Brokering the cloud

How to deliver IT-as-a-Service with speed, visibility, and increased manageability.

Peruse a list of the top 10 characteristics to look for in a financial broker and you’re bound to find “trustworthy” and “responsive.” When we invest money, we expect the experts to:

  • Be quick to respond to market demands
  • Take a holistic view
  • Manage our funds seamlessly

Compare that to the demands being placed on today’s CIOs, and the two are increasingly similar. When a business unit submits a request for compute power, they expect fast, secure results, and they want to be able to ‘see’ how their server environment is performing.

“CIOs are being asked to transition from being a resource provider to resource broker,” says Phill Lawson-Shanks, Chief Technology Officer at Virtacore, a wholly-owned subsidiary of IKANO Communications Inc. headquartered in Sterling, Va. “That means they need to adapt to a new service delivery paradigm that leverages internal, external, and hybrid cloud fabrics—where virtual instances and resource pools are both dynamic and manageable at an increasingly granular level.”

As a leading cloud services provider, Virtacore understands the intricacies of leveraging IT as a Service (ITaaS) to reduce capital costs and operating expenses. At the same time, the company realizes the need for speed, visibility, and increased manageability.

For these reasons, the company is in the process of building a new core infrastructure based on:

  • The Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®)
  • Cisco Nexus® and Catalyst® switches
  • Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud (Cisco IAC)
  • A next-generation hybrid storage solution from Nimble Storage

Currently located in Equinix International Business Exchange data centers in Silicon Valley, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., Virtacore became the first cloud service provider to leverage Equinix Business Suites earlier this year. It is also among the first to be nominated to VMware’s vCloud Powered Program, which requires partners to offer on-demand access to virtual infrastructure from a public cloud while supporting application and API portability between a customer’s internal data center and the VMware Powered Service of their choice.

The move to a wholesale data center model coincides with the company’s migration to Cisco UCS® and Nimble. Together, the two strategies are giving Virtacore the performance and visibility it needs to stay ahead of larger competitors and deliver broker-like services at an extremely cost-effective price, says Lawson-Shanks.

“Before we started this migration, it could take up to six weeks to deploy a customer’s cloud instance. Now we can deploy within a matter of hours,” he says, noting that proofs of concept run on the new core infrastructure in a production environment, allowing for a simple transition to a full service contract once customers are satisfied. “From our perspective, we’ve gained a block of resources we can carve up and deploy any which way we need. From a customer perspective, they get a real world experience of what the system is going to be from soup to nuts that helps to allay any reservations they may have.”

  • Two of the first Virtacore customers to migrate to the new cloud infrastructure include a large food distributor and a well-known software provider.
  • Both are experiencing faster response times—almost double what they were experiencing previously—with the added advantage of confidence.
  • In the case of the food distributor, the first application to move to Virtacore’s Cisco UCS/Nimble platform was SharePoint, a mission-critical application that is performing better in the cloud than it did on a tier-one manufacturer’s blade center.
  • For the software provider, the main advantage is being able to quickly spin up customer instances with a high degree of visibility.

As Virtacore engineer Matt Tedder explains, the new environment offers “a single pane of glass” management view that provides crucial information about processing speeds, memory, network availability, and storage, as well as built-in pre-emptive monitoring capabilities.

“Nimble offers the cleanest user interface we’ve seen from a storage product,” says Tedder. “From just a few sets of tabs, we can obtain a top-down view of everything.”

“Latency is not an issue any more. It’s about the performance of the systems, installing them correctly, and managing them appropriately,” notes Lawson-Shanks, adding that Virtacore is looking to capitalize on the scalability of Cisco UCS and Nimble CS series, as well as the self-service provisioning capabilities of Cisco CIAC, to support future growth. “We’re only limited now by the amount of power our hosting partners can provide to us.”

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