Nicknamed the Granite City after the quarries and stone-finishing businesses that gave it its early economic boost, St. Cloud is the 10th largest city in Minnesota with a population of more 66,000 people. Located where the Mississippi and Sauk rivers meet, the city of St. Cloud developed from three distinct local communities that were established by settlers in the early 1850s and incorporated in 1856.
Today, the mission of the City of St. Cloud is to provide high quality public services for its residents in a cost-effective, responsive, innovative and professional manner given the changing needs and resources available. With core values that include excellence and quality in the delivery of services, fiscal responsibility, ethics and integrity, and visionary leadership and planning, St. Cloud employs an IT team consisting of a director, administrator, 9 full-time programmers and technicians, and 8 part-time employees to handle the city’s mission-critical computing infrastructure.
St. Cloud deployed a series of Dell servers with VMware VSXi and X-IO storage to handle services used by its nearly 40 departments for tasks throughout the city. As they began work on a three-year project launching a new ERP solution, which handles core finance, HR, payroll, utility billing and community development applications, IT staff decided that rather than purchasing another SAN with another set of hosts to manage as part of a dedicated environment for the SunGard ONESolution, they would try to pilot a project with Scale Computing.
Working with reseller CDW-G and Scale, St. Cloud began work to see if the new ERP solution would work as needed. If the test failed, the City decided they would move on with its existing storage setup. After a one-hour demonstration, St. Cloud IT staff learned everything they needed to know to run the system before beginning operations and deploying servers on it.
Scale Computing’s HC3 platform brings storage, servers, virtualization and management together in a single, comprehensive system. With no virtualization software to license and no external storage to buy, HC3 products lower out-of-pocket costs and radically simplify the infrastructure needed to keep applications running. HC3 products make the deployment and management of a highly available and scalable infrastructure as easy to manage as a single server.
“With X-IO, we actually have to partition off up to 2TB at a time to storage, which becomes a datastore, then we have to add that datastore onto VMware ESXi, then when we deploy a virtual server, we have to select which datastore we want. So we have to sit there and build all this stuff before we can even deploy the servers,” said Andrew Neussendorfer, IT Programmer and Technician, City of St. Cloud. “With Scale, we spin up the servers and storage space is allocated automatically and spread across the nodes.
“In the VMware environment and putting VMware tools on it – that’s a cost as well as a hassle – we have to upgrade constantly. Every time they come out with patches, then we have to run updates on all the servers, which at times actually brings them offline requiring restarts when you upgrade the tools. Scale saves us a tremendous amount of time.”
In addition to the ease of use and operation, and a price point that Neussendorfer estimated at less than 15 percent of a comparable X-IO SAN even before VMware licensing fees, Scale’s HC3 solution provides the reliability and performance needed to support the City of St. Cloud’s mission-critical infrastructure.
Recently, one of its X-IO ISE management packs entered a degraded state at 3 a.m. on a Saturday. In replacing the ISE pack, the entire SAN was completely down for 10 minutes. After restoring operations, the city’s IT staff then had to spin up an entire new set of datastores and migrate it to all of the servers. In doing that, they noticed they had suffered a severe performance hit on its infrastructure because IO operations were impacted by the failed hardware.
“When we went to replace the X-IO ISE pack, it brought our SAN down completely,” said Neussendorfer. “We can’t afford to lose our storage resources because we’re down for a good 10 minutes. With Scale Computing, we’re basically getting less hardware but we’re getting the power we need with the hardware to allow us to do what we need to do. But at the same time, we’re not relying on different components of the hardware. Because with Scale, if a drive fails, we can just hot swap it out.”
Neussendorfer said he appreciates the intuitive web-based administration that shows each virtual server running on each node in the stack. This allows easy migration from one node to another, as well as the ability to perform seamless upgrades with no downtime. He is able to click on an icon in the management console to make the changes wanted and walk away.
After successfully passing the ERP pilot project, the City of St. Cloud purchased a second Scale “datacenter in a box” and has begun to migrate over servers from its existing SAN and VMware environment. A third unit will be purchased in the near future for use at the city’s police department.