In its charge to embrace tomorrow’s technology as a means to improve its customer’s experience, South African financial service provider to the motoring industry LiquidCapital, has made a significant investment in virtualizing its entire IT environment.
The company’s key vision is to change the way its customers do business and how it engages with its clients, through innovative technologies, products and services, which it refers to as “tomorrow’s technologies”.
“The success of our business is hinged on our ability to deliver superior solutions to customers that embrace the way they want to work with us and that are ahead of what our competitors are bringing to market,” says Billy van Zyl, GM: IT at LiquidCapital.
“Every technology investment we make and every project we undergo needs to support this vision. It is with this that we identified a need to automate and mobilise our development environment while at the same time position ourselves to tap into cloud-based services if we have the need. One such way we could do this, was by virtualising all of the infrastructure components of our IT department.”
While seemingly a small ask, the task was to touch on mission critical areas of the business such as its mission critical SQL environment. Undeterred by warnings from industry players, Van Zyl and his team confidently and without doubt set out to select partners and technologies to help it reach their goal.
The virtual journey
“The saying goes that fortune favours the brave and I had come from an environment that was 100% virtualised so had no doubt it could work and that we could do it, while at the same time meeting our desire to begin making use of technologies that could meet our innovation and development goals,” he says.
While the LiquidCapital IT team owned the project, it also partnered with technology partner Ubuntu and selected VMware as its technology of choice for its business.
The company is currently a wall-to-wall Microsoft house all of which needed to be virtualised. This also included its CRM platform as well as its in-house developed sales systems, its Cardinal insurance system, its home-grown competitive analysis tools as well as a series of its own mobile applications for customers and sales people, to name a few.
A data explosion
The entire process lasted a record eight months, dramatically quicker than what had been anticipated, and after their hard work, Van Zyl and his LiquidCapital IT team were able to literally and figuratively switch off the old and switch on the new. However, what happened next completely caught the IT team off guard as the company suddenly experienced a data explosion where it went from about 6Tb of SAN usage to a whopping 30Tb.
“At first we thought something was wrong, but further analysis showed that the system we had deployed had become so easy to use and so efficient that it was less a data explosion, and more a development explosion. Which is exactly the innovation we were aiming for.
“Different development projects were being run simultaneously, new projects were being queued and the development team leapt at the benefits of this new virtual environment. The appetite for innovation we knew existed in the business was suddenly being met and we were able to feed it,” Van Zyl says.
While from a capacity point of view the number of VMware hosts being run was fine, the SAN explosion was at first a cause for concern as it seemed the IT team were filling it up as soon as it was being put in. “We had to pull things back and be more disciplined, just because you can now back up your entire laptop to the server doesn’t mean you should.
“So we used it as an opportunity to create a more responsible IT consumption culture in the business. It also allowed us to better our existing control, compliance, version control and audit trails so we could report back to the business on these more effectively.
“Ultimately the project was a lot less about virtualising the environment than it was about ensuring that LiquidCapital makes use of tomorrows technologies today. Virtualisation isn’t new and the benefits speak for themselves, but we had to get to that step before we could accelerate to the next. We need to understand our systems, consolidate our IT environment, realise cost savings, all so that we could further invest in innovation and create a disaster resilient business,” he adds.
While many companies often wait to realise the benefits of such an investment, the LiquidCapital team didn’t have to wait long, as not a month after implementation disaster struck in the way of a fire on a Sunday afternoon. Van Zyl says the team was forced to declare a disaster.
“The beauty was that we were already running our now virtualised development site offsite, so all we needed was to get connectivity between the two sites and we were up and running on the Monday morning, in fact some staff were none the wiser as they experienced no disruption. Prior to having the VMware solution in place this simply would not have happened,” says Van Zyl.
Other key benefits have been that the development team have flourished and are able to develop and roll out applications and new products even faster than in the past. An example of which is the company’s new online quoting tool. The costs of development have also come down dramatically as the need to scope and roll out new hardware has been almost entirely negated and the physical hardware footprint has come down from 24 to six.
According to van Zyl the team saw some immediate hard benefits with Operations Manager as it completely took what vendors said their tech could do and put that on its head. As an example it was told by Microsoft certain tech had to be run on 24 processors, while VMware said it didn’t. No stranger to taking calculated risks the LiquidCapital team jumped straight in and has as a result been able to, in places, reduce the processing footprint of the Microsoft technology by more than half, the savings of which are huge.
Through its hunger for innovation, the LiquidCapital IT environment has gone from a room full of servers to just a few racks, and its IT teams can manage and view all hardware and software from a centralised management environment. In addition it is also making use of remote support services, which has helped it reduce the costs of having to employ more people.
Key to success
“You have to be brave, you have to have a business strategy and you must show results immediately as you build things for the future. If you need an effective disaster recovery solution it is simply a no brainer, you have to virtualise,” Van Zyl says. “It’s the catalyst for the future and without it you won’t be able to get to the cloud.
“Also don’t tinker with it unless you have to, the technology has a job to do and it knows how to do that without human intervention. Looking ahead I think it has definitely paved the way for us to start looking at a hybrid cloud environment for the development team to work in.”