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Leveraging Hyper-Convergence to Improve Availability and Business Continuity

IT teams are facing more pressure than ever to meet the difficult and often painful challenge of ensuring uptime and availability. As companies continue to embrace initiatives such as digital transformation, big data analytics and the Internet of Things, they become more vulnerable if they have to confront downtime or gaps in performance.

The impact on the business can be enormous, resulting in reduced sales, damage to brand reputation and failure to meet compliance requirements, among other risks. According to one study, the average cost of downtime for an organization is now as much as $16 million a year.1

Many IT leaders are facing the stark reality that legacy physical SAN storage architectures can’t meet the availability challenges of today’s data centers. As capacity and performance requirements continue to increase at a stunning pace, new solutions are needed.

To meet these challenges, IT leaders are turning to technologies such as hyper-converged infrastructure, all-flash storage arrays, and cloud backup and disaster recovery services. With these solutions, IT can improve performance for production environments while cost-effectively addressing the capacity and performance challenges of business continuity.

A recent study from TechTarget Research highlights the importance of availability and business continuity in choosing a storage solution. The top three categories in the Storage Momentum Index™ in TechTarget Research’s 2016 Storage Market Landscape Study were:2

  1. Disaster recovery as a service
  2. Hyper-converged infrastructure
  3. Cloud storage backup

Flipping the paradigm
While the negative impact of downtime poses risks to organizations, the flip side is just as compelling. By leveraging modern storage solutions such as virtualized storage and hyper-converged infrastructure, IT teams not only dramatically improve availability, but also deliver significant value to the business. Here are two examples:

   

Zettagrid provides cloud-based infrastructure as a service to customers throughout Australia. The company is focused on automation and provisioning. Although it is a relatively young company—founded in 2010 as a startup within parent company Zetta Group—it already delivers its service from more data centers in Australia than any other public cloud provider.

Availability is particularly crucial for any company providing cloud services, software as a service or any technology-based service. If the infrastructure is down, the business is down. If performance is compromised, customers will be dissatisfied. As a cloud provider, Zettagrid ran into a specific problem: Customer and management workloads were intermingled in each of the company’s cloud zones. The company needed a solution, and fast, to isolate its management cluster.

“We see our future in hyper-converged infrastructure,” according to Anthony Spiteri, who was lead architect on the project at Zettagrid. After a thorough evaluation of several vendors, Zettagrid chose VMware vSAN. “We put vSAN through its paces and conducted extensive failover tests, and in every instance—and at every stage—it was able to recover without any data loss,” Spiteri says.

While improvements in availability and performance have been critical success factors for the company, the storage solution has also helped in other ways—so much so that Spiteri says vSAN is actually enabling increased revenue. “vSAN helps us to better monetize our production platform, freeing up resources for clients and deferring investment in new hardware,” he says. “And because our management platform is now separate and automated, we have better control in everything we do, which makes us more comfortable as a business.”

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Agropur Ingredients, based in La Crosse, Wis., operates a network of manufacturing plants that make cheese and other ingredients for food-industry customers. The company has 8,000 employees and operations across the Midwest, including some locations that do not have strong Internet coverage. For that reason, cloud has not been a viable IT option for the company, says Caleb Holmstrom, network administrator.

“We have processes that absolutely cannot shut down, because if they do, we end up dumping milk—and money—down the drain,” Holmstrom says. “We’re making 650-pound blocks of cheese in these plants, so any time automation fails and processing ceases, we lose an enormous amount of money. For that reason, we can’t afford any downtime.”

The company’s legacy storage solution was putting the company at risk. It was running out of capacity, performance was slowing, storage space was at a premium, and system backups and restores were becoming increasingly cumbersome. As a customer of VMware vSphere, when Agropur looked at possible solutions to solve these problems, it found that vSAN was an easy choice.

“With VMware vSAN, we get what I call a belt with suspenders, which means we could lose a server and be completely fine,” Holmstrom says. “In contrast, if a [physical] storage device decides to have a bad day, you’re out of luck unless you have another storage appliance, which is a cost we can’t justify.”

With vSAN, performance has improved significantly, driving gains in operations and productivity. Holmstrom has also found that the new system is much simpler to scale and manage, and downtime has been all but eliminated.

“With vSAN, we basically don’t have any downtime, since we can update firmware and hosts on the fly,” Holmstrom says. “Today, if a remote desktop server goes down, I can spin up a new server in 10 minutes or less. And if, God forbid, we do have to reboot, it’s simply a matter of hitting a button, and we’re up again in two seconds—a far cry from the situation with physical hosts.”

Conclusion
Zettagrid and Agropur are examples of companies that have transformed availability challenges into business opportunities through the use of hyper-converged infrastructure. As companies deliver more of their products, services and support through digital technologies, the impact of solutions that support high availability will continue to increase. That is one important reason why many forward-looking IT leaders have embraced HCI as a critical building block in modernizing their data centers.

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12016 Veeam Availability Report: How to Close a Widening Availability Gap,” Veeam, February 2016 2 The TechTarget Research Storage Momentum Index ranks nine storage technologies using Momentum to define a high concentration of planned new adoption by a peer network of prescreened decision-makers. A total of 482 storage professionals participated in the study, which was conducted in April and May 2016.

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