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Cloud – A Better Option than ILM Pain-in-the-Assets | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

No self-respecting IT person would allow their infrastructure to dissolve into obscurity and place the business at risk

The IT infrastructure of modern businesses requires a number of seemingly never-ending cycles to track assets. As these assets go through different stages of usefulness or functionality, IT teams must constantly manage the process, which takes them away from other more important tasks and saddles them with mundane contractual obligations, maintenance reviews, cost-analysis and procurement paperwork. What's the alternative to opening your IT komodo to a myriad of vendor pitches and the scrutiny of the finance department? Obsolescence.

No self-respecting IT person would allow their infrastructure to dissolve into obscurity and place the business at risk. Enter the domain of Infrastructure Lifecycle Management or ILM. ILM is a method of keeping the IT infrastructure aligned with a business so that it's functional from the time it's implemented through its retirement.

The ever-present and constant specter of ILM does have the benefit of ensuring effective asset management, configuration, deployment and disposal while setting up the technology standards and maintaining continuity. However, there are many assets - with varying dates of obsolescence to contend with. Consider this list as a mere microcosm of these IT assets:

  • Server Hardware
  • Storage Device
  • Switches, Routers, Firewalls, Security Appliance
  • Facilities - HVAC, UPS, Generators, Security (Cameras), Video Storage
  • Back-Up - Hardware (Disks) and Software
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Operations - Help Desk Software
  • NOC - Dashboards
  • Security (IPS, IDS Apps)
  • Compliance

Many of these assets have a 36-month life cycle to the end of their maintenance contract, and no one is going to pay maintenance on a device that is five-years-old. So the vendor research and Proof of Concept (POC) stage begins, which inevitably leads to a conversation with the finance department and more paperwork. In three to six months the buying process begins and once the new device is selected, the installation, racking, and migration from the old device and training staff on the new asset can take place. A well-coordinated IT person, friendly with his/her finance department, can get meaningful use out of the new asset within three to six months. Others are looking at a six to 12 month procurement process until the device or software becomes an asset to the company and not just a "pain-in-the-asset." The ILM timeline overlaps various hardware and software devices so IT never gets out of the purchasing process just to keep the lights on. The entire process is like a perpetual motion machine that constantly pulls IT talent away from supporting new business initiatives or streamlining and improving operations.

A plausible solution to the perpetual ILM cycle is to leverage the cloud. Using the cloud, companies receive a pay-as-you-grow model that allows them to save money with the application of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and reduction of soft costs associated with data center power and cooling bills. Organizations can use the cloud to:

  • Provide standardization and optimization of IT infrastructure
  • Reduce total cost of ownership by decreasing servers and all the associated infrastructure to contain, operate and power them
  • Deploy server images faster, compared to deploying physical servers
  • Achieve greater return on investment via paying for only the processing needed for the duration needed

For some, entering the cloud can cause stomach pains. However, the prospect of the aforementioned list is compelling enough for them to down some pink medicine and test the waters with colocation services. By doing this, IT personnel can take facilities offline bit by bit until they get comfortable with someone else housing their equipment as well as providing power and security. Once a comfort level sets in, these individuals come to the realization that colocation services are only a fraction away from full-blown cloud services. The transition from colocation services to the cloud is often stimulated by ILM. As devices near the end of their useful life, conversations often take place around leaving the rack and spinning virtual servers. This walk before you run scenario gives IT personnel the opportunity to establish a comfort level with third-party equipment and software oversight.

In addition to accepting the fact that your livelihood is under someone else's control, knowing the colocation provider can securely protect IT assists brings great comfort. When you think about it, a public cloud offering is no more risky then the server sitting in a closet - at one point, data still needs to transverse a public Internet line. The added benefits of a public cloud also bring redundancy, high availability and a suite of security products that many organizations could not afford if they attempted to implement it themselves. For those who are still paranoid about the security of their data, there is always the private cloud option. But even here, there is often one point where data travels over a shared access medium - at the end of the day, data is usually mix at a major telco provider.

Perhaps the best examples of how the cloud can alleviate ILM pain are by looking at several real-world case studies.

Located in West Grove and Kennett Square, PA, Hendrix Orthodontics is committed to providing the highest quality of orthodontic care for their patients. Experiencing similar IT infrastructure growing pains of many small businesses, Hendrix Orthodontics needed to upgrade 40 to 50 PCs to Windows XP and was struggling to justify the cost of an antiquated data tape backup system. Faced with a six-figure bill for upgrading an infrastructure - that had to be overhauled every three to five years Hendrix sought a better solution to meet IT challenges.

