Costs are everything in the social housing industry, so expansion is often a challenge. As one of the one of the top 10 housing and care organisations in the UK, Midland Heart is no exception.It provides and maintains homes for more than 70,000 people, as well as owning and managing over 32,000 homes across 54 local authority areas, investing in excess of £100m a year in local neighbourhoods.
Despite a tough climate, Midland Heart has already expanded substantially, but it had ambitious plans to grow further. However, its IT systems - comprising IBM x3690x5 and x3650M2 servers, acting as VMware infrastructure hosts and a platform for Citrix VDI deployment - were not giving it the flexibility and scalability it needed.
"We were winning contracts in the care and support division across the midlands," Steve Elliot, ICT infrastructure manager at Midland Heart, explains. "More sites were opening so there were more people and an increased demand for desktop systems."
Midland Heart is a partly Government-funded, not for profit organisation. Therefore the solution needed to represent the best value for money and offer an easy way for it to continue to scale.
As a leader in delivering IBM solutions to the UK market, APSU was called upon for infrastructure optimisation, which involved deploying a new agile and flexible service delivery platform.
The SolutionAPSU assisted Midland Heart with the deployment of an IBM Enterprise Flex System and additional IBM V7000 Storwise storage. The solution has improved IT efficiency and lowered costs, while increasing the flexibility of service delivery.
Midland Heart had recently asked APSU to provide consultation on a planned network upgrade to deploy 10-gigabit Ethernet (GbE) across its local area network (LAN) with Cisco Nexus. Due to storage pressures created by Midland Heart's successful growth, it was also decided that the existing server and storage area network (SAN) architecture should be upgraded or replaced.
To further improve virtual desktop performance, the IBM Enterprise Flex System was fitted with x240 compute nodes specified with high levels of system resources, deployed with VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus as a standard build. Utilising one of the key functions of V7000, Midland Heart can also externally virtualise and centrally manage high-density IBM Fibre Channel storage.
Elliot says: "We were in a position where we had scaled compute and we needed to scale networking - but it didn't give you enough of everything: you had to buy both network resource and storage resource."
Rather than focus purely on the network aspect of the infrastructure solution plan, APSU recommended a different approach. Instead of looking at the server, storage and network in isolation, APSU designed a solution around an IBM Enterprise Flex with FSM. This allowed Midland Heart to simultaneously scale all three elements of its architecture with one solution that would meet the demands of its business.
Midland Heart also took advantage of its previous smaller investment in IBM Storwise V7000 with an upgrade and purchased a second system with IP replication to improve capability, storage headroom, and management, as well as business continuity.
Efficiency gainsImplementation of the solution has seen Midland Heart re-engineer its budgeting processes: it can now scale its service delivery platform in parallel, without any one area of the infrastructure lagging behind and becoming a bottleneck.
The IBM Flex system therefore allows Midland Heart to scale at a much better cost. "In the business we are in, it's really competitive: cost is a big factor," says Elliot. "Keeping our overheads down is important. It's about controlling the expense of growth - and now we've got predictable costs of scaling. That means we can control the cost if we need to add computer resource."
The solution also increases efficiency substantially: it takes up less floor space and does not require as much power. "If I want my infrastructure hardware hosted, it gives me a way of doing that," says Elliot. "The fact that I have half the infrastructure means it's now half the cost. I can manage it all remotely too."
Over the last three years, Midland Heart has grown by 400 people. The company now has 2,000 employees at multiple sites including Birmingham, Stoke, Coventry and Wolverhampton. "In total there are over 150 sites so centralisation is important," says Elliot. "The Birmingham data centre is integral to us, so we use the new infrastructure there."
There are only six people in Elliot's infrastructure team and 30 in IT, so managing the 2,000-strong Midland Heart staff can be an effort. The solution has helped to relieve some pressure for the team. "It's a lot of effort for a small number of people so this solution helps," Elliot says.
Another key advantage of the solution was standardisation. On top of this, it offers savings in maintenance and the cost of replacing servers at their end of life.
“The introduction of IBM Enterprise FlexSystem is a perfect platform for our infrastructure. Close integration with our hypervisor; our V7000 Storage architecture; networking and overall management means we can scale up and out evenly and predictably. We can now achieve 10Gbp/s where we actually need it: at the server and storage end - with IBM Flex and V7000.” Steve Elliot, ICT Infrastructure Manager
“APSU are our IBM partner of choice - and I’ve worked with them for the 13 years I’ve been at Midland Heart,” Elliot says. “APSU’s unrivalled levels of expertise means I completely trust them with solution design; they are very skilled people.”