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Recent Article Courtesy of Jonathan Nally from Technology Decisions

On the right foot with IT infrastructure

By Jonathan Nally 
Tuesday, 26 July, 2016

Shoes of prey concept 5 carousel

We profile three companies and examine the IT solutions and providers they have chosen to help them make their businesses work a lot smarter.

As we move into the second half of this decade, businesses large and small find themselves with tools and solutions at their fingertips that would have been the stuff of dreams in earlier decades. The online world, virtualisation, mobility and many other innovations are changing the way businesses operate, communicate internally and externally, and maintain continuity when things go wrong.

For this issue’s From the Frontline, we spoke with leaders from three very different companies to find out how diverse solutions are helping their businesses.

A flash alternative

Canberra-based managed service provider The Business Doctor was established in 2005 and currently supports more than 150 small and medium-sized enterprises across Australia and New Zealand. The company operates the backend IT infrastructure and services for its customers, which are primarily in professional service industries like legal, finance, medical and government.

“We keep the IT wheels turning and the engines running so our customers can focus on their own businesses and servicing their clients,” said Caleb George, the company’s founder and director. “For the first eight years we were growing slowly and steadily, but the last two years have been huge for us. We’ve seen a real hockey stick-style upswing. People are becoming more aware of the cloud and its uses, and are becoming less scared of it from a data security perspective.”

By late 2014 the company’s disk-based storage system was close to breaking point and was preventing it from taking on new business. George and his team were constantly trying to juggle existing workloads and there was no redundancy or fall-back position in case of a disk failure and no capability to add more services or solutions.

“It was overly complex and had no capability. We were facing severe latency issues. Our storage would go over 10 to 12 milliseconds in latency, which doesn’t sound like a lot but in storage it really hurts,” said George. As the equipment became unreliable and unable to perform as advertised, “I knew at that moment that I was done with spinning disks; we needed to go with a flash-based solution,” he said.

George said he wanted a solution that was high speed, easy to use, easy to manage and offered all the features and capabilities of a virtual SAN, such as reporting, QoS and the ability to replicate, snapshot and restore. A solution from Tintri was chosen. “You can fire up a new host and have it up and running on the Tintri system in about five minutes flat. You can’t do that with any other SAN storage. It is literally the fastest storage I have ever used,” said George.

With the new storage system in place, the company has been able to effortlessly increase its virtual workloads and more efficiently manage its resources, saving time and money. “We no longer need to juggle workloads and worry about storage capability. Storage used to be one of our biggest pain points [but] now it is literally the last thing on my mind,” said George.

One feature that George loves about Tintri is the restore function, which he says has rescued him from difficult situations in recent months. “Recently some users have found their way to a malicious link or an email harbouring a zero-day variant of the cryptolocker virus,” said George. “Thanks to Tintri, we can just roll [the customer] back one hour and they are completely up and running again — only a few minutes of downtime and no remnants of the threat, and all within minutes of detection.”

Step by step

Australian start-up Shoes of Prey has become an international success story, with sales of bespoke shoes all around the world. Now headquartered in Los Angeles, the company has come to rely onDropbox to share information between colleagues and with customers across the globe.

“Before we took everything digital, people would sometimes recycle and use the backs of papers to print orders. But when it was unclear which side held the real order, we’d often end up making the wrong shoes. It was a mess,” said Mike Knapp, co-founder and co-CEO of the company and formerly a Google engineer.

But with Dropbox Business, when a new order comes in, the Shoes of Prey online store website automatically places the request in a designated Dropbox folder. When shoes are ready to be shipped, a photo of them gets saved into another Dropbox folder. From there, the website uploads the photo into the customer’s online account, simultaneously generating an email so the recipient can see her shoes before they arrive.

Aside from fixing the ordering “mess”, the use of Dropbox is improving business processes in many other ways.

“We have people working everywhere from Tokyo to Manila to New York to LA. Mobile file access is so important, especially if we accidentally forget a presentation or need a file on the fly,” said Knapp. “It has been great support for PR activities too. Instead of having to try to email and attach high-resolution images, we can just put them into a folder and share the link. It’s so much easier.

“Dropbox Business also makes life easy for our software engineers because of its API. We don’t have to build special collection points for files to get routed properly — Dropbox does it for us,” said Knapp. “Plus, when you’re in start-up mode you want to save costs and Dropbox is a good way of saving money and solving all those problems.”

Paying dividends

Another iconic Australian footwear manufacturer, Blundstone, has its headquarters in Hobart, warehouses in Melbourne, Auckland and New Jersey, USA, and distributors worldwide. The company’s internal data centre is located in Hobart, with a mirror centre across Bass Strait in Melbourne.

According to the company’s CIO, Andrew Ross, as part of a semi-decadal review of its IT requirements, Blundstone chose to move away from a traditional server-based environment to a hyperconverged platform supplied by Simplivity, which provides not only scalability but also improved disaster recovery functionality.

Blundstone takes its backup and disaster recovery plans seriously indeed. When it moved into a new building in 2013, it installed a backup power supply in the form of a diesel generator. That, combined with the Simplivity system, gives the company peace of mind. “If we had an absolute disaster here in Hobart, it would take us less than 24 hours — if that — to fire up the servers and the replication that we have over in Melbourne, so that we could continue to distribute product and run the business,” said Ross.

The Simplivity platform has brought many day-to-day benefits too. “We have less downtime with our ERP system. We run Microsoft Dynamix AX, and we’ve had fewer issues with any glitches with keeping that up and running, or needing to reboot the servers or anything like that,” he said. “In terms of the IT team, they seem to spend less time having to maintain the servers. The older servers, even though they were less than 5–6 years old, seemed to every now and then just hang. We haven’t had those sorts of issues since we moved to the Simplivity operation.”

And the process of implementation was very easy. “As someone sitting at the high end of this, it seemed to be fairly seamless; it did not seem to take a lot of my IT team’s capabilities or time to get this implemented and up and running; it seemed to be very, very smooth,” said Ross. “If I hadn’t told the rest of the business we were doing it, they wouldn’t have noticed.”

So how would he sum up the move away from traditional servers?

“I’m the CFO as well as the CIO, so we often talking about things like return on investment. The one comment I would make is that financially, [the Simplivity solution] certainly has paid dividends for us in terms of ensuring that our systems are always up,” Ross added. “It’s very hard to put dollar figures on that sort of thing, but if your system’s down, you’re always playing catch-up after that, and that always has a cost, both tangible and intangible.

“IT systems are probably one the biggest risk factors within business. And I think that it doesn’t matter what size business you are, you need to pay very careful attention to your IT infrastructure and not see it as a cost to the business, but rather see it as a key component of business success.”

Image courtesy Shoes of Prey.


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