In addition to the six-figure PC upgrade, Hendrix Orthodontics needed to demonstrate full compliance with such HIPAA regulations as:

  • 164.308 (A) (4) - Information Access Management
  • 164.310 (D) - Device and Media Controls, data backup and storage
  • 164.312 (A) (1) - Access and Control

As a small business, Hendrix could not afford to be stuck in the "time suck" of ILM - they simply did not have the manpower or expertise. To alleviate this pain, Hendrix selected an enterprise-grade cloud platform to quickly provision virtual servers to run additional processing power and data storage. Hendrix had outsourced much of its IT infrastructure while also running industry-specific applications from the cloud, including:

Venyu began to move the company's business applications to the cloud - a process Jeff's internal IT staff assured him was not possible. These applications included:

  • Kodax
  • Dolphin Imaging
  • Ortho Track
  • QuickBooks
  • Case Presenter (video presentation)
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Invisiline
  • All third-party vendors' auto check processing
  • Tele Vox

Another good example of an organization doing a cost analysis and inevitably exiting the ILM cycle is H&E Equipment Services. H&E Equipment Services is one of the largest integrated equipment dealerships in the nation. The company is No. 11 on the "Top 100 of Equipment Rental Companies in the United States" ranking by Rental Equipment Register Magazine. H&E focuses on new and used earthmoving, material handling, and industrial/heavy equipment sales and rentals. With 67 locations across the United States, the company is an authorized dealer for such top-name manufacturers as Bobcat, Doosan, Gehl, Genie, JLG, and Komatsu.

Growing both organically and via acquisition, H&E Equipment Services understands its data center is the backbone of the company's business systems. H&E originally relied on in-house, self-managed IT to power all core applications - from ERP and business analytics to email and mobile applications. The infrastructure included one central mainframe, 10 servers, one Storage Area Network (SAN), as well as a handful of switches. All in all, the data center stored and managed about one terabyte of data. In less than 10 years, operations grew almost five times across 67 stores - requiring an infrastructure to keep pace.

H&E originally intended to manage the IT expansion in-house, but ILM headaches as well as space and weight constraints prevented housing the infrastructure within the current space. Faced with a data center 2x the size, H&E couldn't muster the heating, cooling and power infrastructure to handle this $2.5 million expansion. The company turned to a cloud provider for data center and managed hosting.

Without being bogged down with ILM tasks, H&E quickly expanded from one to 100s of terabytes of storage. The IT environment jumped from 10 servers to hundreds of servers, all contributing to a fully-redundant core switching infrastructure. The data center provider took charge of all power, redundant internet connectivity, cooling and heating needs, while allowing H&E staff to manage upgrades and equipment management.

In addition, the company was able to grow five-fold and more than double the size of the company's data center. Managed cloud hosting now supports a data infrastructure providing reliable business services to headquarters and more than 60 stores across North America.

A final example of a company successfully leveraging the cloud to exit the ILM cycle is Stonetrust Commercial Insurance. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Stonetrust Commercial is a regional workers' compensation insurer. During 17 years in business, the company has evolved from workers' compensation self-insurance fund, to a Mutual insurance company licensed in five states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. Placing emphasis on quality service, the company assists policyholders with effectively managing the frequency, cost, and duration of workers' compensation claims - ultimately reducing premiums.

The business provides statutory workers' compensation insurance for construction, wholesale, retail, manufacturing, and other service related businesses. With more than 4,700 active policies, Stonetrust is a company with rapidly growing data needs. But trying to maintain an aging infrastructure of storage and backing up devices became an increasingly difficult problem to deal with.

Executives soon realized that finding the best resource for proprietary client information and claims to billing data was going to be an essential piece of a successful growth strategy. In addition, as the company's IT equipment was rapidly approaching maintenance renewals and end-of-life, Stonetrust pondered a common question: Do I upgrade my current systems with a significant financial outlay, or do I seek a scalable outsourcing option?

The company selected a reliable data backup and cloud-based data recovery solution. As an essential element of any disaster recovery plan, online data backup automatically saves information and associated data changes, while securing it in a commercial-grade data center. The company combines use of proprietary servers along with the cloud provider's equipment and virtual technology. The instant data restoration is made possible by virtualized recovery hosts, standby images of Stonetrust's actual servers - enabling remote backup recovery to virtual machines - and immediately grants employees access.

Net result of using the cloud provider's services: Stonetrust realized an IT equipment savings of more than $50,000. As their IT infrastructure approached the end of its lifecycle, the cloud provider also helped the company eliminate the need for costly capital upgrades as well as the additional staff needed to manage the larger in-house data center. In addition, Stonetrust migrated its aging Storage Area Network (SAN) into the cloud and traded the ILM cycle for a more attractive pay-as-you-grow cycle. As an added bonus, the time Stonetrust saved from being distracted with internal IT upgrades permitted the company to devote all its attention to delivering quality customer service.

In each of these case studies, the companies were able to better manage their IT needs from requirements to retirement not only in physical environments, but also in cloud and virtual environments. So if you're a company experiencing a pain-in-the assets, consider cloud services and exit the ILM cycle.

More Stories By Brian Vandegrift

Brian Vandegrift is EVP of Sales and Innovation at Venyu, where he leads and manages the sales teams, which includes training, mentoring and coaching the company’s sales representatives. He has over 15 years of experience in technology consulting which enables him to play an integral role in the product development process for Venyu. With certifications from Microsoft, Citrix, and VMware, he has the expertise necessary to architect data protection, disaster recovery, and hosting solutions for just about every challenging scenario a business could face. Prior to joining Venyu, Brian worked for PPI in Baton Rouge, where he was the area General Manager responsible for sales and product delivery. He holds a BA in political science from Rhodes College.

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