Ask any IT manager what the hardest type of project is to get budget approval for, and after a few moments of awkward silence the answer becomes clear - it’s the routine infrastructure architecture refresh.
New sales systems come with measurable revenue ROIs. New marketing systems can be hooked into quantifiable customer acquisitions. But as anyone who has negotiated annual Capex minefields can attest, finance departments hate writing checks for new boxes just because the old boxes are getting a little dusty.
There’s always pressure to wait a little longer, run the current systems a little further, and of course there’s always next year.
But sometimes even the most seemingly straightforward refresh projects can deliver surprisingly strong productivity yields - the kind that pretty much most of the people sitting around a management table can understand.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church last year upgraded its business systems infrastructure utilising a prepackaged virtualisation IT solution from incumbent integrator Tecala.
The solution utilised EMC’s VSPex offering and was customised by Tecala to include Cisco and VMware components. It supports business applications such as accounting systems, pay roll systems and employee records systems for the Churches varied IT user groups, dispersed across Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.
Uniting the flock
Luke Pannekoek, IS manager at Seventh Day Adventist Church, told CRN the IT staff are all located centrally, but work with a point of contact at many sites.
"We get involved with the network management services and cloud services for these remote offices on the basis of service agreements which vary right down to desktop support in some locations."
The relatively small IT team and the small and distributed nature of the clients’ offices creates its own challenges.
“In some offices there might only be three or four staff there on an average day - they obviously can’t afford to have their own full time IT staff," Pannekoek explains. "And historically there’re a lot of different systems in place.”
Previously, the church hasd a mixture of hardware in a more complex configuration.
"[It had] a similar physical footprint, but only a fraction of the new capacity. Key business drivers were to improve performance, add capacity and reduce complexity.”
Since the upgrade involved replacing pretty much all the old physical equipment, the church now hosts a private cloud solution.
“It is based on Cisco and EMC hardware, using VMware to host our predominantly Microsoft and Citrix servers for core business applications,” Pannekoek explained. “Services are distributed across a wide area network that connect a number of offices in Australia, NZ, and some sites in the Pacific Islands.”
The IT team took the opportunity to review other offerings in the market, particularly as they were concerned that solutions from big brands like Cisco and EMC might stretch the friendship with the finance department too tightly.
But they were pleasantly surprised.
“We looked at a couple of tier 1 vendors, for servers, switches, and storage, but the VSPEX offer Tecala brought to us was a compelling choice as it was a offered at a competitive price and we have confidence in the Cisco, EMC and VMware brands.
“Cost is a pretty important factor, but capacity was also a key challenge which was resolved during the project. The biggest payoff for us was to be able to tackle growing capacity needs without having to seek additional capital budget.”
The project was implemented on budget and with no disruption to end users. And, anecdotally at least, the customer base is suggesting they are seeing improvements in performance. For Pannekoek one of the big benefits of the implementation was the productivity pay-off for his own staff.
“A major benefit that we hadn’t expected was the reduction in headaches for the engineers,” Pannekoek said. “That’s freed them up for more strategic work like improving our disaster recovery timeframes."
For, instance the engineers now spend nowhere near as much time as they used to messing around with disk backups.
“In the data centre originally we used disk to disk backups and we would roll these backups to tape at our main office,” Pannekoek continues.
“The main difference under the new arrangement is that we have duplicated the storage area network (SAN) back into our office and we have implemented block level replication.”
The key benefit for the church has been drastically faster system recovery, with procedures that once lasted days now boiled down into minutes.
According to Pieter DeGunst, Tecala Group's sales and marketing director, the most surprising aspect of the project was how little disruption was involved.
“We are talking about a fairly major project in that their entire infrastructure was replaced. There wasn't a piece of technology left from the old environment."
“It was a routine upgrade for us, all done within budget but its put us a mile ahead of where we were," Pannekoek said.