Mar 04 2021

How Businesses Can Choose the Right Infrastructure for Their Needs

Whether on-premises or in the cloud, business outcomes can only be achieved with the right infrastructure technology.

About a year ago, business and IT leaders at United Supermarkets took a hard look at the company’s aging data center equipment and set out on a path to modernize its infrastructure.

“Our equipment was coming to the end of its life,” says Paul Campbell, senior IT director for the company. “Replacement was definitely in the immediate future.”

Rather than simply swapping out the old equipment for new, company officials evaluated the best options for powering their business-critical applications — with an understanding that IT infrastructure helps the company’s stores keep their shelves stocked, meet their customers’ needs and roll out new initiatives to grow the business.

United’s answer was to move much of its infrastructure and applications to the public cloud. Decision-makers evaluated each workload and application individually, working to optimize factors including cost, performance and management.

“It’s not just that everything moves to the cloud,” Campbell says. “We will continue to have a small on-premises footprint at our corporate office. We’re evaluating each application.”

As they seek to navigate uncertain economic times, organizations must adopt IT infrastructure that will help them to meet their business goals, says Deepak Mohan, research director for cloud infrastructure services at IDC. That might mean adopting public cloud infrastructure as a way to maintain the flexibility to roll back resources, he says. It might mean adopting previously unexplored on-premises technologies such as flash arrays or new edge computing resources.

Whatever their specific situations, Mohan says, companies should make infrastructure investments with an eye toward providing business units with the right performance to meet the needs of customers.

“If you haven’t modernized or looked at these new technologies in the past couple of years, now is a critical time to at least evaluate them,” Mohan says. “We’re at the cusp of this big change, where a number of technologies that have worked for years or decades are suddenly becoming legacy. Having IT infrastructure that supports a good customer experience and good business outcomes is an absolute must.”

The Right Infrastructure Tools for Your Business

The public cloud made sense for most of United’s workloads for several reasons, says Campbell. “There’s a cost associated with the infrastructure,” he says. “We do a lifecycle refresh on everything from our point-of-sale equipment to PCs, and there are capital dollars associated with that refresh. When you come up to the end of the lifecycle of some of the more expensive data center items, you have to look at the dollars associated with replacing that item and ask, ‘Does it make sense to do it this way, or does it make sense to look at the cloud for a more robust and agile environment?’ Not only are you eliminating the check for the hardware, but you’re eliminating the need to maintain and pay for facilities to house that equipment.”

While United, which owns 95 g­rocery stores in Texas and New Mexico, is migrating much of its data center environment to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, the company has found that a number of critical applications will perform better on-premises. IT is primarily relying on HP DL360 Gen9 and Gen10 servers to power those applications.

WATCH: See how businesses are using new applications and tools to prepare for the future of work.

For instance, the company is opting to keep its desktop management application in-house. “It’s a very ‘chatty’ application,” Campbell says. “It communicates with every desktop, every laptop, thousands of pieces of hardware across our enterprise on a daily basis. The internal hardware resources needed to run the application are low, but bandwidth utilization is high.”

By contrast, the company is moving homegrown database applications to Azure, both for performance and flexibility reasons. “You’re able to add resources in a much more efficient manner,” Campbell says. “On-premises, you have a finite set of resources. You can always add more, but you can’t do that in 30 minutes. The cloud allows us to react more quickly and add resources faster, and then as time goes on, you might be able to pull back some of those resources if necessary.”

How to Support the Speed of Business

Salt River Project, a nonprofit power and water company based in Tempe, Ariz., with more than 5,000 employees and 1 million customers, was looking for ways to efficiently capture data for application troubleshooting and performance and security tools across the organization’s four data centers. To address the issue, the organization turned to Cisco Nexus Data Broker with Cisco Nexus switches.

“Before any of this, when we had an issue with an application, we would have to figure out what the application was talking to,” recalls Ryan Johnston, manager of network management for SRP. “Then we had to configure the routers and switches to send copies of the data, then wait for the event to happen again. It’s not very effective when you’re trying to troubleshoot a problem.”

The Cisco solution allows SRP to aggregate copies of network traffic, using Switched Port Analyzer or network test access points for monitoring and visibility.

There was no single that event caused SRP to consider adopting the new infrastructure, Johnston says. Rather, IT and business leaders felt that the solution would lead to improvements for business users by preventing performance problems and enabling faster remediation when the organization did experience an issue.

“We saw patterns over time of applications having issues,” he says. “We have a system that the whole company uses, and if we’re having problems with that work management system, it creates an impact on the business — stopping work or slowing work down. We found that if we can have the tools available to find the root cause of those problems and solve them without having to wait for them to happen again, there’s great value in getting the business back up and running as soon as possible.”

Better Performance Drives More Revenue

For National Tree Company, a large manufacturer of artificial holiday decor based in Cranford, N.J., the connection between data center infrastructure and business performance could not have been more stark last year, when the company was forced to stop taking orders for five days due to poor application performance.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: How one bank used an agile data center to help its community.

“After orders were scanned in, the products would be taken out of the inventory system, and that process was extremely slow,” says Jason Grenard, IT director. “When you would run that process, it would bog the systems down so much that no one else could really work. It’s hard to say how much revenue the company lost, because you can’t really measure what you never got, but the last thing you want to do is not take an order.”

To solve the problem, National Tree Company invested in HPE Nimble Storage dHCI, which has had a direct impact on the business, speeding up the time to print and process orders by 60 to 70 percent.

Tasks that previously took 10 to 12 hours now take only three hours, and the company has been able to add a second shift of workers since the infrastructure no longer stands in the way of employees doing their jobs. Partly due to the new infrastructure, the company’s revenue is up 35 percent over a year ago.

Also, HPE InfoSight is helping the company to gain real-time visibility into virtual machine performance and capacity utilization. Next, National Tree Company plans to adopt the Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations enterprise resource planning system — a change that Grenard expects to improve the company’s performance even more.

“I’m a big believer that infrastructure is a business driver,” he says. 

photography By Hoyoung Lee