With all our talk of cloud-based computing resources, it’s easy to forget that behind those clouds is actual hardware. There are a couple of solid reasons why this topic should matter to you.
If you’re managing your own data center, standardizing on a platform you trust is one more way to create an efficient, effective, and agile IT organization.
If you’re housing workloads in a third-party data center, those same benefits translate into better services and customer experience for you.
Why Make it Harder Than it Has to Be?
Several years ago, we made a strategic decision to standardize on the Lenovo ThinkSystem SR630 for our hosting infrastructure. Prior to this, we had been using a mix of hardware from primarily four different vendors.
They were all solid vendors with good reputations and great products, but managing four hardware vendors can be difficult. We had to work with four different deployment methodologies, four different management interfaces, four different firmware release cycles, and so on. The more we expanded our hosting infrastructure, the more complex and time-consuming IT management became.
A multi-vendor hardware strategy also drove up our equipment costs. Our SLA includes a 1-hour hardware replacement and 99.9% dedicated server uptime as standard. As anyone in IT knows, you never know what’s going to break, so keeping backup equipment on hand from four difference vendors so we could live up to that 1-hour guarantee basically quadrupled what we needed to stock.
Of course, occasionally you can swap out one vendor’s piece of hardware for another, but then again, with so many variables, there’s the extra time needed to reconfigure the system for a different brand, and you’re never really sure what incompatibilities you’re going to run into.
Connectria’s Inventory and IT Best Practices
To give you a better understanding of how standardization on Lenovo helped us cut inventory costs, let’s drill down a bit on the details.
First, we chose the Lenovo ThinkSystem SR630 as the new standard for our hosting infrastructure. With support from Lenovo, we then created three out-of-the-box configurations (small, medium, and large) with varying processor, memory, and storage specifications. Customers occasionally go “off menu,” but we still work with Lenovo to offer these customized solutions.
With standard sizes in place, we’re able to stock not just spare parts, but also spare systems at our sites. If a customer wants to scale up resources on short notice or upgrade their processors, we can meet their needs in a matter of minutes. This means that we can offer customers the agility and the flexibility of public cloud services with the reassurance that their workloads are running on dedicated hardware in highly secure data centers with hands-on support.
I cannot stress enough how important this is to our customer service and our ability to provide a superior customer experience. One of my favorite customer quotes is this one from Ameren, an energy provider to more than 2.4 million electric and almost 1 million gas customers in Illinois and Missouri, because it exemplifies the kind of experience having a standardized hardware platform allows us to offer our clients.
“Connectria has exceeded our expectations to provide excellent uptime and availability. They have designed better solutions than we originally asked for and are willing to customize to meet our needs. Connectria has a culture of getting things done and doing it right. We definitely see a potential to grow our business with them into the future.”
John Hughes, Managing Supervisor of Infrastructure, Ameren
Improving System Resiliency
When standardizing on a hardware platform, the availability of asset management tools is another important element to consider. All of our previous vendors had their own tool, but that meant to check the health of our servers, we had to log into four different consoles. Now, we simply log into Lenovo’s XClarity console to manage firmware compliance, roll out updates, schedule maintenance windows, check the current configuration of individual servers, and keep track of vulnerabilities. XClarity also sends us alerts if there are any issues that need our attention.
While I’m talking about asset management in terms of system resiliency, it’s more than that. Being able to manage one platform from one console has saved us hours upon hours of system administration time per month. I don’t even know that I could estimate how many hours, but suffice it to say that it’s made a difference.
Ensuring Data Security
Businesses often forget to consider how their hardware choices play into their IT security strategy, but this is another area where standardization on a platform can help.
I just talked about how it’s easier to manage our entire base of servers because we can do it all with one tool. When you’re configuring multiple kinds of hardware from different vendors’ consoles, you multiply your chances of making a mistake. Our system engineers only need to know how to configure elements like role groups, user-account security settings, cryptography, and certificates from XClarity.
Finally, Lenovo has an innovative service called YourDrive YourData, which helps us adhere to data privacy requirements in industries like healthcare. This includes the actual physical destruction of drives, another element of security that’s easy to overlook.
So, that’s our story. I’d be happy to answer questions, but I hope it’s given you some food for thought as you either consider how to implement your own IT best practices or choose a third-party data center to house your mission-critical workloads.