Transforming data centre management

Curvature recently won the Excellence in Data Centre Services DCS Award, organized by the publisher of Digitalisation World, Angel Business Communications. Here we talk to Christo Conidaris, VP Sales EMEA, Curvature, about the benefits of third party maintenance.

1.Please can you provide some brief background on the company:

For the past 30 years, Curvature has been transforming and challenging the traditional management of data centres worldwide. We have achieved this through the provision of innovative maintenance solutions, world-class professional services that span end-to-end, and extremely competitive upgrade costs for multi-vendor equipment and support. For data centre management teams, Curvature makes an impact by extending the lifecycles of IT assets, decreasing costs and freeing staff from daily support overheads. With over 1500 employees worldwide, Curvature is the established independent global leader in IT maintenance services and support, first-class professional services and innovative products and solutions.

2.And what are Curvature’s USPs for the data centre market? –

When you are leading the way in third party maintenance, the outstanding quality of your people are your key asset and differentiator. Curvature offers specifically trained field engineering teams to make sure that the customer receives the best possible service. Our badged engineers come with decades’ worth of experience and are backed by a strong Global Central Engineering team that provides development, trainingand L3 support. Curvature also boasts Centres of Excellence to facilitate testing and hands on training in live environments, such as their recent multi-million dollar investment in a mainframe & complex servers Innovation Lab.

Curvature also have over 100 service centres offering a wholly-owned spare parts inventory (non-shared logistics) located around the globe and frequently outstrips delivery times and availability that OEMs can offer. Curvature customers are kept centre stage in communications with instant delivery updates via a portal that tracks service activity and changes.

3.Can you give us an overview of the company’s data centre products and services portfolio?

Curvature’s Third Party Maintenance services extend to storage, servers/complex servers, mainframes & networking pillars.For Professional Services, Curvature offers SLA based Remote Hands (Global Remote Hands, IMACD); Assessments (Site Assessment Audits, Network Assessments, Server and Storage Assessments) Transition (Data Centre Relocation, Data Centre Migration, Data Replication); ITAD (IT Asset Disposition, EUC ITAD), Consulting (Network assessment, server storage assessment, Design/Optimise/Configure, Advanced Technical Consulting); Implementation (Rack&Stack, Installation, Deployment); Cloud Advisory Services (Strategy Cloud, Transition Readiness, Placement, Strategy X-Ray).

4.And what are some of the most recent additions to this?

Curvature invests significantly in ongoing R&D efforts identifying the most relevant solutions that customers require, continually enhancing our portfolio to address market and customer needs. As examples, from a maintenance perspective, Curvature have recently started offering maintenance on Juniper Networks to its portfolio, and have also added support for the IBM Netezza high performance storage and data warehouse platform. Under the umbrella of professional services, these now extend to Health Checks and Performance Checks on storage systems, and CloudLogic advisory services for cloud optimisation.

5.And what advice would you give to individuals looking at using third party hardware maintenance?

Before moving to a third party maintenance contract, it is wise to do some groundwork to check your expectations will be met long-term. We meet countless customer prospects who have been made promises that remain unfulfilled. To help from the outset, Curvature has developed a checklist of 5 essential checks that you should always research ahead of identifying the shortlist of TPMs that you think would best fit your organisation. The first (fairly obvious) check is to compare how long the TPM has been in business. It goes without saying that the longer a TPM has been successfully trading, the more established and reliable its services will be, and the more reference customers it will offer. Long-term TPMs develop into equally long-term strategic partners for years to come. Second, check that the geographical coverage offered mirrors your own IT infrastructure. It is no good having 12 offices in the UK and none in the ROW when you trade across continents 24x7. Check carefully where Forward Stocking Locations (FSLs) and sparing depots are placed, city-by-city, in order that you can meet and exceed your own internal SLAs with a provider that offers 24x7x365 global support.Thirdly, examine in detail the prospect TPM’s 100% sparing ‘philosophy’. Ensure that all hardware parts under contract are tested and spared at a location close enough to meet your SLAs. Delve deep into answers on this part; it is critical to understand and compare the sparing process in detail. Question who owns the part and how have parts been tested? Also, ensure that a provider will grow with you – even if that means adding FSLs around the globe to continue to meet your needs. Fourth, and again this should be a tick box exercise, but check the TPMs certifications are industry recognised certifications and carry the highest levels of quality and security standards internationally - including TL9000 (for telecoms), ISO 27001:2013 for Information Security Management Systems, and responsible recycling.Lastly, check that all the equipment you have in your IT infrastructure can be managed in one portal. This way multi-generation, multi-vendor and multi-national support contracts are all accessible to you through a centralised portal with a ticket management system.

