Brighton Council takes the Orbis Partnership down the path to Nutanix

Profile picture for user mbanks By Martin Banks January 29, 2019
Local Government councils coming together to share IT is increasingly common - and here is a story of how one member of just such a Partnership, the coming together of Surrey, and East Sussex County Councils with Brighton and Hove City Council as the Orbis Partnership, has taken the plunge into the world of hyperconverged architectures with Nutanix.

Local Government is becoming a good place to unearth some of the practicalities of mixing well-entrenched legacy applications with the potential for better performance and lower operating costs possible with some of the new hyperconverged infrastructures.

The pairing is often seen as a good half-way house for a wide range of organisations, but for Local Government, with its particular public constraints on budgetary controls and the avoidance of wasteful spending, it has the potential to be a particularly beneficial option to take.

That would certainly seem to be the experience of Simon Killick, Senior ICT analyst at Brighton and Hove City Council. The need to save costs has led the council, in common with a growing number round the country, to form partnerships with neighbours where there are common interests and common service requirements.

So Brighton and Hove is one third of the Orbis Partnership, together with Surrey County Council and East Sussex County Council. While all three still maintain some local IT resources, most of their services are now provided by a joint data center in Redhill.

Killick describes himself as `the technical guy’ responsible for the virtualised infrastructure, so while not a `boss’ setting out the grand designs of IT policy, he one of those at the coalface having to make such policies work.

For him that has meant managing a VMware-based environment, with some contact with Citrix-based applications. This is, he acknowledged, something of a classic mix of resources for much of the local Government sector, with the third common factor being the need to run them on a three-tier infrastructure.

That last part has, over recent years started to become the weak point, the performance bottleneck through which many organisations are trying to squeeze more and more work…….and increasingly starting to fail in the effort.

For Killick, the start of a solution has come in the form of bumping into an existing Nutanix cluster. He said:

“The way we got into Nutanix (at Brighton Council) was because we had to move our co-located data center in Swindon into the Redhill data centre. We’ve still got some locally, but our phase one was to move that older, three-tier infrastructure. Surrey Council had previously purchased three Nutanix nodes some time ago, so it was kind of a needs must. We had a look at it and thought, let’s try this.”

Having been offered the opportunity, Killick and his team had a look at Nutanix and saw the chance to set up a new environment on those three nodes, especially as they already fitted into the data center’s networking environment. He was confident enough in what he found to bypass the idea of running a proof-of-concept and went straight to building a VMware vCenter cloud hosting environment

“Working with the provisioning of ESX on Nutanix was very quick, so we started building some VMs into that, including some Citrix servers and some other infrastructure that we could easily move across.”

They used Zerto to migrate the workloads from the old VMware environment to Nutanix in order to get it continuously replicated across and integrated quickly. That worked well on the new VMs the team were running as it was another VMware ESX environment. This was, however, also an upgrade from an ESX 55 to an ESX 65 environment with new VM tools. According to Killick there was nothing that didn’t work.

And then there were nine

They then purchased four new Nutanix nodes and the phase one infrastructure was migrated from the original three systems, with the existing Veeam system still providing back-up services.

“Now, if you look in the racks, there are just these four nodes, compared to the massive infrastructure that we would have had, and the complexity of moving it.”

Phase two will involve the migration of some local data center services from the Brighton location onto the Nutanix cluster. To ensure sufficient resources for both this and other developments, the Council has now purchased another five nodes, making it a nine-node cluster now. He sees this bringing a reduced workload compared to the old infrastructure. Part of that reason is that Nutanix has already done a lot of the testing and confirmation work on the kit.

Also in phase two will be migrating the other half of the total workload from the local Brighton data center. General infrastructure type servers such as domain controllers, file servers, Sequel Servers, SharePoint, plus other back end systems are all now on the Nutanix kit, as well as Citrix for partnership’s 1500 Citrix users.

“In addition, because we’re a local authority, we have such a diverse workload, different little apps that different departments need, they’re installed on individual VMs, so we’ve got quite a large number of individual VMs that apply specific applications to various systems and that’s part of Phase two. So, the main infrastructure and the business VMs, they’re still to move across.”

He has not yet come across any performance issues, including with the Citrix environment, though this is not his area of expertise and it is still early days. But the Nutanix right-sizing functionality is set to get some significant use, as that’s in-built. He aims to squeeze as much as possible into the kit they have now got.

The word `performance’ applies not only to the way applications work in production, but also in the form of the ability to set up the systems. As an example he talked of the ability to set up five new hosts in a day, each fully provisioned and with the storage ready to use in the cluster.

“Traditionally, that would take, I’d say, weeks. Even to the likes of speeding up a new VM, it is noticeably quicker just deploying a new VM to that level. I’ve noticed our backups are really quick as well and the backend storage is really quick as well.”

The nearest his team has come to having a problem with the upgrade to Nutanix has been associated with its use of Veeam in its storage environment. There was some talk at the time of going to VMware ESX67, but Veeam at that point did not support it. So the Council is still with ESX 65 for now.

As for the future, the next step Killick is keen to take is keen to take a deeper look at Nutanix’s own Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV) technology. His team has a got a small test cluster that he is quite keen to get AHV on, so they can then test the benefits being ascribed to AHV.

Though such decisions are not his to make, Killick is also quietly confident that the rest of the Orbis Partnership will take up the work his team has done in Brighton.

“I think they’re looking at what we’ve done and gone through, they’re quite closely looking at what we’re doing, so I expect something happening out of that. But they’re looking at the infrastructure that we’ve moved to.”