Quadris wins TePAS tender to supply Coastal Housing with a high-performance IT infrastructure with ingenious Disaster Avoidance solution

Coastal Housing was established in 2008 following a merger between Swansea Housing Association and Dewi Sant Housing Association.Its objective was to regenerate older stock and build new quality, affordable homes that would help improve the local community. 

Today, Coastal Housing manages more than 6,000 properties for rent and for sale. It has become one of the leading experts in supporting older people who require adapted homes and people who need help managing their tenancy. 

To meet the challenges of sustainable growth, Coastal Housing has also developed a robust commercial portfolio that mirrors and supports the organisation’s ethos and values. As a result, Coastal Housing not only takes great pride in the quality of the homes it offers, but also in the regeneration of the areas in which it operates. 

Coastal Housing’s continuing goal is to provide homes and services that enable tenants to thrive and the communities they serve to prosper, by growing their social business and extending the reach of homes and services. 

THE CHALLENGE. 

After years of hosting its IT infrastructure with a third-party provider, Coastal Housing was becoming increasingly frustrated that it had no direct control over how its systems were configured. If the internal IT team required additional CPUs, more memory, or simply to expand a disk, their hands were tied. 

Furthermore, the existing setup had no Disaster Recovery (DR) capability. Coastal Housing was concerned about the complexities of introducing DR, especially with regard to managing, monitoring, testing, and documenting the entire DR process. 

Another area of concern was the poor performance of its Virtual Desktops (VDI). Like many other organisations the lockdown had resulted in the requirement for staff to work from home and they needed to greatly improve their performance, so that they could take full advantage of collaboration and videoconferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  

It was the development of a digital vision that laid bare the limitations of its existing infrastructure. Coastal Housing wanted to use technology to support and enable its aims and priorities, by enhancing services, communications, and all interaction with both customers and businesses across the communities in which it works.

Coastal Housing recognised that it would be impossible to achieve this vision with its existing IT systems. It was time to undertake a technology transformation programme that would enable it to regain control of its infrastructure and achieve its vision. 

The board of directors were seeking a single supplier who could design, deploy, migrate, and support a new high-performance technology infrastructure, that would meet its objectives, not just for the present, but for the next 5-7 years.

They immediately set about looking for the solution by putting out a tender on the Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) RM6068 Technology Products and Associated Services (TePAS) framework.

After careful consideration, they selected Quadris to map out a new future.

THE SOLUTION. 

1. Designing and building the brand-new high-performance IT infrastructure. 

With a very defined set of objectives, we set about providing a solution that would answer Coastal Housing’s requirements not just for today, but for the next 5-7 years.

The infrastructure solution Quadris has developed is comprised of a stretched cluster running from 2 different datacentres. Not only does this configuration offer geographic resilience, it also forms part of our full Disaster Avoidance solution.

To provide fast and resilient connectivity between the datacentres, 2 dedicated 10Gbps connections will provide 20Gbps of layer 2 bandwidth. Should one of these links go down, the failover will still provide 10Gbps of connectivity. This is enough to ensure that the event of a disaster, the 2 sites remain connected and guarantee the continuing availability of all systems.

A 10 node, All-Flash, GPU enabled Dell EMC VxRail stretched cluster makes up the state-of-the-art hyper-converged cluster. This provides a mix of server infrastructure and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) environments, both split across the two datacentre locations in an ‘Active-Active’ configuration. Should one location go down, all Virtual Machines (VMs) are automatically recovered to the second location. 

This ingenious solution offers Disaster Avoidance as opposed to Disaster Recovery. If one site were to fail, then all VMs, external services, internet circuits, and other network components will automatically recover at the second site. This recovery would occur in a matter of seconds and with no human interaction required whatsoever. The VMs that were running on the failed site would continue to run as normal until the site comes back online again, then they would automatically rebalance across the 2 sites. 

An All-Flash cluster, it offers an impressive 23 Terabytes of All-Flash storage which delivers all the capacity that Coastal Housingdemanded from their new infrastructure.

2. The VDI environment.

To support Coastal Housing’s desire to provide its remote workforce with the best possible experience when using Microsoft Teams and Zoom, we have designed a VDI environment with all machines backed by GPU processing to deliver remote video playback without compromise, powered by VMware Horizon an ultra-modern platform for the secure delivery of the virtual desktops and apps.  

