Test Valley Borough Council and Winchester City Council in Hampshire serve a combined population of just under 250,000 residents. Like every other local authority, they strive to deliver cost-effective, high-value services to the population they serve. One way in which they’re able to do this is by sharing IT infrastructure and resources. This helps them to deliver significant economies of scale and enables both councils to provide standardised, consolidated and rationalised resources for upwards of 1,000 users.
combined IT infrastructure provision
support and extend IT capabilities
and licensing costs
Both Test Valley Borough Council and Winchester City Council depend on high-speed access to IT resources hosted in two datacentres located 18 miles apart. The existing Storage Area Network (SAN) infrastructure was coming to the end of its natural lifecycle and the IT Services team recognised that it would have to undergo an extensive upgrade to enable enhanced internal processes and efficiency gains. As both clients were considering the potential to offer IT and hosted services to third parties as well, it became clear that a radical solution delivering increased capacity, resilience and scalability was required.
Recent investments in ‘thin client’ and VMware site recovery technologies needed to be protected with a high-speed, resilient technological backbone facilitating simplified installation and data migration, and support improved disaster recovery and business continuity functionality. The proposed solution also needed to support and extend current capabilities in an effort to future-proof the councils’ IT services portfolio. In effect, it needed to protect what the councils already had, have the potential to scale in response to increased demand and deliver increased capacity to cope with future IT developments.
SAN Technologies have moved on considerably in recent years. The old system would need a significant upgrade to cope with future demands. When initially approached, Softcat explored numerous options and presented two potential solutions: an upgrade to the existing system, or a radical new solution based on the very latest Flash-optimised hybrid storage array technology from Nimble.
Although initially reluctant to consider a technology with which they were unfamiliar, the councils were extremely impressed with Softcat’s business case for the new technology, “Although we were happy with the existing technology, the Nimble offering looked particularly attractive, almost too good to be true,” said Tony Fawcett, Head of IT Services. “Softcat provided a wealth of information, including technical proposals, case studies and even went as far as to set up a demo that clearly illustrated the achievable performance improvements. This helped convince us that the Nimble solution would deliver the performance, resilience and cost savings we sought. We knew it would be a risk moving from what we had experience in and were familiar with, but Softcat gave us the confidence to take the leap of faith required to bring our storage and disaster recovery functions bang up to date.”
The Nimble solution would be up to 5 times faster than the existing system and could also deliver increased capacity, simpler management, the required scalability and reduced licensing costs going forward. Its broad suite of support functions would help shift the councils’ disaster recovery processes towards a more sustainable business continuity model. Nimble would also provide a dedicated engineer to ensure a seamless implementation and ongoing support.
The solution was implemented in just two days – a phenomenal timescale that exceeded the clients’ expectations and caused minimal disruption. The presence of Nimble’s own dedicated engineer went a long way towards making the transition as smooth as possible. Tony comments, “Softcat has set the bar very high with the speed, quality and seamlessness of the implementation. The knowledge and hands-on approach of both Softcat and the Nimble engineer helped ensure that it was significantly quicker than previous implementations.”
The new technology has provided a high-speed backbone delivering 10 gigabits per second performance and has more than justified any initial reservations. “It’s a risk that’s been fully vindicated in the first six months of use. We’re benefitting from increased capacity, simplicity and scalability and our ongoing licensing costs will be dramatically reduced. We also have a system that easily scales to meet new demands without incurring added costs,” continues Tony.
The new solution has enabled the clients to make the most of their existing IT estate and embrace future developments in their efforts to provide optimal service to the system’s users. Should an interruption now occur, the system is capable of repairing itself without users noticing. Backed up by the new solution, the existing thin client estate is performing better than it did before, delivering faster emails, faster file saving and subsequent savings on costs and resources.
From the outset, it was important that the solution implemented by Softcat enabled the councils to deliver a more sustainable service. The Nimble solution uses significantly less power, takes up less space in the datacentre and has enabled an 80 per cent reduction in the hardware required to deliver essential services – all of which helps underpin the councils’ efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and achieve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) targets for greener solutions.
Data recovery and business continuity functions have also been significantly improved since the implementation. The solution proactively monitors and notifies the client of any issues affecting performance. In effect, the system self-heals and then notifies the client that the problem has been rectified in real time, delivering a 24/7 overview of system performance that has radically simplified maintenance of key resources. For example, checking the separate back-up storage facilities previously took around an hour to complete. With the new system in place the task can now be completed in as little as two minutes.
Overall, the new system simply handles data more efficiently, is leaner, greener and continuously assists in improving the productivity of the system’s users. It has helped to reduce support overheads, saved time and has enabled much more effective business continuity processes. It has also radically simplified the management of ongoing data access due to its capacity to save time on every interaction across the network. As Tony is keen to stress, “This has been one of the best experiences with the implementation of new technology I’ve ever been involved in. At first we had concerns that performance levels wouldn’t match our expectations, but the new system has had a positive impact on every facet of our IT operations and it’s something I’m happy to shout about!”
The client's decision to implement the Nimble solution was very much driven by their faith in Softcat’s impressive track record of implementing public sector IT projects and deep industry knowledge of the technology marketplace. From the outset, Softcat’s willingness to provide a wealth of technical information and real-world evidence of the solution’s effectiveness helped to overcome any reservations about embracing an unfamiliar technological platform.
“Softcat opened our eyes to an alternative technology and it’s proved to be exactly the right decision to make. Despite our initial reservations, we’ve been mightily impressed with Softcat’s efficiency, flexibility and helpfulness as the project has progressed, and they’ve made us feel like a priority customer throughout. We’re that confident in the quality of the solution that it genuinely is helping us to sleep at night!” said Tony.