded their data centers to make them more agile, like FNCB, have been able to keep pace with fluctuations they could never have anticipated.

“We deployed 70 people from our centers home within two days, and they were fully functional,” says Borchert. “That was not even a concept that would have existed in the old environment. We would have been where many of our peers were, rushing to buy whatever notebook they could get their hands on.”

Data center upgrades aren’t one-size-fits-all projects, but many of today’s trends, such as cloud deployments and hyperconverged infrastructures, deliver big returns in terms of agility and scalability.

“It’s important to consider not just what you’re doing now but what your networking is going to look like two years from now,” says Laura DiDio, principal of Information Technology Intelligence Consulting.

WATCH: Learn how to manage consistently inconsistent cloud consumption to optimize your business.

The Benefits of On-Demand Scalability

For many community banks, capacity planning means taking what they’re using today, adding 30 percent, then waiting until it hurts again, says Ronald S. Honick Jr., FNCB’s senior vice president of operations and technology s­ervices officer.

So the real-time visibility afforded by FNCB’s new hyperconverged infrastructure was revolutionary. “I don’t need to spend an extra 30 percent up front, and also I’m not going to have a headache later on,” he explains. “I can see as I’m getting closer to that threshold and can budget and plan in advance.”

The bank’s old infrastructure was scalable, but it was time-consuming and complex. Since the upgrade, everything is native to Nutanix. The hyperconverged infrastructure consists of clusters of nodes; as capacity needs grow, the bank can simply add nodes.

FNCB began the implementation of the Lenovo/Nutanix solution in early fall 2019. Since going live, the new infrastructure has been “nothing short of fantastic,” Borchert says. His team constantly finds new benefits they had never anticipated. “The fact that they can spin up a new virtual desktop infrastructure environment and add more machines to it in a matter of seconds is mind- boggling to them,” Borchert says of the IT team. “We did a server build in under 10 minutes. These are things that just weren’t done before. It makes us more flexible and nimble.”

The infrastructure is also easier to maintain, delivers greater stability and provides high availability for disaster recovery. “By moving to Nutanix, the synchronization that’s taking place — if we literally lost our primary site, we would come up on Nutanix within a few minutes,” he says. By mid-March, amid statewide shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, FNCB was able to see the true value of its upgrades, Borchert says: “If we were under the old system we would not be able to do it.”

24TB

The volume of data running through the FNCB data center.

Source: Lenovo

Building a Data Center to Last

Draper’s data center upgrades, like FNCB’s, were central to its ­reinvention. When Michael Crones started as CIO at the Cambridge, Mass., engineering firm four and a half years ago, it was like a mom-and-pop shop, he says. But not anymore.

“Now we need more efficiency, more effectiveness, more speed,” he says.

The IT team’s challenge is to provide engineers with tools to enable them to meld the old — Draper’s 80-plus years of inventions and intellectual property — with the new. That was easier said than done, however. “I was told in no uncertain terms how bad it was,” Crones says of the infrastructure. “When I started, I got an earful from a lot of the engineers about the struggles they were having.”

For instance, Draper had various storage technologies from different vendors, so instead of accessing pools of data, the team had to search through storage silos.

The rest of the infrastructure wasn’t much better. Draper had an aging population of technologies that had grown organically. As needs arose, the company purchased point technologies. “We purchased tactically to solve the pain at that moment,” Crones says. “We solved it, but we only put a Band-Aid on that. Ultimately, we needed to tear all the Band-Aids off and take a look at the wounds underneath.”Working with Dell Technologies, Draper designed an infrastructure consisting of Dell EMC Enterprise Cloud Storage appliances, VxRail HCI nodes, Isilon and Unity storage, VMware data center virtualization products and an array of Dell client devices to support employees’ targeted needs.

The Advantages of HCI for Businesses

Crones views the infrastructure upgrades as an evolving process, but he has seen plenty of benefits: “No. 1 is expansion: Our ability to expand is a heck of a lot easier because we’re building off of a common platform. No. 2 is that we now have a strategy in the data center. Our data center strategy today is not just in the data center. It’s everywhere.”

The need for that ubiquity was magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the shutdown in March, Draper ran its services internally on a few systems. “All of a sudden, instead of 200 hits, we’re getting 2,000,” Crones says. “So I had to scale my cluster from two nodes to four to eight pretty quickly.”

Virtualization and the new infrastructure enabled Draper to quickly scale its services out to the edge for its remote workforce: “We had the ability to stand things up horizontally so that we could scale and go from a workforce that used to show up in the building every day to one that, pretty much overnight, worked from home.” 

Photography by Matthew Furman/BizTech Magazine