Why Cenitex turned to HCI, VMware Cloud on AWS for ‘Program Fortify’

Victorian shared services agency completes transformation program ahead of schedule

Credit: Dreamstime

Last year the building housing one of Cenitex’s customers – Victoria's Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) -- suffered water damage and caught fire, and as a result some 1900 users couldn’t access their PCs and had to work from home or another office.

The Victorian IT shared services agency launched an emergency response effort, setting up new worksites and network links over the course of a fortnight. Having the disaster recovery (DR) capacity to swiftly deal with these kinds of nightmare scenarios is one of the factors that led Cenitex to embark on a major technology transformation program.

Cenitex’s two-year ‘Program Fortify’ was launched in the 2017-18 financial year, and came in the wake of a number of significant outages affecting the operations of its customers, which are exclusively Victorian government departments and agencies.

The program has seen Cenitex lean heavily on VMware Cloud on AWS, Nav Pillai told VMware’s vFORUM event in Sydney. Pillai was tasked with leading the transformation effort.

VMware officially launched VMC on AWS in August 2017 (following the October 2016 announcement of a “strategic partnership” with Amazon Web Services).

VMC gives VMware’s customers a “seamlessly integrated hybrid cloud that delivers the same architecture, capabilities, and operational experience across both their vSphere-based on-premises environment and AWS,” chief executive Pat Gelsinger said at the time.

In August 2018, VMware announced that the offering was available from AWS’s Sydney region.

Cenitex is now relying on a combination of AWS’s cloud infrastructure and its own on-prem hyperconverged infrastructure. The shift to VMC has helped to ensure that Cenitex is equipped with the capabilities to address a dramatic DR scenario of the sort that hit DELWP, Pillai said.

However, beyond that there were two underlying triggers for Cenitex’s transformation program. One was growing technical debt at the agency, while the second was perhaps more profound: A change in the government’s mandate that meant public sector entities were no longer compelled to use Cenitex’s services.

“That made us look at how we deliver services because our customers now have genuinely different options and different service providers to choose from,” Pillai said. “So we wanted to lift our game; we wanted to actually make sure that the services that we provided to our customers are relevant, stable, resilient and cost effective.”

The transformation has touched on every service the organisation provides to its customers, he added. Cenitex serves around 36,000 end users, at around 1400 sites.

“It’s a complex piece of work where we said we need to change the business operating model,” Pillai said. The result is a shift away from a large annual capital investment to an opex, consumption-based model, with the ability to swiftly respond to changing customer needs through cloud services.

The shift to cloud delivers an ability to scale during periods of surging demand; for example, if agencies need to help address the impact of natural disasters such as bushfires or if it’s faced with a DR situation. Traditionally it was difficult to justify multimillion-dollar capital expenditure “just in case,” Pillai noted.

The $30 transformation program had four key streams, according to Cenitex: Digital Workplace, Software Defined Data Centre (SDDC), Software Defined Network (SDN) and Smart Internet Gateway.

Over the last four months, Cenitex has completed the cut-over to the new setup. In fact, the program has been delivered ahead of schedule, Pillai said. The finish date was expected to be the end of December. “I’m closing the program in a couple of weeks’ time,” he told a media briefing at vFORUM.

“I am actually happy to declare victory because we have completely transformed our data centre network” from a monolithic model to a “distributed model,” working with VMware, Cisco and a number of other partners, he said.

“We have migrated 2200 on-prem workloads from old to new without any customer impact; we have migrated all of our 36,500 [users] to cloud-based security, so no matter where they are they can actually access the Internet and cloud-based services securely, smartly.”

The program also included shifting about 500 terabytes of government data.

The shift to cloud services means that a new environment can be set up in two or three hours when necessary. In addition to using AWS’s Sydney region, the agency employs a range of Microsoft Azure services.

The transformation included moving from a legacy three-tier architecture to hyperconverged infrastructure, Pillai said. Between HCI and cloud services, the agency massively consolidated its on-prem infrastructure, he told Computerworld.

“Consolidation alone is 80 per cent,” he said. “So we went down from a 20-rack footprint to a four-rack footprint.”

The future of the agency’s on-prem infrastructure depends largely on the transformation of its public sector customers, Pillai said.

“It’s not our application, it’s not our data; it’s our customers’. We simply give them a space and infrastructure. We went and spoke to them and everyone said ‘Yeah, we want to go the cloud.’ And the next question is, ‘Okay so can you give me a date when you’re actually finishing that journey so I can actually stop investing in the data centre?’”

The answer, unsurprisingly, was no, he said.

“We are already seeing a lot of consolidation happening in the existing data centre footprint,” he said. “And the more we actually migrate this workload to cloud, and the more our customers transform their applications into the cloud, the footprint will start to shrink.”

Some of the applications relying on the on-prem hardware are those that aren’t necessarily suited to a cloud migration, he explained, either because of the data involved or the software itself.

For example, there are still around 500 IBM Lotus Notes Domino applications being used by Centiex’s customers, and in many cases moving to a new application is not a top priority.

“In five years’ time will we have a data centre? Possibly yes, but the footprint will dramatically shrink,” Pillai told Computerworld.

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