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Software Defined Storage (SDS): A Centrinet Case Study

I recently completed a very interesting client project based on MS Hyper-V and MS Storage Space, and wanted to share the details here today.

The Clients had been using the 2008 R2 Hyper-V CSV cluster with iSCSI storage, which was complex to manage. The steep costs for iSCSI storage were returning low levels of performance on the 1GbE iSCSI network. After looking at some alternative solutions, we proposed that they utilize the existing 2U DL380G7 servers’ local storage with Hyper-V 2012R2.

Details and Setup 

We used 4x Hyper-V 2012 R2 hosts by running local storage tiering with a 4x 450 GB 10K SAS drive and a 4x 400 GB SSD. Additionally, we enabled Windows data deduplication on the file system. This had the end result of maximizing the performance (since VMs run locally) while still preserving storage (deduplication).

This setup met the requirements of cost-effective high-performance storage, and simple management, but did not have redundancy without the use of shared storage.

To handle this, we implemented Hyper-V Replica to a fifth Hyper-V node (4x Hyper-V hosts continuously replicate changes on the VM to the fifth Hyper-V node). In case any of the Hyper-V hosts are experiencing hardware issues, they are able to bring up the VM in minutes. Additionally, we put a robust backup in place, which backs up VMs locally and replicates everything offsite.

Results

The clients were thrilled with the results. Their initial backup rate was 25-35 Mbps on the shared iSCSI SAN. After project completion the backup rate increased to 200-250 Mbps on their local storage.

Active VMs are now on SSD disks, versus the slow mechanical hard drives of the past. Hyper-V Replica gives clients an ability they’ve never before had – the ability to quickly restore VMs on the Hyper-V Replica node. In less than 5 minutes the client can bring back a failed VM, instead of having to suffer through the entire restoration process. Additionally, the Replica will have made 8 copies of the VM within a 24-hour period –there’s some reassurance!

Summary

This architecture fundamentally changes the ways we normally deploy virtualization solutions. Instead of having to acquire expansive blade servers, high-performance SANs, and high-performance storage networks, this architecture gives businesses the ability to use traditional rack mount servers to start virtualization projects. Now each server can potentially support 200-250 users, and the client doesn’t need to bleed in order to have in-house virtualization solutions.

This is a perfect example of utilizing software-defined storage (SDS). The only cost to the client is the solid-state drive (SSD). All of the necessary software features are free with Microsoft Server 2012 R2. And although this is not a silver bullet solution, it is a great alternative for anyone who is willing to look outside the box to move IT one step further from the cost center

 

 

VDI Predictions for 2015

Consolidate, save, and work from anywhere.

The past five years have seen a number of industries and sectors adopt Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). Adopting VDI is a great way to allow your organization’s IT department to simplify the desktop management process; the software creates the desktop images, allowing you to consolidate management to a single location, cutting time and costs.

VDI also gives your users far more options for accessing their work. They can securely access business applications from their personal electronic device (a laptop, smartphone, tablet, or PC) to complete tasks from remote locations. This can be especially beneficial when looking to acquire talent that needs to work remotely.

There are some high costs to consider, fixed and variable.

It is true that many businesses go through growing pains when transitioning to VDI. Initially, it requires some complex infrastructure to get fully set-up. Normally a business will need the following:

  • SAN storage
  • High performance networking equipment
  • Profile management solutions
  • Application delivery solutions
  • Virtualization management solutions
  • And most importantly, an IT team to work together and run the process.

Making the switch will also require your business to embrace some budgeting changes. VDI has a high number of fixed costs involved with set-up; with few exceptions, your business must purchase all equipment up front. Additionally, your IT staff will need to be trained in the new technology.

Even for end users frustrations exist – when there is an issue on the SAN, server, or switch, it has a wide reaching effect. Businesses must be aware of all aspects when transitioning to VDI and understand the costs involved.

Collaboration and increased productivity will continue to push demand in 2015.

Despite all of this, IT departments, businesses, and end users all fully realize the benefits of VDI. VDI is not a silver bullet, but instead it’s a way to embrace end users and IT together. VDI has the ability to elevate your level of team collaboration, polished processes, business creativity, and production.

