Filling a DR Gap with VMC on AWS

Navigant Consulting, Inc. is a specialized, global professional services firm that helps clients take control of their future. Navigant’s professionals apply deep industry knowledge, substantive technical expertise, and an enterprising approach to help clients build, manage and/or protect their business interests. With a focus on markets and clients facing transformational change and significant regulatory or legal pressures, the Firm primarily serves clients in the healthcare, energy and financial services industries. Across a range of advisory, consulting, outsourcing, and technology/analytics services, Navigant’s practitioners bring sharp insight that pinpoints opportunities and delivers powerful results. More information about Navigant can be found at navigant.com.

The Situation – a DR Gap

Navigant divested one of their major practices – litigation support and e-discovery – and the change impacted their two data centers. Both ran production, and each was a disaster recovery (DR) solution for the other. With one of their data centers in Virginia sold off to the new company as part of the divestiture, all production was moved to their remaining facility in Chicago, leaving a DR solution gap and the company vulnerable to the possibility of lost data.

When we looked to find a VMware Cloud Partner, we wanted a team that knew the Navigant environment. AHEAD vetted the DR solution and helped us architect, prepare, and go forward with that solution.

Steve Machala
Senior Manager of IT, Navigant

The Challenge – Finding a Cost-effective DR Solution

Navigant divested one of their major practices – litigation support and e-discovery – and the change impacted their two data centers. Both ran production, and each was a disaster recovery (DR) solution for the other. With one of their data centers in Virginia sold off to the new company as part of the divestiture, all production was moved to their remaining facility in Chicago, leaving a DR solution gap and the company vulnerable to the possibility of lost data.

With a clear data loss vulnerability looming and contractual obligations to their customers for a quick DR solution, Navigant looked to AHEAD for help in exploring the possibility of migrating their DR function to a public cloud. Among the top concerns were costs, speed, training, and having a single-pane view.

After an extensive cost-analysis of various solutions and cloud platforms, the clear favorite eventually emerged – VMware Cloud on the Amazon Web Services (VMC on AWS) platform. With their IT team already familiar with other VMware products, the VMC on AWS offered quick adoptions and a single pane of management for on-premises functions and DR in the cloud. No VMware conversions going back and forth would be needed.

“Navigant was already using some VMware products, including vSphere Replication and SRM site recovery manager,” says Marshal Radwin, AHEAD Key Solution Architect. “Those are core components of VMware’s DR model. SRM is an orchestration engine designed for automated failover and recovery for virtualized workloads and vSphere environments. vSphere is their storage replication technology. Navigant was using these with their original co-located DR site. These are part of the VMware Cloud ecosystem and made for a natural fit.”

“From our perspective, the VMware Cloud solution used tools that my team was already familiar with,” says Steve Machala, Senior Manager of IT at Navigant. “We already had the knowledge foundation, so I would characterize it as a slight public cloud education shift that would make the solution easy to adopt.”

Proof of Concept (POC) Lays the Groundwork

With an affordable and easily-adoptable solution identified, the AHEAD team began to lay a foundation for DR deployment success that included education and workshops for VMC on AWS for the benefit of the Navigant team. A key phase in the journey was an early POC service engagement that ran for 30 days. During that time, the AHEAD team helped Navigant get started on the actual deployment and configuration, getting familiar with the interface on the VMware Cloud side, and helping them to connect their on-premises environment to the new public cloud.

During testing of the POC, Navigant’s recovery time objective (RTO) requirements were easily met. Although testing is still being finalized for all the use cases, indications point that both RTO and recovery point objectives (RPO) should be all within the company’s limits.

AHEAD’s VMware Cloud on AWS solution provided Navigant with a cost-effective way to:

  • Fill the DR gap from their recent divestiture and meet an aggressive timeline
  • Scale up with their growing business with cloud resources on-demand, whether for testing or real disaster scenarios
  • Have a single pane view and unified management interface for DR in the public cloud
  • Use this as a stepping stone for a more comprehensive migration to a public cloud

Pilot Phase, Use Cases, and Testing Bring it Home

Navigant then engaged AHEAD for phase two with actual production use cases in the pilot environment. This included expanding the number of resources on the VMware Cloud solution to accommodate production workloads.

AHEAD worked with Navigant to make the necessary on-premises configurations to ensure success with the production use cases. Then the AHEAD team helped Navigant go through actual DR test scenarios for their production systems. The use cases were the next significant step in filling the DR gap effectively. Two use cases – their document management and storage system and their database application – were completed successfully. A third use case, their HR management system, focused on financials and human capital data that the company leveraged for internal system, and has been set for final testing.

The VMC on AWS solution also allows Navigant to forecast and budget three years out, a valued capability for the company, and dedicated servers offer access to resources on-demand. For example, if Navigant lost the Chicago data center, they now have the capabilities to spin up 150 virtual machines 24/7. These dedicated resources make disaster recovery worry-free, along with the peace of mind of having added flexibility and scalability.

“One of the positives of VMware Cloud on AWS was the known costs over 3 years. Unlike other public cloud providers whose costs vary with usage and could exponentially spike during a DR event, VMware Cloud on AWS is a fixed cost regardless of whether Navigant needs it or not,” says Chris Lehman, Global IT Director at Navigant. “This also allows us to continue to perform annual DR tests of our applications without the concern for added usage costs.”

With the continued success of Navigant’s new DR solution, the company intends to continue expanding its footprint in VMC on AWS, with the goal of growing the on-premise relationship to include multiple data centers and availability zones across the country.

“The long-term goal is to get out of the infrastructure business,” says Steve Machala. “All those infrastructure tasks, such as deploying hardware and testing, takes an enormous amount of time. We want to be able to work smarter and move everything to the public cloud. This was the first step in that journey.”