Equifax provides consumer and business credit data and other financial information to millions of people. Its massive IT infrastructure spans the globe and is the heart of its business. To reconfigure its vast collection of servers more nimbly
and to reduce costs, Equifax used Microsoft cloud software to deploy a multisite, multitenant private cloud environment. The Equifax IT team can now deploy servers in 15 minutes rather than three weeks, greatly accelerating its response to business needs.
The new environment significantly reduces infrastructure costs—and further reduces IT management overhead, freeing IT staff to work on high-value projects. Equifax has also been able to implement affordable disaster recovery, which keeps its applications running
Equifax empowers businesses and consumers with information that they can trust. A global leader in information solutions, Equifax maintains data on more than 572 million consumers, 81 million businesses, and 200 million employee files worldwide. Businesses
large and small rely on Equifax for consumer and business credit intelligence, portfolio management, fraud detection, decision-making technology, marketing tools, and much more. Consumers use Equifax to manage their personal credit information and protect
their identity. Equifax generates 158 billion credit score updates each month. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Equifax employs people throughout North America, Latin America, and Europe and is a member of Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index.
With the pace of global financial markets constantly accelerating and customer expectations rising, Equifax looks to its IT organization to help it respond ever faster. As might be expected from a company that manages and delivers data for a living, Equifax
has thousands of servers running in many locations around the world.
The challenge for Andy Cooper, Senior Vice President of Global Platform Services for Equifax, was how to make this vast infrastructure respond faster to business needs. Equifax had historically made some use of server virtualization, because much of its
application environment was custom and required the use of specialized servers and storage. This bred high hardware costs, high labor costs—the time to provision, connect, and manage this specialized gear—and slow server deployment.
||With our Microsoft private cloud, we have an IT infrastructure that will let us provision servers on demand—in 15 minutes rather than in three to four weeks. That gives huge agility to the business.
| Andy Cooper
Senior Vice President of Global Platform Services, Equifax
“It took us three to four weeks to deliver servers, which was far too long,” Cooper says. “If one of our web-based applications is selling well, we need to be able to add servers quickly. We don’t want the infrastructure to hold up business opportunities. Our
goal is to take infrastructure off the critical path.” Cooper’s team wanted to move to a continuous delivery model whereby it developed and updated its software products with a faster, more reliable, and more repeatable cadence. To do this, it needed a hardware
infrastructure that could support rapid response.
In addition to wanting to speed IT agility and make better use of hardware, the Equifax IT team sought a better, more affordable disaster recovery solution. “Disaster recovery has always been a priority for us,” says Brandon Holcomb, Vice President of Global
Platform Services for Equifax. “We need workload protection across and between our data center sites.”
Equifax knew that it could solve all of these problems by using cloud computing—a highly virtualized server infrastructure that can be controlled and changed dynamically with automated management processes. A public cloud service such as Windows Azure
was not the preferred option due to limitations around hosting data outside of Equifax-controlled environments.
However, Equifax could use a private cloud environment, which provided all the benefits of a public cloud environment within the company’s own data centers. “We knew that virtualization alone wouldn’t take us far,” Holcomb says. “Virtualization delivers
consolidation, but it doesn’t do anything to improve processes. A private cloud would give us capabilities such as automated virtual machine provisioning, a self-service portal, charge-back for IT services, and standardized deployment processes across the
Equifax researched multiple sources for private cloud technology. Ultimately, Equifax selected Microsoft. “Microsoft had the complete software stack, from virtualization to provisioning and management,” Holcomb says. “There was also the opportunity going
forward to move some workloads that do not contain sensitive data to Windows Azure with complete compatibility across on-premises and public cloud environments.”
Equifax also liked the Microsoft licensing model, which was similar across private and public cloud environments, and the fact that there were no additional license costs for guest virtual machines on host servers. And because Equifax runs many workloads
on the SUSE Linux operating system, it liked the fact that Microsoft cloud solutions support Linux operating systems.
“Microsoft has helped us navigate our cloud path,” Cooper says. “It provided an actual on-premises demo of its technology, and it runs its own massive data centers using its cloud software. We felt that Microsoft had a solid cloud strategy and it was highly
invested in our success.”
