How to Scale Your IT Environment When You Don’t Know How Fast You’ll Grow

Manfred Dietl

Manager of IT Infrastructure at AR Packaging

HPE SIMPLIVITY

When deciding on your IT environment, one of your biggest concerns should be scale. Any organization will grow and evolve, and when leveraged properly, IT is a way to support and empower that.

If an infrastructure can’t grow and evolve, it’ll only be able to support a business as it exists today—not how it will exist tomorrow. But how do you plan for the future when you don’t know exactly how much your company will grow? That was my challenge at AR Packaging

AR Packaging handles the manufacturing and packaging for a wide range of different products. One of our sites is dedicated to packaging for the tobacco industry, for example. Another produces packaging for healthcare or food and beverage.

As a company, we’re constantly growing. We recently acquired a new site in Croatia. Right now, we’re bringing that site’s IT into the rest of our infrastructure, and there are already two more sites planned for the future. 

Acquiring new businesses and bringing them into our world quickly posed a tough task for our small IT team. We needed a reliable environment that would easily grow as AR Packaging continued to expand. Our solution to this problem was hyperconvergence. 

The Search for the Right HCI Solution

At the beginning of this process, we quickly realized our biggest challenge stemmed from the mixed environment at some of our sites. We were still running workloads on HP Proliant Servers on a lot of those machines. We had many HP Generation 6, 7, and 8 servers at various locations, all running their own unique virtual machines. Everything was cobbled together from different suppliers, all with different servers, leveraging different software.

When we were told by management that they would be rapidly acquiring more sites, the challenge from an IT perspective became ensuring reliability as we expanded.

That’s when we started to look for a product that would make it easier for us to scale, all while not knowing what our future would look like. You don’t want to spend too much money and just buy the biggest option you can. Instead, we needed to be smart with our investment.

We carefully considered a number of options in the hyperconvergence space, including EMC, NetApp, and HPE SimpliVity. Ultimately, we decided on HPE SimpliVity because it was a true all-in-one solution. Backups would be easier than ever, and robust disaster recovery capabilities would finally give us the reliability we were after.The right HCI solution can help your team scale—regardless of how fast that scale comes.

But more than that, HPE SimpliVity was the perfect partner to help us scale—regardless of the rate that evolution took.

Enjoying Better Scalability

The process we use to scale is one that I would recommend to anyone in a similar situation. First, you should do a rough calculation on how many servers and virtual machines you will run when you implement your new system. 

Once you know that, you have everything you need to create an educated estimate around disk size. At that point, you can move onto calculations regarding CPU and memory requirements. Then, you can estimate how many nodes you will eventually need with a higher degree of accuracy.

Given what you know, break things down into a series of smaller, more manageable steps and do the best you can with the data in front of you. At the very least, it will give you a solid foundation.

Right now, we manage 20 nodes with a team of just two people. At the beginning of this process, we split them into two clusters so they were separate from one building to another. I would recommend starting a cluster with two nodes to make maintenance easier without any downtime. Then, you can calculate the disk space, and once that is finished, you’re ready to start migrating virtual machines onto that system.

If you find out that the system is too small because you need more disk space, that’s fine—just buy two more machines. Add them to the cluster and you can put in more VMs. After all, it’s still the same cluster and the same network.

HPE SimpliVity made this process exponentially easier for us, as it did with related matters like deduplication and compression. Since we’re producing packages, we print pictures on product packages. We get countless files from them with image information—they could be PDFs or image files. That’s a lot of image files we need to save, and the amount of data associated with it all is very large.

I have approximately 8–15 terabytes per site devoted to just these pre-press samples, which we need to save for up to seven years. You can imagine the size of that data, and we need to archive and keep backups of all those files. But thanks to deduplication, we’re seeing an overall 31.4:1 efficiency ratio. This means we don’t have to constantly stress about storage requirements. 

Reducing Complexity and Worry

I’ve also been impressed by the ability to restore a full virtual machine in seconds with HPE SimpliVity’s snapshots. We use this restore functionality when we upgrade software, for example. We take a backup, and then complete the software upgrade. We do some tests and if the tests are successfully completed, we restore the machines to the way they were before. Then we set up another one, and do the upgrade again.Reliable restores mean you never have to think twice before you start an upgrade.

It’s fast and we don’t have to think twice before we start an upgrade. This was always tricky for us before because we’re in production 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s difficult to find a time frame when we can shut down production servers. Now, when there’s a site with more than one node, we don’t have to worry about any downtime at all.

Overall, I’d say that the major benefit of running VMWare on HPE SimpliVity is the low maintenance. Since we are constantly growing, it’s important to spend minimal time on implementing and maintaining server infrastructure. Our small team has more important work to do.

Anticipating the Innovation of Tomorrow

I’m happy with our HPE SimpliVity journey so far, but it’s the future that has me the most excited. 

For example, I was recently given a presentation on HPE InfoSight and it looks promising. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be part of the demo. I’m excited by the ability to see greater insights into our environment. I’ll understand the exact disk space requirements for my backups. Right now, it’s complicated to calculate that number. HPE InfoSight for HPE SimpliVity will allow me to get a full overview of my entire infrastructure and build my own dashboard to visualize what’s important to me on a daily basis.

HPE SimpliVity’s continued innovation is enormously important for a small team who are still focused on scalability. A hyperconverged solution has given us the flexibility to grow during uncertain times. We had no idea what the future would hold when we started this journey, and to be honest, we still don’t. But we’ve found a way to add cohesion, minimize maintenance, and grow easily. If you’re looking to do the same, maybe it’s time to look at hyperconvergence. 

Manfred Dietl

Manager of IT Infrastructure at AR Packaging

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