Lessons Learned from One Hotel’s IT Infrastructure Journey

While the journey to hyperconvergence was a major undertaking, Classic Hotels is now in a far better position than it was just a year ago.
By Jose Solis, Senior Systems and Network Engineer, Classic Hotels - 3.12.2021

In the classic novel The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the author is counseled by a wise gas
station attendant named Socrates that, “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not
on fighting the old, but on building the new.” This insight is sound guidance for anyone who is
on their own personal journey. It’s also good advice for those of us working in IT – though we
often have little choice but to spend some of our time battling against the legacy technology
that all too often feels like an anchor being dragged behind us.

As the IT leader for Classic Hotels & Resorts, a small chain of six luxury properties operating
across Arizona and California that caters to a mix of business and leisure travelers, our small
team is tasked with managing the IT infrastructure across all properties with the goal of
ensuring that the applications and the data that our business relies upon are always available
and performing at the highest level.

And as any IT professional in the hospitality industry understands all too well, we are constantly
just trying to keep our heads above water. The question always seems to be: how can we do
more with less? Prior to the pandemic, our entire IT staff could be assembled around a
boardroom table. As the pandemic forced people to cancel their travel plans, we, like so many
others, were forced to reduce our staff by a third.

Compounding these challenges, our aging infrastructure was in dire need of an overhaul. But
selling management on a modernization initiative in the midst of an economic downturn
wouldn’t be easy. For the past five years I had heard a lot of chatter about Hyperconverged
Infrastructure (HCI) which promised to significantly reduce the cost and complexity of IT and
wondered: is HCI ready for primetime?

HCI in a Nutshell

If you’re not familiar with the concept of hyperconvergence, it simply refers to the idea of
consolidating all of the separate systems you need to manage storage, network and compute to
a single integrated system. Think of it like when Apple introduced the original iPhone – by
integrating a camera, GPS, and other common functions into a single device we no longer
needed to carry around separate devices that often didn’t play well with one another.

While public cloud services like AWS and Azure serve an invaluable role in bridging the IT gap,
it’s not a cure-all as we still need to maintain certain applications, workloads, and customer
data on-site. Hyperconverged systems were appealing for a number of reasons:

  • Simplified Management: With only myself and two others running the entire IT
    operation, we needed to spend less time focused on tasks that just keep the lights on
    and dedicate more of our time to leverage IT to change the business.
  • Business Resilience: If our Point of Sales system goes down, we not only lose revenue
    but the guest experience also suffers – neither of these outcomes is acceptable. Any
    upgrade to our IT infrastructure should have deep redundancy and automated failover
    capabilities to ensure business continuity.
  • Hardened Security: A ransomware attack can be a truly devastating event. We know
    this from direct experience. In the event of another attack, an agile infrastructure
    should be able to restore data from wherever it might be located and do so in a manner
    of minutes or hours versus days or weeks.
  • Futureproof IT: Ripping and replacing servers without sustaining any downtime is a tall
    order. The ability of a hyperconverged solution to quickly add or remove nodes from a
    cluster as warranted by demand would both extend the utility and responsiveness of
    our infrastructure.

Finding the Right Solution

While the hyperconvergence market is still young, there are a multitude of vendors offering
mature solutions. From the largest IT vendors such as HP and Dell to smaller, pure-play
providers like Nutanix and Scale Computing, there’s no shortage of options. Following an in-
depth evaluation, we decided to go with a three node cluster from Scale Computing.

Prior to hyperconvergence, we used a combination of solutions for backing up our systems but
bringing that environment back online could be a tedious and time-consuming process. I was
also surprised by how easy it was to deploy the solution – in less than two hours we were able
to unpack, mount and deploy each site. This was a markedly different experience than we had
with previous VMWare migrations which required significant planning and consequently,
unscheduled downtime.

Virtualization of course is its own type of double-edged sword. While on the one hand, it
enables you to maximize the utility of system resources, it can also be a brittle beast of
complexity. In our prior environment, if we needed to change something in our virtual
infrastructure, it had to go through me. As the pandemic was just beginning to spread, this
represented a real risk to our daily operations.

3 Lessons from Our Hyperconverged Journey

While our journey to hyperconvergence was a major undertaking, we are now in a far better
position than we were just a year ago. Our new IT infrastructure has allowed me to delegate
many tasks to the rest of my team who because of its simplicity are now confident enough to
do a simple reboot or create a virtual machine. And because virtualization is baked in, we’ve
also cut our VMWare licensing and maintenance costs almost in half. Where data recovery used
to sometimes take days before, now it can be done in a matter of minutes. Of course what I
value most and have the least of is time – I can spend less time bogged down by administrative
chores and more time focused on strategic projects that directly support the business.
If you’re thinking about your own hyperconverged initiative, allow me to offer these three

  1. Define Your Success Metrics: As the old management saying goes, you can’t manage
    what you can’t measure. Spend the time upfront understanding which metrics matter
    the most – both from the perspective of the business as well as from IT so you can build
    a strong business case for HCI. Application uptime for instance is one such metric that
    the business understands and values and one that IT should be able to easily report on.
  2. Start Small and Benchmark Your Progress: Every journey begins with a single step and
    this one is no exception. Once we spun up the first few machines and successfully
    migrated a few workloads we began to notice significant gains in performance – this
    gave us the confidence to begin rolling it out to our remote sites.
  3. Don’t Just Replicate Existing Systems: Leveraging a new framework like HCI provides a
    foundation for new possibilities. It’s an opportunity to take a fresh look at your business
    requirements, build out new capabilities, and deliver meaningful innovations.

One of the things I love most about being in IT is discovering new technologies and finding
creative ways to apply them to improve how we can deliver services and delight our customers.
While what we do in IT might be transparent to our guests, we know that this will ultimately
improve their experience at our resorts.

Jose Solis is the Senior Systems and Network Engineer for Classic Hotels, a luxury hotel and resort management company that owns and operates six properties in Arizona and California. From the all-suite Arizona Grand Resort & Spa and newly renamed The Scott Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, to the boutique California Coastal Collection, Classic Hotels & Resorts offers the comforts of home, enhanced by unique amenities in iconic destinations.

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