Nestled on 500 acres along the spring-fed Guadalupe River, Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly is located in the heart of the beautiful Hill Country in Hunt, Texas. The limestone hills and valleys were formed over millennia by the action of water on the fossil-filled rock. Archeological evidence of human inhabitants dates back about 6,000 years, when nomadic tribes came together in the river valley to harvest local vegetation. Open to the public for spiritual retreats, conferences, summer and day camps, weddings, reunions, group meetings, corporate retreats, vacation getaways and individual reservations, visitors are able to enjoy an overnight stay with conference center facilities, hotel rooms, unique historical housing and group lodging.
Terraformed over the course of millennia, the Edwards Plateau region in South Central Texas is geologically, archaeologically, and ecologically significant. It was not until the 20th century that oil magnate and engineer Daniel J. Moran acquired 6800 acres and turned “Mo-Ranch” into a self-sustaining community. Later, his widow sold the land to the Presbyterian Synod of Texas, who returned the majority to the state to preserve its wildlife and natural ecosystem. Today, the nonprofit Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly maintains a 500-acre parcel along the Guadalupe River as a haven for spiritual retreats, conferences, summer and day camps, weddings, corporate events, vacation getaways, outdoor sports and recreation.
Mo-Ranch relies on critical systems for reservations and sales, as well as familiar line-of-business applications, all of which are maintained singlehandedly – on a nonprofit’s budget – by “jack-of-all-trades” Kent Smith, Manager of Information System Services. Kent, who has only been on the job about a year, inherited many challenges including, but not limited to, aging servers running near end-of-life operating systems, consumer-level hardware, critical applications in desperate need of updating, and a single T-1 line supporting around 80 PCs. In general, a piecemeal infrastructure well below industry standards. Kent struggled to keep everything afloat, with too-frequent calls to tech support.
“We do a lot of booking and reservations online. Currently, the system is email dependent and any downtime with our Exchange server would really hurt us,” he said. “Like most non-profit organizations, we operate on a limited budget and a small but efficient workforce. Any disruptions to key software would be highly detrimental to productivity and profits. If our hospitality management software were to go down, our ability to book rooms or register clients for conferences would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. We would all be in a world of hurt without access to our accounting software. Everyone wants to be paid on time.” Perhaps most worrisome of all, a disaster recovery plan that consisted primarily of a prayer that nothing catastrophic happens. “Local backups initiated from obsolete software and written to obsolete hardware is not very ‘Disaster Proof’.
Kent knew the deficient infrastructure was a problem that needed to be tackled before any other issues could be cleaned up. Mo-Ranch considered VMware, but the more Kent researched, the more he realized its costs would be well out of reach considering their limited budget, and that the learning curve would be too steep. Hyper-V was dismissed for requiring more hands-on management time than an IT department of one could spare, for negligible monetary savings. This is when Kent discovered a webinar about Scale Computing’s HC3 hyperconverged platform that 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.
When speaking with Scale’s senior account executive Blake Dickmeyer and other company representatives, Kent felt confident about Scale Computing’s understanding of midsized users. “Everyone I’ve talked to has a small-town, friendly personality. They’re just really good people, who are aware of the issues that not-for-profits and small to medium-sized businesses encounter. I’m talking to people who understand that my issues aren’t the same as those of large businesses.”
Mo-Ranch set up a three node HC2000 system, a mid-level HC3 offering that provides high availability, scalability, and simplicity with more than seven terabytes of capacity each. This configuration easily supports six VMs with plenty of breathing room.
One of the first questions Kent asked when he joined Mo-Ranch was what plans were in place for major disaster recovery – but there were none. HC3’s built-in remote DR, automated snapshots, and continuous VM-level replication was a major selling point.
An otherwise “totally painless” installation and migration was disrupted by Mo-Ranch’s accounting program, which had to be upgraded before moving to HC3. Kent also had to update their employee time-clock program, which had previously only been accessible via a single desktop computer. However, Kent points out that his ability to upgrade necessary applications is something of a luxury.
“We can finally work on this, because we don’t have to worry so much about the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s made everything ‘do-able’ for me. It’s so much easier and faster to spin a server up and get it going. Now I can even test updates before putting them into production.”
Kent has been impressed with the uptime and reliability of the Scale cluster. “The only downtime I’ve had was when setting up a second switch for redundancy in the backplane. The cluster has been up 24×7 ever since. Trial and error doesn’t work well when you’re dealing with servers, so support is crucial and Scale Computing’s team is truly awesome.”
According to Kent’s calculations, HC3 will pay for itself after three years of trouble-free operation, and in five years, Mo-Ranch will see a return of thousands of dollars by avoiding routine server refreshes, software licensing, and upgrades.
Like the Texas Hill Country terrain and vegetation itself, most things evolve very slowly. Kent says, “Not so with Mo-Ranch. From a technological standpoint, thanks to Scale, we started in the Stone Age and passed straight into the Virtual Age, practically overnight.” The Executive team and staff are impressed with the rapid technological advances I’ve implemented, due to Scale Computing.”