Sunday, 13 September 2020 23:39

NetApp enables TasNetworks IT team as true business partner


Energy provider TasNetworks arose out of the merger of Transend Networks and Aurora Energy’s electricity distribution business. The combined business inherited a myriad of duplicated IT platforms, data centres and applications. Salvation came in the form of NetApp's intelligent storage.

Both foundation businesses had communications divisions; Transend’s had risen out of Hydro Comms, who provided all the communications between power stations and substations and evolved to include fibre. Meanwhile, Aurora too saw the market for good connectivity and used fibre while rolling out substation SCADA control systems, putting extra capacity into buildings. Aurora also saw the value in leasing out its unused data centre capacity for co-location and other hosting options.
It's easy to see why the two companies were a good fit, and while originating out of energy, they now service offices, schools and many other different businesses.
Yet the merger brought two or more of everything - payrolls, financial applications, storage array manufacturers, compute and SCADA stacks, and on and on.
Liam Cole is the Team Leader, IT Commercial Operations and with Tristan Roberts, Team Leader, Infrastructure, the pair was handed the job of pulling together disparate systems, consolidating what could be consolidated to achieve economies of scale, and determining the architecture to go forward with.

For Roberts, the key was the storage platform. Get this unified, get this right, and you can devote your energies into solving business problems instead of battling limited disk space, conflicting maintenance windows, access controls, moving data from here to there, and a raft of other concerns.
From day one the combined company had three different storage vendors, he explained. Transend had a mature product but it would not scale to meet the needs of the new, larger entity, while Aurora was using an older NetApp product, and had already begun kicking off a generational shift prior to the merge.
Roberts liked what he saw with NetApp and consolidated the group onto the platform as it was, transforming the environment and scaling it as needed. Yet, even so, while roughly right-sized it was still an aged platform.
Fortunately, the organisation was also working to bring together all its financials into SAP, and the project team leveraged this to bring its NetApp storage to the current NetApp FlexPod generation including NetApp All-Flash storage arrays in a MetroCluster, and Cisco UCS compute and networking.
"The SAP deployment was the trigger to uplift the environment," Cole explained. "Since that day we've never had a problem from the perspective of what application we could throw at our storage. Our focus shifted from application-level redundancy to 'go spin up any VM you like and Tristan's team will take care of the rest'."
In fact, TasNetworks has not had to take its environment offline, even once, since adopting FlexPod.
"FlexPod has given us flexibility in adding load to it and new systems, handling cybersecurity, catering for metadata growth and delivering sub-millisecond latency. Our storage platform is totally predictable," Roberts said.
While years ago 'storage' might have been unkindly termed 'snorage' the TasNetworks team prove NetApp's modern feature set truly bring delight to customers.
"A brilliant thing is NetApp's snapshot technology," Roberts said. "A lot of people are working on the SAP project with tight schedules to deliver features. Mistakes happen but we didn't want people unable to work. We could pull entire SAP landscapes back within an hour, easily, and get them going. We had to do this a couple of times and it paid off no-end. We surprised people with our speed."
"We saw it time and time again with new application deployments," he said. "It was so quick for us to bring things back. We stood up a clone of the snapshot, spun up a new VM, checked this is the one they wanted, put it back in normal storage and off they could go. It was so easy anyone in our team is able to do it."
The latter point is significant; Roberts' team consists of 23 people who are across a range of infrastructure specialities but yet anyone whether senior or junior is able to handle NetApp. This includes such normally risky events like firmware changes, with the organisation having complete trust in the platform's robustness and ease of use.
Another characteristic the team enjoyed is the commitment NetApp makes to its roadmap, with features delivered when promised. An example is data compaction, which arrived and aided the TasNetworks team in managing disk footprint and reducing the need to purchase more storage while seeing no loss in performance.
Looking to the future the business wants to continue its SAP journey into data-driven analytics. Already, the technology team knows it has everything needed from a hardware perspective with synchronised flash, deduplicated compression, a reliable and scalable storage platform and in general the capability and capacity to handle whatever the company wants, no matter how grand the vision.
Dhruv Dhumatkar, Director of Solutions Engineering, NetApp Australia and New Zealand said, "what we see across the market is companies moving to do things digitally and TasNetworks is a great customer story where NetApp's simple and scalable deployment can turn the team from administration to new innovation projects."
"It shows how an IT centre can be a true service provider and a cloud in your own network."

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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