Case Study: First National Technology Services
Managed Service Providers (MSP) face an enormous challenge, they have to provide IT services at a cost and quality better than the customers they are trying to attract while fending off competitive pressures from much larger entities like Google, Amazon, Verizon and Microsoft. One pain point for almost every MSP is storage, both providing performance to hosted applications and efficient capacity to the data that they create and store. First National Technology Solutions (FNTS), a MSP based in Omaha Nebraska, chose to add more value from a storage platform to its clients with the selection of EMC’s XtremIO.
As a result of selecting XtremIO, FNTS is able to provide their performance sensitive customers with a storage infrastructure that delivers a sustained 500 microseconds of latency and at peak has never reached more than 1 millisecond of latency. Consistent performance is critical for FNTS as they have no access to their customer’s application code. They can’t fine tune their data center for a given application’s code; instead the environment must be fast enough so that it can deliver high and consistent performance no matter what the state of the underlying application is.
First National Technology Solutions was founded in 1996 to provide hosted and remote managed services to customers from all over the United States. Their key differentiator has been to use best of breed IT technology so their customers would have confidence in the infrastructure that was supporting their applications. Their customers are looking for more than co-location of their IT infrastructures; they are looking for a partner to take over the day-to-day administration of their systems, storage, network and backup infrastructure. This allows FNTS customers the ability to focus their IT personnel on the specific needs of the business including applications and IT strategy.
About The XtremIO Investment
FNTS’ prior storage system, a hybrid system that was 70% flash and performance hard disk drives would typically provide a sustained 5 milliseconds of latency which would result in some of their customers experiencing inconsistent application performance. While the FNTS team could use their staff’s expertise to manage through this, they went looking for a solution that would eliminate the concern and free up their own personnel.
Another requirement for FNTS was meeting their customers’ expectations for high availability and reliability. Their prior storage system was an enterprise class, tier 1 solution, known for its reliability.
The new solution for FNTS was an all-flash array from XtremIO. They implemented their first xBrick right after the product became generally available two years ago. The system has proven to meet both their performance and reliability needs. This system consistently delivers sub millisecond latency and the reliability has been as good as the original hard disk based system.
The ultimate vote of confidence is when a customer purchases more of a solution, which FNTS has done. Because of XtremIO’s scale-out design they have been able to add performance and capacity seamlessly without disrupting operations. Additionally as the environment has scaled it has also become more reliable.
Sticking with their best of breed philosophy, the FNTS team leverages Brocade DCX for the storage network infrastructure and CISCO for the server/compute infrastructure. The combination of CISCO, Brocade and XtremIO has led to a very high performance and extremely reliable environment.
Unlike almost any other business MSPs face pressure to contain costs. Not only does this mean keeping energy and floor space consumption cost to a minimum but it also means keeping staffing under control. They need to have enough staff to keep customers happy but not impact profitability.
With XtremIO, FNTS is able to reduce data center floor space as well as power and cooling costs. The original storage system consumed six data center cabinets vs. less than one cabinet with XtremIO. The XtremIO solution delivers as much or more performance with less latency from its data efficient, all-flash architecture while maintaining a smaller data center footprint. From a staffing perspective FNTS has been able to expand their current storage environment without having to add additional staff. This is thanks in large part to the scale-out nature of the XtremIO solution. Expansion does not mean the addition of another point of management. With XtremIO, FNTS will be able to scale the environment for years and still maintain a single point of management.
As stated earlier, differentiation is a key challenge facing MSPs. Many of these MSPs try to differentiate on price alone but just like a cheap lawyer or a cheap IT service provider it may not always be the best choice. FNTS’ strategy is different. Instead of using the cheapest possible servers and storage systems, common among MSPs, they have built an infrastructure around tier 1 vendor solutions for the same reason that enterprises do. While saving money is important there is nothing more costly than downtime, especially prolonged outages caused by poor support.
A top trepidation of a customer engaging a MSP is what will the application experience be like, especially over time as workloads are added to the infrastructure that were not present beforeMaintaining a consistent performance of hosted applications becomes critical. While savvy MSP staff could manually work around many of these conditions, it is hard to do and very time consuming, which adds to the MSP’s cost. FNTS has chosen to solve the problem with a sledgehammer; XtremIO essentially makes workload variety a non-issue for FNTS.
A MSP selecting an all-flash array to ease customer concerns about application performance is a bold choice and one that has paid off in spades for FNTS. In a highly competitive market they have seen a 40% increase in organic business as well as net new business in each of the past four years. They cite EMC and XtremIO as playing a big role in their success. It allows them to attract new customers without impacting current customers all while reducing data center floor space and power consumption and holding the line on additional staffing. This creates a win-win situation for both FNTS and their customers.