Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast from the 2012 VMworld Conference on how one company has been able to provide business agility to its customers.
Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to a special BriefingsDirect podcast series coming to you from the 2012 VMworld Conference in San Francisco.
We're here the week of August 27 to explore the latest in cloud computing and software-defined datacenter infrastructure developments. I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions and I'll be your host throughout this series of VMware sponsored BriefingsDirect discussions.
Our next user case study examines how server virtualization success can quickly set the stage for private-cloud benefits. We'll hear the powerful story of how banking services provider, BancVue, has been able to provide business agility to its community bank customers, enabling them to better compete against the mega banks on such critical areas as customer service and end-user portal.
Here to share their story on creating the services that empower customers to beat the giants in their field by better leveraging agile IT is Sunny Nair, Vice President of IT and Systems Operations at BancVue in Austin, Texas.
Welcome to BriefingsDirect, Sunny.
Sunny Nair: Thank you.
Gardner: I'm looking at this sort of at the big picture right now. Many companies these days need to tackle the dual task of cutting costs, while also increasing agility and providing better services and response times to their constituents.
At a high level, Sunny, you've been doing this for some time. Tell me if you have a philosophy or a vision for how you can accomplish both, that is to say manage your total cost and increase and improve the services delivery?
Nair: The first thing we wanted to do was to abstract the applications and the operating system from the hardware so that a hardware failure wouldn’t bring down our systems. For that, of course, we went to virtualization. We experimented with various virtualization products. Out of those trials, vSphere was the best software for a heterogeneous environment like ours, where we had Windows and different flavors of Linux.
VMware, and that helped us abstract the hardware layer and our software layer, so we can move our operating systems and our virtual servers to different pieces of hardware, when there was a hardware issue on one server, enabling us to be more agile.
Gardner: How about cost? Did that not only help you support your heterogeneity requirements, but were you able to consolidate, unify, and reduce some of those hardware costs along the way?
Nair: Oh yes, because instead of running just one server on one piece of hardware, we were able to run anywhere between 12 and 20 different servers. All servers weren’t utilized at 100 percent all the time. We were able to leverage the CPU to its full capacity and run many more servers. So we had, at a minimum, a 12x increase in our server capacity on each piece of hardware. That definitely did help our costs.
Gardner: That’s pretty impressive. Before we go any further on your technology benefits, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about BancVue, the type of organization you are, and what some of your business goals are?
Nair: BancVue is a financial services software and marketing company. We help community financial institutions compete with mega banks by providing them marketing expertise, software expertise, and data consultation expertise, and all those things require technology and software.
Gardner: Do you supply services to them? That is to say, are they using your applications or services as part of their own ecosystem type of approach?
Gardner: Tell me how that works.
Nair: For many of our partners we provide the website that many people land on when they search for the website on the Internet. And we also provide the gateway to their online banking. So it's extremely important for the website to stay up and online.
In addition to that, we also provide rewards checking calculations, interest rate calculations, which customer is qualified for certain products, and so on. We are definitely a part of the ecosystem for the financial institution.
Gardner: Tell me a little bit about the story of adoption. Once you settled on your strategy for virtualizing your workloads and supporting your heterogeneity issues, how did that unfold? And maybe you could point us in a direction where that’s taking you in terms of private-cloud capability?
Nair: It was a step-by-step approach of wading deeper into the virtualization world. Our first step was just getting that abstraction layer that I was talking about by virtualizing our servers. Then, we looked at it and we said, "Well, from vSphere we can use vMotion and move our virtual servers around. And we can consolidate our storage on a storage-attached network (SAN)." That helped us disengage further from each piece of hardware.
Then, we can look at vCenter Operations Manager and predict when a server is going to run out of capacity. That was one of the areas where we started experimenting, and that proved very fruitful. That experiment was just earlier this year.
Once we did that, we downloaded some trial software with the help of VMware, which is one of the benefits that we found. We didn’t have to pay up immediately. We could see if it suited our needs first.
We used vCloud Director as a trial, and vShield and vCenter Orchestrator together. Once we put all those pieces together, we were able to get the true benefit of virtualization, which is being in a cloud where not only are you abstracted out, but you can also predict when your hardware is going to run out.
You can move to a different data center, if the need happens to be there and just run your server farm like a power utility would run their power station, building out the computing resources necessary for a user or a customer, and then shutting that off when it’s no longer necessary, all within the same hardware grid.
Fit for purpose
Gardner: I suppose it also gets to that point of cutting your total costs, when you can manage that as a fit-for-purpose exercise. It's the Goldilocks approach -- not too much, not too little. That’s especially important, when you have an ecosystem play, where you can’t always predict what your customers are going to be doing or demanding.
Gardner: You're using a common private-cloud infrastructure managed through the VMware suite that supports your workloads for development, for QA and test, for your internal applications, as well as for all those external facing applications for your customers. Is that correct?
Nair: Right now, we're testing that internally for our development and test platforms, as you just said, and we are about to launch that into a production environment when we are fully versed in how to handle that. It’s a powerful tool and we want to be sure that we can manage it properly in the production world.
Gardner: But that's the goal -- to have a common infrastructure to support all those types of requirements and workloads.
Nair: Absolutely. That is the goal. That’s where we're headed.
Gardner: And that again gives you that agility, but also I think your total cost would be something to better manage when you're able to put it all into the same management capability.
