It’s tough out there. Smaller and mid-tier IT service providers across Europe constantly tell me about the pressure they are under right now. There is the pressure to grow, not only to meet new demand, but to keep up with market conditions where new customers automatically compare what they have to offer with giants such as Google and Amazon. And there is the pressure of a gigantic pincer movement – between the demand for ever greater performance and features, but at lower and lower cost. There you have it: to stay in business today you have to grow and innovate on services, while providing faster performance at a lower cost – all at once!
It sounds like a recipe for despair, but I have two examples which provide a compelling answer to this apparently irreconcilable equation. Virtualization provides the strategy to make the leap to greater capacity, innovative services, lower latency, and lower operating and expansion costs. And pre-configured, pre-installed hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is the tactic that gets you there the most economically and with minimal risk. The magic ingredient is knowing your servers are guaranteed to work with your virtualization software, with VMware and Microsoft being two of the biggest players in that field. Let’s roll up our sleeves and see how this works in the real world.
Virtualization for new services, at lower cost
Our first stop is Austria, where the data center operator iTAREX had concluded it needed to refresh its infrastructure in order to sell new services to customers with terminal server applications, and to be able to compete against global competitors on price going forward. iTAREX was confident that the new business was there because it was already holding back on providing new terminal server applications for existing customers, because these place a higher demand on hard drive performance than the company’s existing infrastructure would stand. By virtualizing storage in a hyperconverged architecture, iTAREX understood it could use more affordable components, with higher-performing storage at lower prices, while reducing latency and guaranteeing a better quality of service.
This was back in 2016. Company CEO Andreas Furtenbacher decided to deploy Microsoft’s new Storage Spaces Direct solution, which had introduced virtual storage which can be distributed across several different physical storage devices. But the key factor in his decision to make the switch relied on the knowledge that Fujitsu had already introduced pre-configured, pre-integrated servers certified by Microsoft, in the form of Fujitsu PRIMEFLEX for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct. This gave him complete reassurance about the reliability of Fujitsu’s servers when used with software from this important vendor. What Andreas also came to realize is that the nature of Fujitsu’s certification from Microsoft, with a complete range of servers and storage versions, creates a degree of flexibility right down to individual components, such as hard drives. Not only does this result in massive cost savings, but iTAREX tells us that these tend to be available more quickly from Fujitsu than from other manufacturers, and are highly reliable, with very little downtime.
The speed of deployment obtained by using integrated servers meant that iTAREX could move its entire data center IT operation to Storage Spaces Direct very quickly, gaining a significant advantage over its competitors. The cost benefits are impressive. iTAREX says that PRIMEFLEX for Storage Spaces Direct is around 30 percent more cost-effective in comparison to normal virtualized hardware and traditional storage solutions. It has delivered a radical improvement in storage efficiency, with only a quarter of the available server storage capacity currently in use. It is when capacity becomes an issue again when the true savings of Fujitsu’s certified approach to virtualization will really kick in, since hard disk capacity can be expanded for a fraction of the normal costs: all that’s needed are the drives – you already have everything else you need. iTAREX calculates that the cost savings will increase to 50 percent or more when the time comes to expand the storage solution. And in terms of performance, the new system significantly outdoes the previous IT system – at 2 million IOPs, compared with 30,000 IOPs from the previous system.
Virtualization for data security and growth
Now let’s head to Italy, where the mid-size firm Multipartner S.p.A. provides 24/7 data protection and monitoring services to customers around the world, with a core business of Virtual Data Room services. This has evolved into a portfolio of solutions designed to share and monitor data and documents securely. In fact, the business has grown to such an extent that the company’s IT infrastructure needed to be completely redesigned in order to achieve greater efficiency, improved operational flexibility, and continuity of service delivery.
Growth wasn’t a new experience for the company, whose previous approach to expansion had been to invest in delivery nodes located in two data centers. However, increasing demands from customers for greater computing power, security and flexibility encouraged the company to look at virtualizing the architecture, and it had decided on VMware software as a hypervisor. Naturally there was a full evaluation of hyperconverged infrastructure hardware platforms as well, where the criteria were speed, reliability, scalability and ease of management. The final choice was Fujitsu PRIMEFLEX for VMware vSAN, which clearly demonstrated the most favorable ratio of price to performance. One factor that influenced the selection was that Fujitsu is one of the few suppliers that has VMware certification as well as a track record of providing customers with constant technological upgrades.
Just like iTAREX, Multipartner could see that the advantages of pre-configuration with pre-installation of the hypervisor would have massive advantages when it came to installation. Because the certification by VMware of PRIMEFLEX for VMware vSAN guarantees interoperability with the hypervisor, there was no need for inconvenient and lengthy test phases or integration, and not a single minute of downtime during the actual implementation. Once installed, the new platform achieved almost 90 percent utilization of physical resources. Whereas with its previous platform, Multipartner couldn’t put more than four or five processes on a single physical machine, it can now run 10 virtual machines, each with four cores, on a single physical server with 40 cores. The advantages are clear: during maintenance, virtual machines can be moved without risk of service interruption; backup operations take minutes instead of hours, and the operational flexibility that comes with virtualization supports growth and allows better management of data processing peaks. By the way, with this solution you have the possibility to get an automatic “One-Click-Update” from Fujitsu, where software and hardware updates are carried out exactly coordinated with each other. This integrates perfectly into the VMware interface and ensures that you can always take the certified components into account, even with updates, and can therefore expect full support at any time in the event of an incident. We refer to this as embedded life cycle management and considerably reduce operating costs.
Security is a core part of Multipartner’s offer and is managed by the hyperconverged architecture. On the one hand, virtual machines are, by definition, more secure and controllable than physical machines; on the other hand, the new configuration of delivery nodes uses separate 10 Gbps fiber-optic connections, which allows near real-time data alignment between the two physical sites. This ensures that its customers receive uninterrupted service, even in the event of servers unexpectedly going offline. By upgrading its platforms, Multipartner has dramatically reduced the maximum time for potential data loss. Thanks to virtualization and the new technologies incorporated in Fujitsu PRIMEFLEX for VMware vSAN, Multipartner has a near real-time disaster recovery system. The scalability and flexibility of the new infrastructure also allows rapid activation of new delivery nodes anywhere in the world, which means customers can choose the physical location and therefore judicial system where they prefer to keep sensitive data.
Innovation or dependability? A trade-off you no longer have to make
These are interesting, dare I say exciting times for mid-market service providers. There was a time when innovation implied high risk, and the temptation to remain with conventional technology choices was powerful. I think these two examples show how virtualization on hyper-converged infrastructure changes that equation: both have achieved new services with higher performance standards and lower costs. But what made both companies prepared to take on the transformation in the first place? The answer is the knowledge that by selecting PRIMEFLEX pre-configured and pre-integrated systems, certified by two of the major hypervisor vendors, they would get there at quickly, and at minimal risk.