Utilising trusted VMware technology, VMware Horizon has been developed to efficiently deploy and scale from a single point with fast provisioning, automation, and simplified management. The result is the best possible digital workspace experience for all end users and will allow staff to access apps and services no matter where they are working. 

So that access will be load balanced and highly available across both datacentres, we will employ the Application Delivery Controller Citrix ADC (formerly NetScaler ADC). Furthermore, in terms of profile data for VMware Horizon and to increase the performance of logons we will implement FSLogixThis next-generation application provisioning platform will reduce the amount of hardware, time, and effort required to support virtual desktops. 

3. Office 365.

In order to facilitate flexible working practices, Coastal Housing wanted to move to Office 365, the cloud-based, subscription version of Microsoft’s productivity suite Microsoft Office

Whereas the previous infrastructure didn’t have the capacity to support its full functionality, the new solution will allow the entire workforce to reap the many benefits of Office 365, including the ability to access files from anywhere, secure cloud storage, automatic upgrades, business continuity, and centralised collaboration. 

We were also able to advise Coastal Housing on how to roll out Office 365 onto the VMware Horizon VDI environment to ensure the very latest business applications such as Word, PowerPoint, Outlookand OneNote are available on all VDI machines. 

4. Networking. 

With networking in mind, we will employ Nexus Switches, the market leader with a track record of proven reliability. They provide a fast and dependable switching infrastructure that delivers the performance required for the virtualised environment in next-generation datacentres. 

Again, they will be implemented in a highly available configuration at both sites, so if an entire site is lost the gateways will automatically failover from one site to the other. In addition, the switches will be installed in pairs and configured in such a way that if one switch were to fail connectivity will be maintained, once again ensuring maximum uptime. 

5. GPU enabled.  

With the previous infrastructure, users were experiencing very poor performance when it came to using Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, and more recently with the increased requirement for videoconferencing. 

As a result, Coastal Housing was keen to have Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) enabled nodes for its new VDI environment. With this in mind, we recommended that this cluster be equipped with no less than 16 Nvidia GPU cards across 8 nodes, giving each VDI its very own dedicated graphics resource.

6. Security.

To deal with the ever-increasing rise and complexity of cyber threats both datacentres will be fully protected using a Next Generation Firewall. 

This high-speed, multi-core technology is coupled with Reassembly-Free Deep Packet Inspection (RFDPI) capabilities to accurately decrypt and validate large volumes of traffic at super-fast speeds. This is a true next generation solution that will ensure the networks always remain secure and uncompromised with near zero latency. 

7. Backup and Recovery. 

For the enterprise-grade protection and recovery of all VMs, databases, applications, endpoints, and files we recommended Commvault, the industry leader. 

Commvault manages backed-up data and workloads efficiently and securely, both on-prem and in the public cloud. It provides increased visibility and role-based access control that enables self-service, restricts unauthorised access, and eliminates data sprawl.  

For the Coastal Housing solution, we will employ CommCell environments which deliver the logical grouping of all the software components that protect, move, store, and manage the data. 

With a CommCell at each datacentre, any data backed up at site one will be automatically replicated at site two, and vice versa. As a result, if a datacentre were lost, Coastal Housing would still have access to all of its backup data. 

8. Monitoring. 

Whereas previously Coastal Housing had virtually no way of monitoring its systems, all that will change with the introduction of PrevensysQuadris’ proprietary monitoring solution  

The product of years of development. Prevensys is a leading-edge solution that will provide Coastal Housing with the ability to continually monitor the health and performance of its new IT infrastructure with ease and clarity. 

A single pane of glass dashboard will enable Coastal Housing to monitor both stretched clusters, the VMware Horizon VDI environment, the Citrix ADC, the backups, and the links between the datacentres. 

All in all, a comprehensive and high-level dashboard that will present Coastal Housing with a truly holistic overview of its entire IT estate. 

The completed project will deliver Coastal Housing with a brand new IT infrastructure and Disaster Avoidance solution that will meet its needs for years to come.

What challenges do you face?

To discuss your IT challenges and how we can help, just pick a slot in the calendar and Peter will be happy to help. Alternatively, feel free to call 0161 537 4980 and ask for Peter Grayson or email peter.grayson@giftalien.com 

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