PowerFlex FTW Tales From the Field – The Service Catalog

Tales From the Field – September ‘21

Imagine working in an environment so incredibly complex that service providers won’t even talk to you about outsourcing the support of it. This was a conversation we had with a customer a few years ago.

This specific customer had a literal museum of compute, networking, and storage platforms, all going back 20 years and acquired via acquisitions, single department needs and one-off purchases.

How could an IT staff become even remotely efficient with dozens of element managers in place and no consolidated tools to manage the entire environment?

Well, most companies would just hire more people and try to justify the additional manpower.

But what if there was another option? What if there was a product that allowed you to consolidate most of your datacenter workloads into one platform? And what if that platform could be managed by a few tools instead of dozens?

This is the exact dilemma one of our customers faced in late 2016.

Their systems had become too cumbersome to manage and their IT staff had grown exponentially over the past few years.

They had conversations with service providers about outsourcing the support of their infrastructure, but due to the vast number of disparate systems and applications, the service providers quotes were coming in way too high – tenfold what was expected in some situations. Could it be possible that this environment was too complex to even outsource?! The answer, sadly, was yes.

This is the point where the Dell team, as the trusted advisor, was brought in to help with this dilemma.

We listened intently as the customer talked about their IT inefficiencies, security issues, lack of standardization, bloated (and sometimes non-existent) service catalog and neverending FTE and contractor sprawl.

Dilemma indeed! With data in hand, the Dell team regrouped to talk about options for this specific customer as we were convinced we could find a solution for them.

Could we throw VxRail at this issue? Sure, it’d be a welcome upgrade to their infrastructure and could consolidate Vmware workloads into separate clusters. The simple upgrades would be welcome. But what do we know about their workloads? Did they have any bare metal? Were they investigating other hypervisors? What kind of performance was expected? Did they want logical (and physical) separation of their workloads on separate clusters in their datacenter? Wouldn’t separate clusters invite more complexity? Lots of questions arose from this proposal.

What about VMAX (PowerMax) and maybe a VxBlock? This solution would simplify patch testing and consolidate most workloads onto a single platform. The performance of the VMAX/PMAX would suffice for most workloads, but doesn’t this seem like a step backwards? With the ability to deploy software-defined-everything, would it make sense to invest more into a legacy three-tier architecture? And what about cloud integration? Going from a three-tier environment to the cloud involves many more steps and is less than a “portable” solution. And what about automation? VxBlocks provide guidance on upgrades but the deployment can be quite cumbersome without any automation. While a VxBlock solution seemed highly feasible, the quick upgrades and automation the customer was looking for wouldn’t necessarily come with this hardened solution.

Then we brought up PowerFlex.

We knew the performance provided by PowerFlex would suffice and most likely blow away the customer’s expectations. We knew they had a handful of hardware appliances that couldn’t be virtualized, so surely those would fit into the confines of a PowerFlex solution. The idea of the security inherently built into a PowerFlex solution combined with Dell’s Release Certification Matrix (RCM) and automated deployments was also compelling. There was no need to test patches anymore, customers can simply download the latest tested versions and deploy without concerns of downstream issues. PowerFlex also laid the foundation for cloud integration with its software-defined tenets (this would ultimately lead to many more conversations about the portability of this customer’s systems and applications). There was also the possibility of consolidating their storage needs (and management apps) onto one common platform across their enterprise.

Had we found the solution??!

We also found out later that this customer had a proclivity for “next generation” software defined solutions which really sealed the deal for a holistic PowerFlex solution.

As we started gathering data for a new design, we quickly realized that EVERY workload (outside of one mainframe application) could be consolidated onto a single PowerFlex cluster. We were literally taking 8 different storage platforms, and subsequent element managers, and combining onto a single PowerFlex cluster.

Once we had a skeleton PowerFlex design, we started to tackle data protection and unstructured data services (UDS). PowerFlex rack has the unique ability to integrate data protection and Isilon/PowerScale into the same solution, which makes for a unique support situation. The entire stack can be supported with Dell’s one-call support! This doesn’t count for the guidance provided with the RCM which simplifies the deployment of upgrades. Basically the entire stack – compute, storage, networking, data protection and UDS – is one supported entity.

Once we presented our solution, the customer was ecstatic to see their convoluted environment now consolidated onto a single supportable platform.



Their existing service catalog, which identified WAY too many applications, systems, processes and element managers could be shrunk down to a handful of applications:

  • PowerFlex GUI/Manager
  • vSphere and plugins (PowerFlex, RP4VM)
  • Unisphere
  • DDMC
  • OneFS administration

Shortly after the deployment of their PowerFlex system they were able to finally outsource the support of the entire stack. The onboarding happened very quickly as that bloated service catalog shrunk to a handful of element managers. The company was able to save millions due to the simplicity of their environment as the diagram below shows. And as always, they were ecstatic with the performance of their PowerFlex solution. Heck, we even made the database admins smile!

In the end, this customer had a vastly simplified environment, had managed to outsource their day-to-day management tasks, and most importantly, was now positioned for the future and whatever may lie ahead.

Another happy customer had joined the PowerFlex family!

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