IT Chief Heals Growing Pains At Expanding SMB - InformationWeek

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7/26/2012
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IT Chief Heals Growing Pains At Expanding SMB

Georgia-based Digital Insurance has IT pain points that might sound familiar. Consider these strategies if your SMB has a growing need for speed.

Challenge: The hardware hodgepodge.

As with other areas such as development, Schoen found inconsistent hardware platforms when he arrived. "It's the nature of the small company: As they grow, there's this server sprawl," Schoen said. The disparate locations of Digital Insurance's growing staff only complicated the issue.

Solution: Server virtualization.

"With VMware, we've reduced the footprint of our servers, and the technology is much easier to manage from one location," Schoen said. That became all the more important because while the company's headcount grew by 50% last year, IT's headcount actually went down by one person.

Challenge: Data, Data, Data.

Schoen never uttered the current phrase of choice--big data--but Digital Insurance deals with it by the boatload. Because it's ultimately a healthcare company, it deals with heavy-duty compliance requirements, among other data drivers. In everyday terms, it can't throw stuff away, no matter how old. Schoen noted that his team must service massive amounts of documents and emails because of the nature of Digital Insurance's business. "I would guess there are companies five or ten times our size that do less email than we do," he said.

The real problem: Digital Insurance's original storage infrastructure wasn't set up to scale beyond a certain size--once the available drives were maxed out, they'd have to "forklift" in more storage. But that would have required more people and infrastructure than the company had the resources for.

Solution: Storage virtualization.

Digital Insurance moved from its physical storage infrastructure to NetApp; the company's data growth rate simply couldn't be sustained otherwise. "If my SQL server now needs another 50 GB or 150 GB of storage, I don't have to back it up and restore it on a new piece of hardware because we can change it on the fly," Schoen said. "It's the same thing as virtualizing the servers; virtualizing the storage was just as important because of the growth rate."

Schoen said the company's infrastructure makeover has improved another area, too: Disaster recovery. In the past, Digital Insurance effectively had no redundancy for its on-site data center. "[The new infrastructure] allowed us to have a DR [plan], whereas four years ago a company of our size just couldn’t afford it," Schoen said. "It still adds a lot of complexity, which I think a lot of smaller companies are afraid of. But I would say it's much easier than it was."

Of course, that has created one of IT's next challenges: Actually testing that DR plan.

IT can't maintain absolute control over highly virtualized infrastructures. Instituting a smart role-based control strategy to decentralize management can empower business units to prioritize their own data assets while freeing IT to focus on the next big project. Download our Delegation Delivers Virtualization Savings report. (Free registration required.)

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