6.Can you tell us what winning the Excellence in Data Centre Services DCS Award means to the company?

This award means a great deal to Curvature for two reasons. Firstly, it is project-based, so it details in depth the experiences of three of our European customers and the values they have derived from working with Curvature over sustained timescales. Secondly, it’s independently highlighted by the judging team, then verified, and voted en-masse by the thousands of readers of DW and our own customers. The scale of readership voting gives an independent endorsement and verification as to the ongoing value we quietly and consistently deliver to market. It’s strong testimonials like these three, plus taking the voting lead in a very strong, very full category, that validates the TPM alternative proposition that OEMs have long tried to suppress!

7.And can you talk us through the winning entry – what are the key distinguishing features and/or USP?

This winning entry was all about detailing the end-to-end Curvature service experience across 3 installs and highlighting the positive user impacts that have been derived in their switch to our TPM provision. In fact, over 15,000 other data centres worldwide are today also embracing Curvature service levels. Over the past ten years, Curvature have been steadily growing the third party service market segment to such an extent that they are now established as the world’s largest independent provider of multi-vendor maintenance and 24/7 support services. Growth is remarkable given it has been largely driven through customers’ recognition and offering peer-to-peer validation and recommendation - and often on a global scale.

8.Why is this important to data centres?

Today, using Curvature, we have exemplified in the entry how data centre managers now have a realistic alternative to vendor support for brands such as Cisco, HP and IBM, that actively cuts capital costs, extends lifecycles of data centre assets and reduces e-waste significantly. We have shown that this represents a healthy market alternative that will stretch IT budgets to afford and encompass innovation. Creating this supporting infrastructure was not achieved overnight. Curvature have made massive investments in hiring and retaining talented personnel working from a backdrop of global locations.

For data centre services the entry highlights how Curvature uniquely offers assessment, consolidation, relocation, and cloud migration services, among others. Curvature’s focus supporting Network, Server and Storage assets that can scale and grow, appeals to mainstream IT environments. While for more specialised environments such as mainframes, Curvature uniquely supports more mainframe environments than any other (bar IBM) via 60 mainframe global service centres offering parts and expertise that extends from 1993 mainframe models and parts, through to the latest generation (n-1). Curvature has also invested more than $5 million since 2008 building its own zSeries innovation lab, where the central engineering team operates and develops best-in-class mainframe support methodologies, proprietary “call-home” tools, hands-on testing of spare parts and instructor-led training for field engineers.

9.What tangible impact has your company had on the market and your customers?

One impact is viewed as upsetting the OEM Applecart – we offer Data Centre managers a realistic, viable choice for service and support that saves money and increases service levels. With such a growing global movement toward consideration and adoption of Third Party Maintenance, the greatest footprint that Curvature has forged is challenging vendor-instilled behaviours so that data centre managers now have an alternate path outside of the OEM. No longer do UK data centres face a stark rip-and-replace decision underpinned and dictated by the OEM every 3-5 years as hardware falls out of warranty.

