Paragon Micro Case Study Reliant Holdings, Ltd.

Reliant Holdings includes companies that collectively comprise one of the US’s largest producers and distributors of CO2. Their companies/divisions produce and distribute CO2 for oil and gas production; medical, food production, and carbonated beverage bottling; food-grade CO2 for restaurants and convenience stores; and dry ice for food processing and distribution, medical applications, and airlines. The company, headquartered in Midland, TX, employs 250 people in 10 states covering an area from Texas north to Canada and west to the Pacific Coast.

Like most companies, Reliant sought to get the maximum useful life out of their IT equipment, and had successfully extended the life of many of their machines. But with many of them machines pushing 8 years of age, and their entire storage area network (SAN) more than 10 years old, they knew that 2014 was the year when they needed to undergo a refresh of their entire infrastructure.

Reliant began the project working with the company that had been their primary IT solution provider. However, as the project was getting underway, Reliant found they weren’t getting the leadership and guidance they wanted from them. Jennifer Jones, Reliant’s Information Technology Manager, said “Our primary IT provider wanted us to tell them what we wanted, rather than assisting us by doing an analysis and giving us guidance as to what their experience told us we needed.” Reliant knew it was time to call in an IT advisor that they trusted—Jeff Tipps of Paragon Micro. Jennifer had worked with Jeff before he had come to Paragon in 2008, and she says “Jeff is the reason we came to work with Paragon.” He took the reins of the project and set in motion a process to assess their current system and the demands on it, with the goal of Jeff and his team then designing a new system that would fit their existing needs as well as being scalable and flexible for the future.

The first step in that process was a thorough evaluation of the demands on their existing infrastructure and its performance. Jeff arranged for Paragon engineer Mike Ball to conduct the evaluation, and Mike utilized Dell “DPACK” (Dell Performance Analysis Collection Kit) and EMCReports tools to gather data from Reliant’s existing system over a 24 hour period. The next step was to then analyze the data, including disk input/output, throughput, capacity and memory installation, and server workload and capacity requirements. The reports Mike created helped illustrate to Reliant’s leadership the resource needs across their system, as well as potential bottlenecks or trouble spots in accessing or utilizing their stored data.

After presenting the evaluation and reports and discussing them with Reliant, Paragon came back and recommended several new elements for the Reliant IT infrastructure to increase its speed, performance, and reliability. The primary elements of that new infrastructure were:

  • 3 Dell PowerEdge servers, chosen for their flexibility, power saving, and storage throughput
  • Virtualization utilizing VMWare’s vCenter
  • A new SAN storage system using a Dell EqualLogic storage array, to reduce the storage latency in the existing system
  • Microsoft migration and upgrade using Exchange 2013 and SQL, including security
  • Cisco Core switching
  • SaaS backup solution (disc to disc to cloud) using Seagate’s EVault, both for more robust backup but also for a stable disaster recovery (DR) solution

Paragon also provided a “bare bones,” less expensive option for the network refresh for Reliant to consider. Reliant was impressed with the thoroughness of the evaluation and recommendation—Jeff had even done a “port count” to make sure that the recommended equipment had an adequate number of ports to allow for the desired connections. Reliant appreciated the multiple options designed and presented by Jeff’s team, and decided to go with the primary recommendation that allowed more capacity for future growth. Reliant’s preference was to lease rather than purchase the new equipment, and Paragon was able to secure competitive leasing terms.

For efficiency, cost-savings, and to increase their familiarity with the new servers, storage array, and switch, Jennifer and her staff unboxed and installed them in the data center and completed some initial connections. To complete the installation, Jeff’s project plan called for Mike Ball go on-site to cable the new machines, initialize them and get them working together, load the appropriate software, transfer the stored data to the new SAN, and complete the virtualization of the new servers. Reliant had asked that knowledge transfer be an important component of this project, and so Mike and Paragon’s other engineering resources worked to make that a critical element of the project. “Mike played a big role in this project, and we are grateful for his knowledge and involvement” said Jennifer. He finished his work remotely by completing the migration of Reliant’s systems to the new versions of MS Exchange and SQL. There were a few glitches in getting Reliant’s version of Outlook to work with Exchange, but after some troubleshooting the problems were resolved.

Jennifer is now enjoying the benefits of the completely refreshed system, and says she’d recommend using Paragon to anyone. “We lean on Jeff to make solid decisions for our IT needs. He knows what we have, both in terms of infrastructure and resources, and he tells us what we need. That kind of trustworthy advice means a lot.”

The final phase of this project that Jennifer plans to complete in the next few months will be an Asset Management, Deployment, and Help Desk implementation using Dell KACE appliances. This new system will allow her to better manage her IT assets, software distribution, and configurations, as well as security, software patches, upgrades, remote access, and mobile devices. Jennifer says “With our reduced staff, we absolutely need this system to provide visibility to our assets, and to save time and energy in managing our software---upgrades, as well as patch/software management. When you couple all that with KACE providing a built-in helpdesk, it provides a well-rounded solution. Paragon had recommended it to a colleague who also works with them, and he was very pleased with how much it helps him.”

Looking back on the first two phases of the project, Jennifer is pleased with Paragon’s involvement, and the results. “I would definitely recommend Paragon to anyone who is contemplating a significant infrastructure project like this.”