When private clouds go big

When private clouds go big

Symantec has eliminated more than 213 years of lab administration time in the last 18 months by consolidating on a massively scalable, “Mega FlexPod” platform.

Imagine eliminating more than 213 years—11,099 work weeks—of administration time from your organization in an 18-month span. Now imagine what could be accomplished when that time, representing $26 million worth of personnel, is reinvested in the business.

What may seem like pure fantasy has actually been accomplished by Symantec. And the $6.9 billion leader in information security and management has done so with one of the largest private clouds on record.

“We’ve definitely pushed some boundaries and broken some molds on what has previously been touted as the biggest private clouds in the industry,” says Jon Sanchez, director of Global Symantec Labs (GSL).

That wasn’t the original plan. Initially, Symantec simply wanted to bring together the technology resources sustaining 25 customer support labs, which are tasked with replicating and resolving customer problems.

“Every lab was using its own servers. It was a purchasing nightmare, there was competition for budgets, and we were wasting a lot of storage and compute resources,” Sanchez explains. “And our TSEs [technical support engineers] were spending too much time administering their own lab kits. They had to install the OS [operating system], the network, the [Microsoft] Exchange environment, everything. We did the math on the time being spent, and it was the equivalent of 45 to 50 full-time employees.”

Through consolidation and virtualization, Sanchez knew he could help the customer support labs become more efficient and cost effective. But he didn’t want to just give them virtual machines (VMs). He wanted to give them fully realized, software-defined data centers. In 20 minutes or less.

Engineering groups catch on
Rumors of a new GSL cloud spread like wildfire within Symantec. Engineering, quality assurance, development, and even education services teams heard about the customer support labs’ ability to spin up software-defined data centers in a matter of minutes. And they wanted in on the action.

Sanchez suddenly had a scalability problem on his hands. Symantec has 600 labs worldwide. Giving all of them the amount of lab resources they need through a private cloud would be a herculean task.

“We tried with another vendor’s gear, but we broke it,” Sanchez reveals. “It couldn’t handle our scale. So we turned to the FlexPod platform, and even then, we had to stretch the typical architecture.”

  • Using the Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System™, Cisco Nexus® Series Switches, and NetApp Clustered Data ONTAP storage, Symantec built what is being called a “Mega FlexPod.”
  • Instead of a collection of “pods” that are loosely patched together, it acts as one, seamless system with a single VMware vCloud instance.

“With the ‘Mega FlexPod,’ we have virtually unlimited scalability,” says Sanchez. “We can deploy more than a thousand nodes and hundreds of thousands of VMs.”

Massive time and cost savings
Fueled by the “Mega FlexPod,” the GSL cloud can deliver a fully functional, software-defined data center in as little as 15 minutes, with everything needed for a lab kit, from compute and storage resources to network, OS, and Exchange environments. In the past, a similar setup would have taken up to two days to assemble.

  • Symantec will save an estimated $15 million over the next five years in hardware and data center costs alone.
  • What used to cost $2000 annually per TSE for a limited amount of IT resources now costs $400 per TSE for unlimited resources.

But the real value comes in time savings, and how that time is being reapplied.

“Our labs have 250 to 300 engineers, many of them working on quality assurance, development, and lab administration,” Sanchez notes. “By reducing the time it takes to set up lab kits, we can reallocate 75 to 80 percent of those resources to higher-value activities. That’s $26 million in headcount that is being transitioned from lab administration to fixing bugs, developing better products, and spending more time with our customers.”

Symantec’s labs are also becoming more efficient and working as a combined team instead of a loose collection of disparate groups.

“We have vaporized our silos,” Sanchez says. “In the past, one team would find a bug and then toss it over the fence to another team, who then had to work to recreate it. Today, a TSE can just send over the replicated environment. The labs are working more collaboratively, which makes them faster and more effective.”

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