Today, using multi-vendor umbrella service agreements, Curvature supports and extends network, server and storage systems through 24/7 maintenance coupled with provision of pre-owned and new hardware. The impact is significant as Danish retail company, DKI Group elaborates. DKI Group used Curvature to recommend a blend of new and pre-owned hardware to optimise their budget without making any compromises in performance or security. ‟We came up with a solution for what we needed to achieve,” recalls Christian Hingelberg Hangaard CFO of DKI ‟Curvature met all of our performance requirements and then suggested adding pre-owned servers, which reduced our capital expenditures significantly.”

10.What levels of customer service differentiate you from your competitors?

Each day, Curvature goes beyond required service levels to thrill customers and exceed expectations, often on a global scale. Every employee embraces that providing outstanding service is the essence of what Curvature does, supporting over 1.25 million devices and leading the sector in the process. Dave Kelly, Connectivity Service Line Program Manager for Curvature customer Schneider Electric details the point. “Curvature’s customer service is absolutely the best I’ve ever experienced. Nothing is ever a problem and there is always someone on the other end of the phone to escalate any issue. Response times are great!”

Through Curvature’s joined approach of preowned hardware, Maintenance and Professional Services, global data centres can be viewed holistically and without constraints of geography, producing remarkable savings, often to a factor of 60% or more.

Dave details his global experience at Schneider Electric. “It was a challenge to integrate all the networking elements for existing and recently acquired companies on the same page. We needed help with a never-ending list of transformation projects to ease the process of consolidating different network vendors. What we really wanted was a one-stop shop to handle all our global needs, but we never really found one company that could do it all with the same level of support and service excellence - We needed a partner that could help us meet the relentless reality of operations issues, equipment deployments and new projects.”

Enter Curvature’s NetSure® third-party maintenance (TPM) which enabled Schneider Electric to extend the useful life of its highly reliable Cisco gear well beyond its five-year lease. Not only does Curvature offer hardware extension through extended warranty support, it also offers bespoke services using proven methodologies for assessments and optimisation, migration, project management, design, relocation and remote staff augmentation. At all times while meeting formal methodologies, Curvature remains approachable, responsive and inclusive of business needs.

Carl Christensen (CAC) - a leading supplier of spare parts to the automotive, industrial and marine markets in Denmark adopted Curvature’s IT Infrastructure Design and Implementation Services to improve services and benefits for customers. ‟We were confident in the approach taken by the Curvature engineers as they explained the process, answered all our questions and followed through on each step. The team was completely hands-on, which made it easy to get help when we needed it. We immediately had the opportunity to demonstrate that we had done our due diligence and picked the right partner,” concludes Asger R. Poulsen, CIO at CAC. ‟ I can strongly recommend Curvature for their skills, dedication and comprehensive infrastructure design, implementation and support services. Last supporting service quotes go back to Schneider. “Curvature’s service levels went way above and beyond the service you can usually expect, the level of Curvature’s commitment never ceases to impress.”

11.And what can we expect from Curvature in the future?

Market acceptance of TPMs means the future looks increasingly exciting, as TPM is now a mainstream validated alternative. Recent history shows that increasingly more data centre products and solutions have fallen under the TPM’s remit. Curvature’s Central Engineering and R&D teams are constantly validating, expanding and innovating to meet data centre expectations and exceeding service levels. Professional service offerings continue to grow to facilitate on demand, digital service delivery and empowerment, with Curvature cloud migration and public and private Cloud optimisation services also increasing.

TPM in action

Schneider Electric Teams with Curvature to Power Worldwide Connectivity and Continuous Innovation

Schneider Electric is leading the digital transformation of energy management and automation in homes, buildings, data centres, infrastructure and industries. The company’s flagship product, EcoStruxure™, is an open, interoperable, IoT-enabled system architecture and platform designed to deliver enhanced value around safety, reliability, efficiency, sustainability, and connectivity.

EcoStruxure leverages advancements in IoT, mobility, sensing, cloud, analytics and cybersecurity to provide innovation at every level, encompassing connected products, edge control, as well as applications, analytics and services. With more than 140,000 employees working from 1,100 locations in over 100 countries, Schneider Electric is the undisputed global leader in power management.