Expandable, Multisite Private Cloud
In its primary data center, Equifax has created a multi-node failover cluster running the Windows Server 2012 Datacenter operating system containing hundreds of virtual machines. Equifax built a second private cloud node in a second US data center, with
both nodes providing production services and failover for one another. Equifax primarily uses HP servers in its cloud and is standardizing on the Intel x86 architecture.
The Microsoft Services Enterprise Strategy team provided strategic cloud architecture consulting, and Microsoft Services Consulting helped Equifax implement the extensive automation capabilities of Microsoft System Center 2012 with Service Pack 1 (SP1),
which Equifax deployed to manage its private cloud. The Microsoft Services team also offered Datacenter Services, a portfolio of solutions and technology transformations that help organizations develop an efficient, integrated data center built on industry-leading
architectures and principles.
||Microsoft had the complete software stack, from virtualization to provisioning and management.
| Brandon Holcomb
Vice President of Global Platform Services, Equifax
Equifax uses the Hyper-V Replica feature in Windows Server 2012 to provide fast, easy workload replication between sites. If a disaster occurs at the primary site, administrators can restore workloads within minutes by bringing up the replicated virtual machines
at the secondary site. “Hyper-V Replica gives us a resource-efficient way to do disaster recovery,” Holcomb says. “It’s built into the operating system and is easy to manage.”
Additionally, Equifax uses the Hyper-V Extensible Switch to create networks in software and to run them on the same physical network, with complete isolation of tenants—business units and development teams.
The virtual machines in the Equifax private cloud run SUSE Linux and Windows 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012 workloads, and include consumer-facing solutions for the company’s business-to-consumer division.
Equifax is busy expanding its private cloud to multiple sites around the world. This move is consistent with a strategy to consolidate the majority of compute capacity to private cloud deployments.
“Traditionally, we have used proprietary hardware for our database environments, and we are expanding our private cloud to offer Microsoft SQL Server virtualized on top of Hyper-V,” Holcomb says. “Even if a workload doesn’t live in the cloud, we want to
be able to provision and manage it from the cloud.”
Fully Automated Management Processes
These far-reaching management capabilities are made possible by System Center 2012 SP1, which is the management “brain” of the private cloud. Equifax uses the Virtual Machine Manager component of System Center 2012 SP1 to provision host servers and guest
virtual machines (running both Windows and Linux operating systems), assign cloud resources to various tenants, and optimize performance across the cloud.
Equifax used the Service Manager component of System Center 2012 SP1 to create a configuration management database and centrally manage change, incident, and problem requests related to its infrastructure. Holcomb’s team used the Cloud Services Process Pack
in Service Manager to create a self-service catalog of IT services that Equifax developers can access through a portal. The IT team takes server requests, deploys the virtual machines to the requester’s specifications, and sends an email notification when
the resources are ready.
“The Cloud Services Process Pack lets us provision IT services as monthly subscriptions to various tenants,” Holcomb says. “It provides isolation for these tenants and gives us a simple charge-back model for IT services. We use what’s called the ‘T-shirt
model’ of resource sizing—small, medium, large, and extra-large—for virtual machines and storage. Requesters simply respond to a few questions in the portal, and Service Manager takes it from there, obtaining all the necessary management approvals, building
the machines, deploying the software, assigning the virtual machines to the correct virtual network, and notifying the user when the resources are ready.”
Equifax uses the Data Protection Manager component to automate backup of host and guest servers, and the Operations Manager component to monitor host and guest operating systems integration and all network components. It uses the Configuration Manager component
to automate the deployment of software and security updates across its cloud environment.
More Automation, Cross-Platform Management with Next Release
While Equifax is busy adding private cloud capacity around the world, it is also evaluating Release 2 of Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012. Features of greatest interest include what Microsoft calls “first-class citizen” guest support for Linux.
