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Hallmark uses Nutanix hyper-converged storage for every occasion

Hallmark Cards' business-to-business group brought in Nutanix hyper-converged storage for a business intelligence project and expanded it to primary storage and a DR initiative.

When Bob Dussault became director of infrastructure at Hallmark Business Connections in 2013, he knew he wanted to implement a hyper-converged system. His shop already had a storage system, and he had to wait until the right opportunity for hyper-convergence.

The chance came six months into his tenure in June 2013 when a data analytics project required a performance jolt. He brought in a Nutanix NX-6000 hyper-converged system and now uses Nutanix hyper-converged infrastructure for most of his primary storage.

Hallmark had Dell Compellent storage arrays for primary storage when Dussault arrived. They were adequate, he says, but "I was so stoked about hyper-convergence" because he felt he needed cutting edge technology for his group to prove valuable inside Hallmark.

Based in Minneapolis, Hallmark Business Connections is the greeting card company's business-to-business unit.

"When I got to Hallmark I knew I wasn't going to use traditional technology," he said. "I knew if we were going to remain relevant in the data center space at Hallmark, we were going to have to do something unique to show business value. Otherwise, they were going to outsource us. We had to do something unique to drive cost down, increase productivity and simplify the data center."

Dussault found the opening when his sales team was running a business intelligence project on a Microsoft SQL database.

The project required the development team to do continuous integration builds that were taking two hours, and the team wanted to do approximately 12 to 14 per day. Hallmark Business Connections had brought a Nutanix hyper-converged box in for a proof of concept, so Dussault moved the integration builds to Nutanix. He said build times dropped to about 22 minutes.

"We didn't do anything else different except move them to Nutanix and we had a significant increase in performance," he said. "That set a milestone for us to put in front of senior management. Now we're basically running every workload we have on it."

He said the cost savings sold management on the technology.

"It was going to cost probably $1 million for hardware to build a dedicated stack for the project," he said. "I was told by management we had about $125,000. So we were forced to look outside the box."

Dussault said he still has the Compellent arrays, mainly for test/dev and other non-production workloads. But he said the savings continue as he expanded the use cases for Nutanix.

"It allowed me to put a three-year roadmap into place that will allow us to reduce our physical footprint in our data center from 11 racks to three," Dussault said. "That's 2,200 bucks a month for that, so that's real savings."

That roadmap includes setting up mirrored data centers at headquarters and in Chicago for high availability and load balancing. That involves replicating data in availability groups in near real-time between Nutanix boxes at each site.

"We can shift traffic or increase capacity during peak seasons during holidays," Dussault said. "It gives us a lot of flexibility."

That project is expected to finish by the end of 2016, Dussault said.

Hallmark now has a Nutanix hyper-converged NX-8000 cluster along with the NX-6000. Dussault said he is considering a virtual desktop infrastructure project, and would look at an NX-9000 all-flash system for that. He is also considering the Nutanix KVM-based Acropolis hypervisor, although Hallmark is a VMware customer. Nutanix's App Mobility fabric allows customers to move workloads across different hypervisors.

"I'd like to experiment with Acropolis, but we're not ready to move production workloads there yet," he said. "We like the App Mobility framework because it would allow us to move around within different hypervisors and maybe get some efficiencies in terms of licensing around non-production environments."

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