According to Dave Kelly, Connectivity Service Line Program Manager for Schneider Electric, a top priority is ensuring that both employees and customers can connect to the services and information they need anywhere, anytime and on any device. “Our purpose is to provide a network experience that fulfils user requirements and expectations,” he explains. “We aspire to offer connectivity-as-a-service that is user-centric, talent nurturing, business-oriented and technologically innovative.”

The challenge to that end, an 80-person global operations team is responsible for deploying and maintaining a high-performance MPLS wide-area network featuring about 95% state-of-the-art Cisco switches and routers. Driven by an overarching commitment to innovation, diversity and sustainability, Schneider Electric is migrating users and applications to the cloud while exploring the benefits of a hybrid networking model using Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and white-box solutions.“

We like to stay ahead of the curve,” says Kelly. “Schneider Electric has a dedicated innovation team that keeps pace with the latest digital technologies to ensure both internal and external customers are always connected in support of our ‘Life is On’ mission.” In keeping with its mission, Schneider Electric moved away from regional IT support teams in 2014 to a global model with standardized methodologies and follow-the-sun support. “Our goal is to create a solid framework whereby our end-to-end services run smoothly while delivering all the capabilities to meet any customer requirement,” he adds.

Due to consistent, organic business growth and a steady stream of acquisitions and business expansions, the operations team needed to build a cohesive network foundation that connected new locations and increasing numbers of users worldwide. “It was a challenge to integrate all the networking elements for existing and recently acquired companies on the same page,” says Kelly. “We needed help with a never-ending list of transformation projects to ease the process of consolidating different network vendors.”

Historically, Schneider Electric relied on large services providers, like Dimension Data, IBM and Unisys, as well as Gold channel partners, to assist with deployments, upgrades and ongoing support worldwide. The challenge, however, was achieving a consistently high level of responsive support and expert services at all locations. “What we really wanted was a one-stop shop to handle all our global needs,” says Kelly. “But we never really found one company that could do it all with the same level of support and service excellence.”

In addition to meeting its standards for quality service and support worldwide, Schneider Electric needed to ensure cohesive, consistent connectivity for all locations and users. “We wanted greater control and more visibility across the network,” recalls Kelly. “Standardizing on solutions in keeping with global best practices was critical. We needed a global partner that could help us meet the relentless reality of operations issues, equipment deployments and new projects.”

The Solution

To assist with the fast growth pace, Schneider Electric’s expert procurement team oversees all hardware purchases, including the predominant presence of Cisco networking equipment. Typically, most purchases and hardware upgrades were predicated by five-year lease terms, but a well-timed call from a Curvature representative to a procurement specialist at a Schneider Electric facility in Barcelona offered insights into a more progressive and flexible path for maintaining the company’s global network.

An initial meeting revealed that Curvature’s NetSure® third-party maintenance (TPM) would enable Schneider Electric to extend the useful life of its highly reliable Cisco gear well beyond its five-year lease. Moreover, as the world’s largest independent IT maintenance company, Curvature clearly had the scope and depth of experience to help optimize Schneider Electric’s network investments while improving product lifecycle management. “We saw an immediate opportunity to lower maintenance costs with Curvature,” notes Kelly. “Over the course of the next year, the value of using Curvature as an alternative to legacy manufacturer support became obvious.”

Not only was Curvature’s pricing very competitive in comparison to manufacturer and channel pricing for hardware and services, but the independent service provider exceeded all others in delivery of expedited support. “Curvature’s customer service is absolutely the best I’ve ever experienced,” comments Kelly. “Nothing is ever a problem and there’s always someone on the other end of the phone to escalate any issue. Response times are great!”

Curvature’s worldwide presence was another major plus. “Curvature’s global reach is terrific,” Kelly adds. “If they didn’t already have onsite presence at one of our locations, they were working on it. It became clear we could leverage Curvature’s global presence to help address our global requirements.”

