One of the largest personal-injury law firms in the Southeast, George Sink, P.A. is based in Charleston, South Carolina. The firm is growing, adding to its 250 employees and adding new offices in neighboring Georgia. Their fast expansion, and headquarters in a hurricane-prone coastal city, led them to consider IT options outside growing their physical data center.
Long before he joined George Sink, CIO Tim Mullen was an experienced VMware user. “Even when I was working for Microsoft, I was secretly a vSphere fan,” he confessed. As a security researcher and consultant, Mullen has years of experience administering and testing systems from VMware and many other vendors.
Mullen began to realize that the firm’s on-prem data center expansion 200 miles inland in Greenville, SC was turning into a poor choice. Capital costs were adding up, and the firm didn’t have the staff necessary to maintain the resources they would need going forward. With storms in the region strengthening in recent years, even an inland facility might not be safe. “I didn’t want the company’s growth in new markets to depend on physical, on-premises equipment,” said Mullen.
Mullen admits that despite recent hurricanes in the Charleston area, the law firm didn’t have a strong disaster recovery plan. “The plan was to back up the data, and take it in whatever form to another physical location,” said Mullen. “But the time you need to restore that data was not taken into account. You would have to say to employees, ‘pencils down,’ shut it all down, and then migrate back to the main facility – if the main facility even existed after a storm.”
Cloud-Ready from the Kitchen Table
As Mullen considered his options, he got an email from his VMware sales representative with a link to try a relatively new service called VMware Cloud on AWS. “I called my rep that same night and said, ‘I just spun up a full software-defined data center from my kitchen table, right before dinner. This is amazing.’ And the conversation went from there.”
George Sink now uses four nodes in VMware Cloud on AWS for full disaster recovery backup. The firm replicates live data now, and plans to move to full production by the spring of 2019. Their local managed services partner is Stasmayer Inc.
Because the firm was already using VMware vSphere 6.7 on premises, moving to VMware Cloud on AWS was easy. Mullen did not need to spend more money on more engineers, or pay to retrain his staff on another system. “It’s good for me because that means that the burden of maintaining updates, any maintenance, all of that is handled by VMware engineers,” said Mullen.
Mullen also noted that “It gave me the flexibility to own and maintain my own set of nodes while abstracting the hardware from on-premise, and between VMware and AWS. I knew I was in good hands from both an infrastructure standpoint and a technical proficiency standpoint.”
Cost savings is another cloud benefit. “For a cost of a good engineer, we got four nodes in the cloud, which is a no brainer,” said Mullen. “VMware Cloud on AWS not only prevents me from making tremendous cash outlays for data centers every time we choose to expand, it allows me to plan. If I divide my monthly expenditure with AWS over a number of compute users, I can almost boil it down to a per-person cost to have my infrastructure running. That’s something that you’ve never been able to do with on-prem because nobody takes into account bandwidth, backups, hard drives, personnel costs, all of that.”
Mullen calls the instant support option on VMware Cloud on AWS “remarkable. I can pop onto my vCenter interface, and if I have a question, they know the answer. They aren’t putting me on hold to ask someone else. These people know what they’re talking about.”
Next Steps: Cloud Security and Desktops
Although George Sink did not use VMware NSX Data Center on-premises, Mullen is excited to learn about its capabilities in VMware Cloud on AWS. “I’ve got multiple IPSec VPNs connecting my SDDC with on-prem. NSX allows me to customize my network infrastructure however I want to match it.”
George Sink currently uses VMware Horizon 7 to virtualize and distribute all company apps, from Google Chrome to case management and accounting software. The firm uses a small number of virtual desktops, and is now expanding them from IT staff to other employees such as legal assistants. “We have been slowly increasing that base as we move Horizon to VMware Cloud on AWS, and it is working very well,” said Mullen.
The firm is in beta for Horizon Instant Clones, which delivers ultra-fast provisioning and zero-downtime updates. “Instant Clones will absolutely change the way we work for the better,” said Mullen.
George Sink user profiles, which are highly customized, will be applied to each new desktop using Instant Clones. “I’ll only have to patch one gold image, which saves time and cost versus the current RDS environment,” said Mullen. “One person hosing their desktop won’t take down 50 other people on the server. I’ll also be able to layer applications onto that Instant Clone based on entitlement, which will help me control software deployment and licensing requirements.”
For Mullen, one of the most important benefits of VMware software, especially VMware Cloud on AWS, is peace of mind. “All these employees’ livelihood is based on what we do here, and it’s critical to protect our clients’ legal data. The next time a hurricane is whirling down and Mr. George Sink asks what we’re doing to prepare, I can say ‘Nothing. It’s already done.’ Being able to know that, and say that honestly, is tremendous.”