Moving forward into 2015, I predict that the increased demand for the products will push software vendors and system integrators to close the gap. The increased demand will also drive IT personnel to stay competitive through educating themselves in the latest VDI technologies. Over time the initial costs (as well as the upkeep and end user frustrations) will become much less of a burden.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and Your IT Budget

Desktops and their management typically occupy a significant portion of an IT budget. The three areas that occupy the largest piece of the pie are hardware costs, software costs, and the costs related to the physical environment.

  1. Hardware Costs: Most organizations tend towards a 3-4 year replacement cycle on their PCs. This means that IT needs to budget for 25-33% of their desktops to be replaced annually. They must also maintain a PC and helpdesk department to handle the troubleshooting and management of all hardware.
  1. Software Costs: Minimally, each PC needs the OS locally installed – if not all of the applications as well. Every upgrade and patch to the OS and applications that are deployed on the desktops can become very costly (and complex) projects.
  1. Physical Environment Costs: There are other fixed and variable costs that generally go unnoticed, but are associated to the desktop equipment. The power costs for the PCs, the cooling costs for the heat they produce, and the actual space needed for a typical PC footprint are all examples of the physical environment costs.

Imagine only needing to replace your end device every 7-10 years. Imagine the management of your PC environment can be done from anywhere. Imagine you are able to handle all major OS and application upgrades – throughout your entire business – in just a few minutes.

Hardware Costs

You can now accomplish all of the above with a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployment. Today’s PCs are built to last approximately three years. During this time a PC might have fan failures, bad hard drives, and blown power supplies.  All of these contribute to the total cost of ownership, as well as the maintenance and management costs. With a virtual desktop, companies can replace PCs with thin clients. Thin clients are built to last approximately seven years. Most thin clients have solid-state components and operate without a fan. And, most thin clients are priced less than the PCs they replace.

Software Costs

Virtual desktop deployment is usually done from a centralized data center or a public cloud.  In either case, the management of the environment can easily be accomplished from anywhere. All one needs is an internet and/or network connection. Virtual desktops are built to be mobile.  No longer will your IT support staff be stretched across your environment, running from desktop to desktop.  Everything needed to troubleshoot and manage the VDI is centralized and available from anywhere.

A great example of this is the ease with which you can upgrade your company’s OS.

  1. Create a virtual desktop with the new OS and applications.
  2. Test everything to ensure it all works as expected.
  3. Deploy the images to the production virtual machines.
  4. Reboot the system.

Once rebooted, everyone will be up and running on the new OS.  If you find any issues with the new image, you can revert by simply rebooting the virtual desktops back to the old image. No more worries about remote deployments, installing the new OS on each PC individually, or hardware drivers in your OS image. And, this same process can be used for patching application upgrades. Ultimately, your costs and concerns will be significantly reduced.

Physical Environment Costs

Thin clients produce significantly less heat and save on power. Additionally, virtual desktops are far more flexible than a PC environment – allowing your staff to connect to a virtual desktop from almost any device in any location. You can have your full desktop on your tablet or phone. Work from anywhere

The potential cost reduction from your user’s increased access to your proprietary data is huge. And, with all of the data residing in a secured data center, the risk of losing proprietary or government-regulated data is extremely low.

If you are searching for a way to reduce your overall IT budget – and lengthen the desktop life cycle – then it’s time to look at deploying virtual desktops.  Give us a call to setup a consultation.

Solving the Top 3 ICD-10 Medical Coding Challenges

Hospitals, large physician practices and other healthcare facilities are faced with major challenges with the move to ICD-10 and with new or updated EMR/EHR implementations.   While there are a variety of issues which will be faced by healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, clinicians, as well as administrative and billing staff), the individuals I think about the most in my role as a Technical Solutions Consultant for Centrinet are CIOs and Directors of IT. In my view, the top 3 challenges they face during their ICD-10 implementations are:

  1. Productivity Problems

  2. Training Issues for Medical Coders and Clinical Staff

  3. Financial and Budget Constraints

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