Modern Infrastructures Spur Business Growth

By Tony Kontzer Print this article Print

The cloud, big data and other technologies are pushing the limits of aging IT infrastructures, forcing companies to look to next-generation systems and design.

By Tony Kontzer

Four years ago, facing a sprawling infrastructure that promised to hamper plans to host a cloud-based platform for the securities market, NYSE Euronext—operator of the venerable New York Stock Exchange, as well as exchanges in Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, London and Paris—embarked on an ambitious modernization effort.

In scrapping its burgeoning assortment of data centers in exchange for two gleaming new facilities (one in New Jersey and the other outside of London), New York City-based NYSE Euronext sought not only to consolidate the data centers that had resulted primarily from a series of acquisitions, but also to establish the backbone for an ambitious cloud environment it was planning to build for all the participants in the capital markets.

Given the dual missions of enabling global securities transactions and supporting a private cloud for an entire industry, the data centers had to be bullet-proof. Security and reliability were tantamount design concerns, hence they were built with exoskeleton walls that can withstand gail-force winds, as well as a redundant power supply.

Just as important was ensuring that the new infrastructure was fair and impartial to all the organizations that would depend on it. To that end, every cable connecting a cabinet to the network core was of an identical length, ensuring consistent speed, performance and latency.

"Nobody gets an advantage," says Feargal O'Sullivan, global head of alliances for NYSE Technologies, the division of NYSE Euronext that managed the data center project and spearheaded its cloud-based Capital Markets Community Platform. "You can write a better algorithm or buy a different computer, but it will be an equal distance between your machine and the heart of the infrastructure."

The need to simplify increasingly complex and inefficient infrastructures and the opportunity afforded by cloud computing are just two of the many reasons large numbers of companies are investing in next-generation infrastructure components. Other objectives that are causing companies to rethink their infrastructures include green initiatives, governance efforts and, more recently, the desire to capitalize on big data. Often, various factors are at play within the same company.

Virtualization and Modernization

For NYSE Euronext, it was a combination of the need to consolidate its infrastructure and the opportunity presented by the cloud. At facilities management firm ABM, also based in New York City, the need to become more nimble and responsive as a business drove the infrastructure virtualization and modernization effort it's still completing.

Until 2009, the $4.2 billion-a-year company relied on an infrastructure that was largely outsourced to a third-party provider, and the related bureaucracy prevented new services from being rolled out fast enough. The challenges became especially clear when ABM overhauled some of its critical applications, including upgrading its ERP system and rolling out a new business intelligence (BI) platform.

"We learned that the infrastructure the business was running on was causing some hindrances," recalls Andre Garcia, assistant vice president of global infrastructure services. "It slowed down the adoption of technologies that would improve operations and customer service."

To solve the problem, ABM opted to bring everything in house, into what would be a newly virtualized environment running on a reconfigured 10Gb network with new switches and a storage area network. The company went from zero to 80 percent virtualized in less than two years, and is now approaching 100 percent, while supporting 40 percent more applications on less than one-fourth of the physical servers, Garcia says.

In particular, the virtualization of the SQL server database hosting BI content reduced the time required for the related nightly ETL (extract, transform, load) process to less than three hours, down from as long as six hours previously. That, says Garcia, has enabled the company to consider mid-day refreshes of BI data and has simplified the logistics of managing those after-hours changes.

Such efficiency gains have also enabled the company to more readily accommodate a growth spurt that has seen its employee ranks swell from fewer than 70,000 in 2006 to more than 110,000 today.

ABM's virtualization effort has essentially resulted in a fully functioning private cloud that Garcia calls "an organic offshoot of drinking the virtualization Kool-aid." Now, with the private cloud nearly complete, and more business units using public cloud resources as well, an evolution to a hybrid cloud is next up.

But what really gets Garcia excited about the potential of ABM's new infrastructure is the promise of putting big data to use. While the company hasn't yet formulated a big data strategy, Garcia is planting the seeds for big data initiatives, pointing out that ABM could gain such insights as how the rise and fall of the economy affects profit and revenue, how crime statistics correlate to sales of security services, or how weather patterns might affect the demand for cleaning services.

"I'm a big data advocate," says Garcia. "I see its value."

This article was originally published on 2012-12-04
Tony has been writing about the intersection of technology and business for more than 20 years and currently freelances from the Grass Valley, Calif., home where he and his wife are raising their two boys. A 1988 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and regular contributor to Baseline since 2007, Tony's somewhat infrequent Twitter posts can be found at http://twitter.com/tkontzer.
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