As a leading developer of mathematical computing software, this Advizex customer knows computer science well and knows its way around an IT environment. The company’s primary solution is software that helps engineers and scientists more easily analyze data, develop algorithms, and create mathematical models.
The IT team serving the company’s 5,000 employees typically builds its own storage, compute, and server solutions inside the company’s Linux and VMware environment.
“What makes them particularly unique is that they have a lot of intelligent employees, especially in IT. They don’t have typical servers and storage from OEMs; they make their own servers, and their own storage,” said Scott Feffer, Senior Account Executive at Advizex Technologies.
“They feel that they can support themselves better than any outside firm.”
An opportunity to improve through automation
Although having exceptional technical skills in-house, the company saw benefits in turning to Advizex to aid them in a major automation effort.
The company found that the process of patching systems was chewing up a significant amount of their IT resources’ time — which could be better spent on higher-value activities. In addition, with cyberattacks becoming more frequent and sophisticated, the company was struggling to keep up with the volume of zero-day exploits it was seeing.
“Patching servers is a necessary evil. It’s a thing you just must do,” said Joseph Mixon, Advizex Virtualization Practice Architect. “No one likes doing it, and there’s no inherent benefit you see, but for security and compliance reasons everyone must do it.”
In addition to the time spent on manual patching and server updates, the process left the company with limited visibility into its current patch state. That left them with questions: What servers and systems had been patched? Which were current? Which needed updates?
The company decided to automate the process through Ansible. The agentless IT automation engine uses plain English to describe the automation jobs, making it easier to use. They selected Advizex to aid in their deployment, who was able to bring to bear years of automation experience and expertise, helping the company take the greatest advantage of the Ansible platform.
While the company had investigated another partner that offered a cheaper proposal, they selected Advizex because its proposal and methodology better provided what it needed. They were familiar with the quality of work to expect from Advizex, having worked together previously.
Added value through partnership with Advizex
For simple environments, Ansible is simple to deploy and configure, but an enterprise environment as complex as the company’s required more attention. For example, certain servers being monitored would need to not be monitored during patching to prevent unnecessary alerts on restart. In addition, should something go wrong, what process should take place? Do you restore from backup? Do you alert a specific IT resource?
Advizex was able to configure the Ansible deployment to handle those and more situational questions, helping increase the adoption of the new tool.
“We were able to engineer in a lot of really cool logic to handle a myriad of circumstances, to make it really robust,” said Mixon. “Because automation is great, but if you don’t make it robust it doesn’t get trusted, and then it doesn’t get used.”
Taking a collaborative approach
The new Ansible deployment was a very hands-on, shoulder-to-shoulder approach between Advizex and customer teams, with both working on code and sharing best practices and methodologies. The dual perspectives helped leave no stone unturned.
The company’s IT team knew it wanted to deploy Ansible to solve its automation needs — which mirrored Advizex own recommendations — but had considered whether to layer another tool atop Ansible to handle scheduling, reporting, and other functions. In the end, with Advizex’s help, they were able to accomplish their automation goals without an additional solution.
The implementation took between two and three months and went smoothly and generally snag-free. “It would have gone a little faster but had to accommodate vacation schedules,” Feffer noted. He attributes this speedy adoption to the amount of hard work done prior to the beginning of the job, detailing the environment, expectations, and unique needs.
The takeaways were positive for both companies, with the customer receiving training to shore up their existing Ansible skillset and Advizex specialists learning from the sophisticated environment and its requirements.
“I love it, because I get to see more perspectives,” Mixon said of the highly collaborative partnership. “One of the values of being a consultant is that we get to bring our curated list of best practices for every technology we work with into every engagement we go to.
“So, I’ve seen 100 ways you can do Ansible, and 100 ways you shouldn’t. The privilege of seeing multiple enterprise environments and the collective knowledge from that is helpful. So, for me, this was an opportunity to build yet another Ansible environment, and one with some incredibly smart .”