In Windows Server 2012 R2, Hyper-V Dynamic Memory is available to Linux-based guests for the first time. Dynamic Memory makes it possible to dynamically allocate virtual machine memory resources and thus dramatically increase virtualization ratios.
||My goal is to reduce operational tasks to 50 percent of my team’s time so they can spend more time on projects that move the business forward—designing and testing new products, for example.
| Andy Cooper
Senior Vice President of Global Platform Services, Equifax
Equifax is also interested in the Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server, a collection of Windows Azure technologies that organizations can deploy inside their own data centers. These services include a management portal, websites, and virtual machines. “The
Windows Azure Pack portal is extremely sophisticated and scales well,” Holcomb says. “We are looking forward to deploying it.”
As financial services regulations and Equifax business partners allow broader use of public cloud services, Equifax plans to investigate the move of some workloads into Windows Azure.
By building a private cloud with Microsoft cloud software, Equifax can increase the responsiveness of its IT organization to better serve the business while dramatically lowering costs. It expects to slash hardware costs and significantly reduce IT management
costs. This will give IT more time to focus on projects that add value to the business. Innovations in Windows Server 2012 also make affordable disaster recovery possible, which is critical to keeping Equifax services available around the clock in all corners
of the world.
Increase Business Agility
With its private cloud, Equifax can reconfigure its vast IT infrastructure far more quickly to meet constantly changing business needs. “Our strategy as a company is to ‘fail fast’—to spin up new servers for a new product, and either promote the new
product forward or discontinue it as quickly as possible,” Cooper says. “With our Microsoft private cloud, we have an IT infrastructure that will let us provision servers on demand—in 15 minutes rather than in three to four weeks. That gives huge agility to
Equifax can plug new blade servers into its cloud fabric and have them available for use in less than one day. The modularity of its private cloud hardware infrastructure also gives the company greater vendor freedom. Thanks to Hyper-V Network Virtualization,
for example, Equifax administrators can pull out components such as network switches and plug in new ones—from any vendor— without time-consuming integration and testing cycles.
Hardware Costs Slashed
Ultimately, Equifax plans to move hundreds of standalone servers into its private cloud, for a significant cost reduction. “We break out capital and operating costs when we charge business units for the IT services they use,” Holcomb says. “By using
a private cloud environment, we eliminate the capex charges to these internal customers. The cloud enables us to utilize assets more efficiently, and we can pass this savings onto the business units who utilize our cloud platforms.”
From a strategic perspective, Cooper says that business units just don’t want to talk about infrastructure anymore. “They just want the infrastructure available, loaded with the applications they need, when they need it. As we move to a continuous delivery
model, the kind of responsiveness and infrastructure transparency that a private cloud provides will be vital.”
Focus IT Team on Higher-Value Work
Equifax says that opex—IT management time—will decrease right along with capital costs due to the high levels of automation that System Center provides and to the fact that Windows Server 2012 contains so many capabilities built into the operating system.
“We’ve already realized efficiency savings in our middleware team, because Microsoft private cloud software automates many of the complex middleware processes,” Holcomb says. “Change management, server provisioning, server monitoring, and many other functions
are or will be automated. Just think of the savings when we reduce three to four months of server provisioning work to a few minutes.”
But the main benefit of making IT staff more efficient is redirecting these valuable resources to address higher value work—beyond basic server maintenance. Some Equifax IT associates were spending the majority of their time on operational work. “My goal
is to reduce operational tasks to 50 percent of my team’s time so they can spend more time on projects that move the business forward—designing and testing new products, for example,” Cooper says.
Make Disaster Recovery Affordable
Lastly, with its private cloud, Equifax has an affordable disaster recovery solution. “We had active-active disaster recovery solutions in some areas of the business, but they were expensive,” Holcomb says. “By using cloud computing, I can move workloads
between data centers fairly quickly, and the only downside for infrastructure is the temporary suspension of some development and test capacity. Disaster recovery for all our workloads is a huge benefit of private cloud computing.”
Transform the data center
The hybrid cloud from Microsoft transforms the data center by extending existing investments in skills and technology with public cloud services and a common set of management tools. With an on-premises infrastructure connected to the Windows Azure platform,
you can deliver services faster and scale up or down quickly to meet changing needs.
For more information about transforming the data center, go to:
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