Infrastructure modernization in the real world - two Nutanix video use cases

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed June 24, 2015
For a real world project view, nothing beats video. Here's the highlights of how two Nutanix projects modernized their infrastructure

During my analysis of customer views at .NEXT, Nutanix' first-ever user conference, I mentioned that Nutanix customers were a "passionate lot." But where is that passion derived? During my second and final day in (very sunny) Miami, I had the chance to tape videos with a customer and partner who gave me a deeper view at what drives their belief in Nutanix.

They also provided a step-by-step look at infrastructure modernization.  Jon Forster, Director, Sensor Consulting Limited was the first to join my sunny hotel video set. He shared the story of his first Nutanix project - an implementation with Nutanix customer Fitness First.

The problem of old, inflexible infrastructure

See full video shoot

Forster tells the story of how Fitness First, a global health chain, asked him to help them with their hosting strategy. Basically, it was costing them too much and not giving them what they wanted. So what did they want? More flexibility, lower costs. Forster embarked on research, looking at all the options. "Nutanix kept cropping up," says Forster.

He found a Nutanix customer in the same industry, LA Fitness, that used the same hardware. So he rang up their IT director. We revisited that conversation during the video:

Reed: You were like, "What the heck's going on with Nutanix? Is this stuff for real?"
Forster:  Yes.
Reed:  The answer was?
Forster:  [The IT Director] said, "It's good stuff." He said, "It actually does work." I pushed him and I quizzed him. I said, "I am a bit skeptical." He said, "Well, yeah, because you've probably never heard of them." He said - "No, go for it. Try it."

Forster then requested a proof of concept from Nutanix:

Forster: I said, "I want my box exactly the same size as the one I think I need." They said, "Of course. There's no point doing a proof of concept with something that's not a proof of concept."  I got the team involved and said, "Look, you put your applications on there. You test it. I'll take one step back. You tell me if you like it."
Reed:    What did your client think?
Forster:  Very, very positive.

Nutanix customer Swisslos had a different situation. Joris Vuffray, Head Network & System Solutions, was my next video victim guest. Swisslos, a Swiss lottery based in Basel, has 6,000 points of sale in Switzerland. As Vuffray told me, their high volume system must support transactions resulting in 1 million in profit per day (in Swiss Francs). Since the profit goes to civic projects, operational efficiency is a must.

See full video shoot

Vuffray's team was faced with a new challenge: end of life infrastructure needed to be upgraded. And their users let them hear about it. As they monitored their Twitter feed, Swisslos was grilled with complaints about online performance. As anyone who has been grilled on Twitter can tell you, it isn't much fun. But it motivated Vuffray's team.

Swisslos wanted a new solution that brought better performance and made the system easier to manage. Their wish list was a bit longer: they also wanted a KVM (Linux) hypervisor, and a way to manage those virtual machines. As Vuffray told me, their research led them to Nutanix:

We also wanted to go to a KVM hypervisor, because all of our virtual machines for our gaming platform were running on Linux, and we wanted to have a full Linux stack: Linux virtual machines running on Linux hypervisor. We went to the market to see what was around, what was new and what was cool to use as a new-fashioned way to do a data center. The only solution which could fit our needs was a Nutanix Acropolis solution, because of the KVM management - which you can't find in any other solution.

The only catch? The solution Vuffray is referring to, called Nutanix Acropolis, was not on the open market yet (it was announced in June at the .NEXT conference).  But Vuffray worked out special early access to Acropolis with Nutanix, and kicked off their proof of concept in February 2014.

Under the hood - implementing Nutanix

Forster's project at Fitness First had one more criteria: get standardized on Microsoft, and run hardware that gets along with Microsoft. Fortunately for him, Nutanix and Microsoft were already engaged in discussions on hardware compatibility. Right before the Christmas holiday, Forster's team embarked on the proof of concept. I joked, "sounds like a fun holiday," but the way Forster tells it, they really did have a good time:

The team really got into it, because they said, "This stuff really works," and then they took that back, and showed how the applications run on it. The improvements the team were seeing were just huge.

With notable improvements in performance, the ROI numbers were put in front of the CIO, who presented to the finance director. The result? "Let's go for it." As of the June video interview, the new Nutanix architecture is in place, though further rollouts and go-lives are planned.

For Vuffray's team at Swisslos, things moved quickly after their October 2014 kickoff. Vuffray:

We got access to Acropolis in October 2014; we installed it on premise in our data centers. It took two days to do the installation and the training of the team, so it was pretty amazing how fast things went. After  three or four weeks, we went to production with the first virtual machines and business applications.

Outcomes matter - project results to date

At Fitness First, major Nutanix go-lives are on the horizon. The business users are not resisting - they are eager to make the move:

Everything's set up. It's all built. The business is happy with what we've built. They said, "Yeah, they are good to go," but what we said is, "Let's get even more built on there, and then we can move several [applications] across a very short period of time because that will help us move from the old world to the new world very quickly."

Forster admitted that he's not used to such enthusiasm from business users. For an IT manager, that's a welcome change of pace. It's also a chance to truly see what a DevOps approach can deliver, with the right solution in place:

This is giving me the opportunity to move to a DevOps type environment, because we can stand things up so quickly. We've moved from the physical world to the virtual world.

During workshops with Nutanix customers, Forster is hearing the same feedback:

The Dev team is saying, "We can stand things up at night, minutes instead of days, and have things running." It's like - yes!

Reflecting on their go-live benefits at Swisslos, Vuffray honed in on performance improvements, which were felt by the previously dissatisfied online users:

It was amazing to see how some business applications that were running pretty slowly on our old hypervisor suddenly ran in one millisecond instead of half a second. It was really amazing how the benefits from the [Nutanix] KVM and Linux system could be felt by our online users, our developers, and all the people who are accessing our business applications.

Since Vuffray had prior experience with Acropolis, I asked him if the thought this new solution lives up to the bold "invisible infrastructure" claims Nutanix made from the keynote stage:

It is a fair description... I would say it's install and forget. You install your Nutanix block, and then you don't have to do anything more to manage the system itself... you just deploy your VM's on it.

I jokingly challenged Vuffray's assertion that his kids could set up Nutanix. He admitted that the initial network configuration might be a bit tricky for a youngster, but when it comes to deploying new VMs, he stands by his assertion: "My kids could [deploy a [Nutanix] VM. They just click on the button, create VM on their iPad... and they could boot their own system on it."

Final thoughts

While the two projects I interviewed are different, the result is the same: IT moves from the low value weeds of infrastructure maintenance, and into a faster approach that frees up time to focus on business needs. Vuffray wrapped our shoots on that note:

[Our business users] like to see that their transactions are running fast. It's a good thing for us, because we can focus on our business goals... It's really a step forward into the future.

Image credits: all image shots are taken from the videos.

Video embeds: Swisslos:

Sensor Consulting:

Disclosure: Nutanix paid the bulk of my expenses to attend the .NEXT user conference. Nutanix's PR team arranged the two video subjects and provided a shoot location, but diginomica had complete editorial control over the video contents and production, which diginomica funded. All the quotes are taken from the videos, some were shortened in this article for brevity.

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