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Consultant firm pins enterprise cloud storage on HCI

TBConsulting picked Nutanix hyper-convergence to tame virtual desktop problems, then quickly expanded its use for enterprise cloud storage in place of its three-tier architecture.

TBConsulting started using hyper-converged infrastructure in 2013 for virtual desktops, and steadily grew its HCI footprint to embrace its private enterprise cloud storage strategy. That means the managed service provider has followed in lockstep with the technology's trajectory.

Phoenix-based TBConsulting provides managed services such as private clouds, disaster recovery, data management, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and data center colocation. Its goal is to bring enterprise features to midsize customers, TBConsulting Director of Information Services Steve Walker said. Walker said the provider sets up private clouds to manage its customers' data or integrate the public cloud in a hybrid setup, and HCI helps it provide enterprise cloud storage.

Hyper-convergence caught Walker's attention when TBConsulting had a client that needed to scale virtual desktops quickly. Walker liked the idea of hyper-convergence as a base for VDI, and found Nutanix the most mature HCI vendor in the market.

Satisfied with its handling of VDI, TBConsulting expanded its Nutanix footprint to handle the bulk of its storage needs. A big piece of that was enterprise cloud storage.

"Early on, this hyper-convergence stuff was kind of like hocus pocus," Walker said. "Inside of 90 days, we were able to scale from 600 virtual desktops to over 4,000 virtual desktops in an incredibly complex and cumbersome environment. It was magical how quickly and easily we were able to accomplish that."

Sidelining storage struggles

Before turning to Nutanix, TBConsulting used a three-tier architecture with EMC storage, Hewlett Packard Enterprise blade servers and Cisco unified computing system servers and networking. That setup struggled on the storage side when trying to keep up with hundreds of virtual desktops.

"Everybody has storage issues with VDI, and if you're still relying on a three-tier architecture, you are going to have issues," Walker said. "Data locality is tough with virtual desktops. If you're storing it on a SAN, your data is in the basement."

Nutanix and HCI were still new when TBConsulting signed on in 2013. The hosting provider has grown its HCI infrastructure along with Nutanix, adding the Nutanix Acropolis hypervisor for certain workloads, while sticking with VMware for most of its virtualization. Over time, TBConsulting's Nutanix footprint grew from 24 NX-3000 appliances to 162 nodes.

"All new concepts and all new platforms scare us, and hyper-convergence was no exception," Walker said. "There are always gotchas. We tell vendors, 'Give us the good, and be honest and tell us the bad. We don't want to find out the bad later.'

"Nutanix was open in what they can and cannot do. In our case, we used them for virtual desktops, and that's where they started and made a name for themselves. It was smooth adoption out of the gate. As they matured, they started to do other things well."

Walker said TBConsulting still has pieces of its three-tier architecture, but they are replaced as they move off of maintenance. The firm's latest additions include all-flash HCI appliances to increase performance. The Nutanix appliances reside in TBConsulting's Phoenix data center and a colocation data center in Las Vegas, replicating between the sites for data protection.

Nutanix also now underpins TBConsulting's private cloud service setup to increase utilization and security of customer data.

"One of the major benefits of hyper-convergence over the traditional three-tier architecture is the ability to grow and allocate resources to the right workload," Walker said.

"In a three-tier world, it's really tough to get capacity planning right, and it's frustrating to have to build silos. You're going to hit the ceiling, it doesn't matter what you use. Hyper-convergence takes away the ceiling from our ability to grow, without needing silos for each workload and each client. As a service provider, we can grow infinitely [with] this platform."

Walker said hyper-converged makes for easier management because TBConsulting no longer needs dedicated storage, server and networking IT people. They all get certified on a single platform.

Nutanix leadership talks a lot about becoming a private enterprise cloud storage option, and Walker is eagerly awaiting more advancement in that direction, such as the "ability to add failover and other native functionality for moving data. We don't want to have five software vendors that we layer on top of our platform."

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