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Meeting Cloud Needs: Automating Out Complexity and Adding Efficiency

Performance management tools help IT services provider Savvis scale to meet cloud of cloud needs

The next edition of the HP Discover Performance podcast series highlights how cloud infrastructure and hosted IT services provider Savvis has been able to automate out complexity and add deep efficiency to its operations.

Using a range of performance, operations orchestration and Business Service Automation (BSA) solutions from HP, Savvis has improved its incident resolution and sped the delivery of new cloud services to its enterprise clients.

To learn more about how they did it, we're joined by Art Sanderson, Senior Manager Enterprise Management Tools at Savvis. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: What are the main drivers in your infrastructure as a service (IaaS) market?

Sanderson: Savvis is recognized as a global IT leader in providing IT as a service (ITaaS) to many of today’s most recognizable enterprise customers around the world. We offer cloud services and hosting infrastructure services to those customers.

Being an IT department of IT departments, or a dynamic service provider, has a lot of unique challenges that you don’t face in every IT shop that you run into. In fact, we have thousands of customers that we have to support with their own IT departments. So our solutions have to be able to scale beyond what you would find in a typical IT organization.

Gardner: And I should think that efficiency is super-important. It's all margin to you, when you can save and do things efficiently?

Better SLAs

Sanderson: Absolutely. There are just the efficiencies alone for operational cost, as well as the value that we provide to our customers, being able to provide better service-level agreements (SLAs), so their businesses are up and running and available to them to service their own customers. There are definitely some economies of scale there.

Our premier services are our Symphony cloud offerings, our Symphony VPDC, Symphony Open and Dedicated cloud, as well as Symphony Database. All, in some form or fashion in various degrees, use the BSA tools on the back end to do their own offerings, and their own automations that we offer our customers.

Gardner: Tell me what you've done in terms of management for better automation, orchestration, and then, how those benefits get passed on.

Sanderson: Sure. We've adopted the HP BSA set of tools as our automation platform and we’ve used that in a number of different ways and areas within Savvis. It's been quite a journey. We’ve been using the tools for approximately three to four years now.

We started out with some of our operational uses, and they've matured to the point now where a lot of our automation-type monitoring is solved by automation rather than by our operational staff.

There is definitely labor saving there, as well as time savings in mean time to resolution values that we’re adding to our customers. That's just one of the benefits that we’re seeing from the automation tools, not to mention the fact that we build a lot of our own key product offerings for the marketplace that we service, using the BSA offerings on the back end as well.

Gardner: How do you measure performance benefits? Is there a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) or some benchmarks?

In just this first quarter of 2012 alone, we recognized somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000 in labor savings.

Sanderson: From an operational perspective, we do monitor the number of automations that we run that we can capture from the operational side of the house. For example, on a typical day we run anywhere from 10,000-20,000 types of automations through our systems, and that would actually add value back to the business from a labor-savings perspective.

In just this first quarter of 2012 alone, we recognized somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000 in labor savings just from the automations from an operational perspective. Again, it's hard to quantify the value of adding to the business side, because those are solutions that we’re offering to the market space that are generating new value back to the organization as a whole.

Mature process

From the people and process side, we didn’t start out necessarily doing it the right way from the operations side of the house. But we have matured the process to where we're now delivering solutions in a much more rapid fashion. The business is driving the priorities from an operational perspective as far as what we’re spending our time on.

Then, we can typically turn around automations in a very short time. In some cases, we’ve built frameworks using these tools where we can turn around an automation that used to take two to three weeks. Now, it can take less than an hour to turn around that same automation.

So we’ve gotten really smart at what we’re doing with the tools, not just building something net new every time, but also making the tools more reusable themselves.

From the value to the organization, we’ve also had many groups within the product engineering side of the house take on and learn tools like HP Operations Orchestration (HPOO) and HP Service Activator (HPSA), and leverage their own domain knowledge as network engineers or storage engineers to build net new solutions that we then turn around and offer to our customers.

That eliminates a lot of the business analyst type of work and things like that that would typically go into the normal systems development lifecycle (SDLC)-type process that you would see. We’re able to cut the time to market for the offerings that we’re producing for our customers.

It does make us much more agile and responsive to the needs of our customers and the industry.

It does make us much more agile and responsive to the needs of our customers and the industry.

Gardner: How large is Savvis?

Sanderson: Today, we have about 25,000 servers under management, spread across 50 data centers worldwide, and just to give you an idea, we have approximately 9,000-10,000 automations on a typical day running through HPOO.

As far as the scale and break down of the servers, two-thirds of our servers today are virtualized, and either through the cloud or actual traditional orders that customers are placing. So, we’re seeing a lot of growth in the virtual machines (VMs) and the cloud space. This is where things are going for our organization as well as the industry.

Self healing

Our self-healing infrastructure is where we’ve actually matured our process and recognized the reusability of using a meta-model to drive our HPOO flows that we’re writing. We've taken those patterns that we’ve identified and have been able to build a meta-model that we now have built a user interface in front of.

If somebody wants a new request, they can go in and request that from us, and then we can, within a matter of minutes, produce the data through the user interface and publish a new flow, without ever having to write new operations orchestrations flows.

Gardner: Tell me a little bit about what your future plans to improve both innovation and productivity?

Sanderson: Obviously, the reason we come to conferences like HP Discover is to learn about where HP is going, so we can make sure that we're in alignment, both from our business needs, as well as where the products are going that we use to drive our own solution.

It's critical that we're able to maintain an upgrade path and we're able to support our business. We've already started to plan, based on what we see coming down the path from HP's future infrastructure and even dedicated infrastructure as our business continues to grow. For example, for the Symphony products that we were referring to earlier, we have to break off more-and-more dedicated infrastructure to the scale and capacity that they’re growing.

We would have never have anticipated, when we started a few years ago, that a customer would have come to us to say that we want to order 400 VMs or we want to order 1,000 VMs, but customers are coming us today doing that. That's the kind of scale that we’re seeing, even just a year into the offerings that we’re providing to the marketplace.

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More Stories By Dana Gardner

At Interarbor Solutions, we create the analysis and in-depth podcasts on enterprise software and cloud trends that help fuel the social media revolution. As a veteran IT analyst, Dana Gardner moderates discussions and interviews get to the meat of the hottest technology topics. We define and forecast the business productivity effects of enterprise infrastructure, SOA and cloud advances. Our social media vehicles become conversational platforms, powerfully distributed via the BriefingsDirect Network of online media partners like ZDNet and IT-Director.com. As founder and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, Dana Gardner created BriefingsDirect to give online readers and listeners in-depth and direct access to the brightest thought leaders on IT. Our twice-monthly BriefingsDirect Analyst Insights Edition podcasts examine the latest IT news with a panel of analysts and guests. Our sponsored discussions provide a unique, deep-dive focus on specific industry problems and the latest solutions. This podcast equivalent of an analyst briefing session -- made available as a podcast/transcript/blog to any interested viewer and search engine seeker -- breaks the mold on closed knowledge. These informational podcasts jump-start conversational evangelism, drive traffic to lead generation campaigns, and produce strong SEO returns. Interarbor Solutions provides fresh and creative thinking on IT, SOA, cloud and social media strategies based on the power of thoughtful content, made freely and easily available to proactive seekers of insights and information. As a result, marketers and branding professionals can communicate inexpensively with self-qualifiying readers/listeners in discreet market segments. BriefingsDirect podcasts hosted by Dana Gardner: Full turnkey planning, moderatiing, producing, hosting, and distribution via blogs and IT media partners of essential IT knowledge and understanding.

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