Case Study: Fulcrum

250 User Virtualisation Project

Mirus IT deploys VMware Virtualisation technology to modernise and improve legacy systems to meet aggressive business growth objectives.

Fulcrum is a leading independent utilities infrastructure organisation, providing technical engineering, design, project management, consultancy, and audit services across gas and multi-utility connections. Customers range from self-build house builders to industrial, commercial and public sector organisations. It was purchased from the National Grid in 2010 and has made a successful transition from the public sector to a commercial business.

The Challenge

At the time of privatisation, the organisation was over-staffed and the aging IT infrastructure consisted of over 200 servers taking up 24 datacentre cabinets. Fulcrum now employs over 250 customer-focused staff at a centralised location in Sheffield with a remote workforce operating customer projects across the UK.

Their network had become out-dated and resource intensive to maintain at the level required, which resulted in needing a large, costly team to monitor and administer the systems. This meant that overall system reliability and recovery time in the event of a disaster fell below acceptable levels.

Stephen Holden, Head of IT at Fulcrum, explained:

“Our systems didn’t talk to each other very well and people were putting major work-arounds in place rather than trying to fix an issue with a system. We had work-arounds to fix work-arounds.”

As a result, Fulcrum were looking for a technology partner that could provide a solution that prioritised performance capability to function effectively to achieve: leaner IT investments to minimise costs, reduced maintenance to allow the internal IT team to focus on the business objectives, and significantly improved availability to operate business-critical applications.

The Solution

Virtualisation technology enabled Mirus to identify the opportunity to significantly consolidate existing hardware whilst still providing a highly available environment across their entire production and Disaster Recovery sites, ensuring synchronous replication between the two.

Highly Available Production Site

Using VMware Virtualisation technology, the number of physical servers at the production site was significantly reduced to 9. While designing the production site, N+1 redundancy was a key factor. Extra capacity was built into these servers to ensure that in the unlikely event of a dual host outage the business was still operational due to the seamless failover, which is a direct result of the high availability architecture. This in turn reduces the need to invoke Disaster Recovery.

Fulcrum had selected Microsoft Dynamics AX as their preferred ERP platform and identified this as the business-critical application that needed optimised availability. Mirus worked with a Microsoft Dynamics specialist to ensure the SQL environment resided on dedicated non-virtualised servers, and recommended a 3 PAR Storage Array to handle the required speed and cost efficiency against the IOPS requirement.

Due to Microsoft Dynamics AX being core to the business, and the SQL database sitting on an independent server outside of the VMware farm, a different approach was required for redundancy here. The back end SQL server was built in a clustered environment spreading the resources over 2 servers, so in the event of a server failure the other still has the resources to function properly.

Backup Disaster Recovery Site

The required highly resilient approach meant Mirus also deployed a virtualised backup site in a near identical setup, with leaner capacity allocation between slightly fewer servers. The SQL database was included in the virtual environment at the Disaster Recovery site, but still has the performance capability to function effectively. When designing the Disaster Recovery site it was agreed that should Disaster Recovery be invoked a slight reduction in performance was acceptable.

The 3 PAR Storage Array at the Disaster Recovery site mirrors the data of that at the production site, which is achieved by a synchronous data replication between the two sites. Each site also has a NAS which is a backup target, and again this is replicated to ensure data can be restored from disk for up to 30 days even if in Disaster Recovery mode.

To achieve synchronous replication between the two 3PAR storage arrays Mirus installed a 1Gbps dedicated point to point line solely for the replication of live data. There is also a secure MPLS WAN across Fulcrum’s sites which can be used as a backup line for the data replication should the point to point line fail.

A fully resilient Cisco core network infrastructure was also designed and put in place during the project. With multiple connections to each VMware host this ensures server network communications continue even with the loss of a core switch.

The Results

System Recovery Times

The high performance hardware, effective capacity planning for a high availability infrastructure, and a fully replicated backup site meant that total recovery time was dramatically reduced from 16 hours, down to just 1 hour using VMware Site Recovery Manager.

Rapid Return on Investment

The infrastructure refresh saw an immediate return on investment from the consolidation efforts alone – instantly saving money from operational overheads in both administration and power consumption as power and cooling was now only required for 4 server racks rather than 24.

Maintenance

The modernised infrastructure meant that hardware and software updates are easier to proactively identify and achieved without needing scheduled downtime – live updates are performed with zero downtime and disruption.

Scalable & Future Proof

The system was also designed to be inherently scalable to ensure Fulcrum are able to future-proof their business by being able to rapidly adapt to changing requirements without infrastructure limitations. By optimising the work flow of the business and introducing Microsoft Dynamic AX Fulcrum can increase the business transactions by 200% without the need for additional resources. Mirus were also able to preserve legacy data within the new virtual environment to enable ongoing reference to historical data.

Ongoing Support

Mirus IT now manage Fulcrum’s 3rd line IT support on a 24/7 basis, allowing the internal team to focus on developing the systems to meet the business needs and creating a seamless IT experience for all employees. Mirus provides constant monitoring of infrastructure through Kaseya, instantly alerting both the Mirus Service Desk and Fulcrum IT team to any potential issues.

“Our operations are heavily reliant on a few key technologies that allow us to differentiate in the market and compete on service quality.

Most importantly, our Dynamics AX environment has the scale needed to support our operations, which means we are able to maintain the 99.99% uptime required and a full system recovery window of under two hours.”

Stephen Holden, Head of IT at Fulcrum.