While Kelly was sold on Curvature’s extensive menu of services and proven capabilities, it took a bit longer for internal stakeholders to understand how alignment with one global solutions provider could produce far-reaching benefits. In fact, as Curvature took on ever-increasing maintenance activities, Kelly identified additional opportunities to reap substantial savings and support improvements by bringing other locations under Curvature’s TPM umbrella.

Curvature went on to earn company-wide acceptance when Schneider Electric issued an RFP for a worldwide maintenance plan following successful stints with Curvature managing support in North America and EMEA. “This was an eye-opener, as the global support RFP featured stiff competition from legacy providers,” recalls Kelly. “Curvature beat everyone while offering 60% savings in an apples-to-apples comparison. We even added more items to the scope and Curvature still produced overall savings of more than 45% over competing bids.”

The Benefits

As Schneider Electric’s one-stop shop for global network maintenance and support, Curvature is often the first and last line of defence when a piece of equipment needs upgrading or replacement. “One thing that really sets Curvature apart is the actual lead time for delivering equipment,” says Kelly. “Curvature delivers in 24 hours compared to the eight to 12 weeks it would take for the manufacturer or Gold channel partners to deliver. Curvature gives us huge agility.”

That agility is helping Schneider Electric extend NetSure into the company’s APAC locations over the next year. “Looking past the competitive pricing, it’s really about the value we get from our whole Curvature relationship that makes the biggest difference,” says Kelly. “Dealing with support issues—our experience with Curvature is very, very good service delivery—even if we have a problem with equipment that is not on Curvature maintenance.”

Case in point: Schneider Electric suffered a switch outage at a large manufacturing facility near Nice, France in the summer of 2016. The failure, which occurred on a Friday, threatened to impact operations when the manufacturer involved was unresponsive. Then Kelly called Curvature, and the response was immediate, with personnel and a replacement switch arriving the next day.

After working with Schneider Electric’s operations team to restore functionality over the weekend, Curvature returned the following weekend to add redundancy to the critical network element. “This went way above and beyond the service you can usually expect,” explains Kelly. “And it was very well noticed by upper management as the level of Curvature’s commitment never ceases to impress.”

A more recent switch failure in the Netherlands was quickly remedied by the Curvature team, even though the equipment wasn’t covered under NetSure initially. “Curvature shipped a new switch and restored service in less than five hours,” states Kelly. “We couldn’t have done that with any other partner or the manufacturer—only Curvature could respond that fast.”

In addition to expedited support responses, Schneider Electric has started to leverage Curvature’s alternative procurement strategies for additional cost savings on network equipment. The purchases typically entail refreshing incumbent gear that is not compliant globally or upgrades as needed. The ability to purchase pre-owned equipment from Curvature also has enabled Schneider Electric to quickly, easily and affordably meet miscellaneous requests from business units or new locations. Curvature’s professional, highly trained services team handles all the requests, working with Schneider Electric’s procurement department.

The consistent level of Curvature’s advanced technical expertise provides hands-on network analysis, which has proven instrumental in determining service level agreements (SLAs) for every device on Schneider Electric’s global network. Moreover, Curvature offers the best options for hybrid support, including SMARTnet and NetSure.

Together, Curvature and Schneider Electric hold quarterly business reviews to further refine networking strategies while identifying potential issues and areas of improvement before they impact operations. Looking ahead, Schneider Electric plans to lean more heavily on Curvature’s professional services team to handle ongoing deployment projects, empowering Schneider Electric to focus on strategic network improvements and user experience enhancements.

With Curvature’s help, Schneider Electric will build out its own service desk capabilities to align closely with continued business growth and global expansion. “Technology doesn’t fix problems; people do,” concludes Kelly. “We have such a good, direct partnership with Curvature and will continue to look for ways to use their professional services going forward—they give us a distinct competitive edge.”

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