Nair: That’s what our testing has shown. One admin can do the work of at least three admins, once we’ve fully implemented the cloud, because the buildup and takedown are some of the most expensive portions of creating a server. You can automate that fully and not have to worry about the takedown, because you can say, "Three days from now please remove the server from the grid." Then, the admin can go do some other tasks.
Gardner: Tell me what you actually have running there in terms of the type of hardware and how many virtual machines (VMs) you’ve got on a server? Are you using blades, and what are the applications and networking that you use?
Nair: We run Dell hardware, Dell servers, and Dell blades, and that's where we run production. In development, we also use Dell hardware, where we just use the R610s, 710s, and 810s, basically small machines, but with a fairly good amount of power. We can load up to 20 servers on in development, and as many as 12 in production. We run about 275 VMs today.
Gardner: What sort of apps? Do you cover the gamut of apps? Are they mission-critical, back-office, Web-facing? What’s the breakdown of the type of applications you're supporting in your virtualized environment?
Nair: Our production software is software as a service (SaaS), so a majority of that runs on IIS Web servers, with SQL backend. We also use some new cutting-edge database technologies, MongoDB, which also runs on a virtual system.
In addition, we have our infrastructure, like our customer relationship management (CRM), for which we use SugarCRM, and our ticketing system, which is JIRA, and our collaboration tool called Confluence, as well as our build system, which is TeamCity.
All run on VMs. Our infrastructure is powered on VMs, so it’s pretty important that it stays up. It’s one of the reasons that we think running it on a SAN, with the ability to use VMotion, does help our uptime.
Gardner: Of course, you had an opportunity to go with a number of different providers on virtualization. What was it that attracted you to VMware and the full suite and full packaging of VMware’s software in this case?
Nair: A few different things attracted us to VMware. One of them was the fact that VMware fully supported different operating systems. A I said earlier, we run Red Hat, as well as Debian and Windows. When we ran those on different public and other proprietary virtualization products, we found different issues in each one.
For example, one of them had a time drift, where it didn’t keep time as well as it did on Windows. On Linux the time always seemed to drift a little bit. Apparently they hadn’t mastered that. Some free products did not have the ability to run Windows. They could run other versions of Linux. They couldn't run Windows properly at the time we were testing. But VMware, out of the box, could run all those operating systems.
The second thing was the support level. We didn’t want to be running our production system, put a bug out there in the community, and wait for someone to answer while we were down. We wanted to be able to pick up the phone, ask someone immediately, and get knowledgeable support. So support was a key ingredient in our selection.
We do have that option today when we have an issue. We can call up VMware and get that support. So it was support, compatibility, and the overall ecosystem. We knew that as we grew, we wouldn’t have to switch to another vendor to get cloud. We knew that we could go to VMware and get the cloud solution, as well as the virtualization solution, because virtualization was just the first step to us to become fully virtualized in a private cloud environment, with software, security like vShield and vCenter Operations Manager.
Gardner: Seeing as you’ve made that progression through virtualization, you’ve tested it out on a pilot basis internally, particularly in that heavy-duty use case, like development and test, and now of course moving towards the full private cloud with all those other workloads and applications. Any words of advice to others who are perhaps just beginning that journey? When they get started, what sort of things do you think they should keep in mind?
Nair: The first thing we did was take the trial version and started running it in a non-critical environment, where we just had a few servers that we were building out as our developers needed it, and it was actually for a data-testing scenario.
We got good at it ourselves. We learned the Java scripting that was required to bring up those systems. We didn’t have that knowledge ahead of time in the systems engineering group. We had developers who had that knowledge, of course, but to get our systems engineers to be able to script to bring up a server was very useful when we played around with it.
We actually had a little virtualization lab, where we practiced these things, because as the old adage says, practice does make perfect. The next thing was that we rolled it out in incremental steps to one product, and then eventually to a larger development group.
Gardner: Looking to the future, is there anything about mobile support or increasing the types of services that you're going to provide to your community banks, more along the lines of extended services that you provide and they brand? Do you think that this cloud environment is going to enable you to pursue that?
Nair: Yes, we’ve already started down that path. We have mobile support for the websites that we’ve created, and we’ve just implemented that earlier this year. Eventually, we plan to go into the online banking space and provide online banking for mobile devices. All that will be done in our cloud infrastructure. So yes, it’s here to stay.
Gardner: Because we're here at VMworld, I assume you're taking some good, hard looks at some of the newer VMware products. Is there any other VMware product that you're anticipating using or at least particularly interested in?
Nair: We want to look further at the automation that the cloud products would give us, especially with security in vShield. It’s pretty interesting how we can have a virtual firewall with our VMs and look at the other mobile software that's available.
Gardner: I'm afraid we'll have to leave it there. We’ve been talking about how banking services provider, BancVue, has been able to provide business agility to its community bank customers. And we’ve also seen how a private-cloud model is rapidly furthering their achievements in server virtualization, while allowing them to better manage their workloads and even cut costs.
I’d like to thank our guest. We’ve been here with Sunny Nair. He is the Vice President of IT and Systems Operations at BancVue, in Austin, Texas. Thanks so much, Sunny.
Nair: Thank you.
Gardner: And thanks to our audience for joining this special podcast coming to you from the 2012 VMworld Conference in San Francisco. I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series of podcast discussions. Thanks again for listening, and come back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.
Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast from the 2012 VMworld Conference on how one company has been able to provide business agility to its customers. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2012. All rights reserved.
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