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Network analytics gives mining firm a better view of its cloud

Mining equipment manufacturer Weir Minerals deployed Xangati's monitoring and analytics tools to manage its VMware-based cloud and virtual desktop environments

Weir Minerals, a global supplier of mining and pumping equipment, has deployed Xangati’s service assurance analytics platform to give it deep visibility into its new VMware cloud and virtual desktop (VDI) infrastructures.

Founded in Glasgow in the 1870s as a manufacturer of pumps for ships built on the Clyde, Weir’s operations now span 70 countries, with more than 14,000 employees.

Its US operation recently streamlined IT operations across its 11 locations by adopting VMware vSphere and vCenter for rendering 150 servers into the cloud, and deployed VMware Horizon to push VDI to 320 workstations.

At the time of the VMware implementation, said Weir Minerals infrastructure manager Lowry Stiles, the firm was using Solarwinds for network monitoring, but quickly found it was running into a lot of problems that Solarwinds was not catching, and was picking them up too late to mitigate them effectively.

“A typical laptop and desktop model can hide a lot of problems, but with VDI you depend very heavily on the network, so any problems that were disguised in the past quickly become evident,” he said.

“Solarwinds is really good at the networking piece, and we still use it for local area network [LAN] monitoring and key servers, but it was less effective at real-time monitoring of VDI.”

Also, to manage the complex design and manufacturing processes that sit at the core of its business, Weir runs large-scale, data-hungry applications such as AutoCAD, so ultimately, the biggest indication that something was wrong was staff phoning in to complain about applications lagging and crashing.

At that point, Weir’s IT partner introduced Stiles to Xangati, having already installed it for a number of other customers.

As opposed to rival network monitoring systems, which tend to operate on an interval basis by taking snapshots every so often, Xangati’s platform carries out agentless, second-by-second assessment of a multitude of factors across compute, network and storage resources from the datacentre to the client device.

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It claims this means it can yield 300 times the data granularity of competing systems, and because it is feeding so much data back into its analytics engine, it can spot emerging contention issues before they become problems, delve into root cause correlations, and offer accurate remediation advice to IT teams more quickly.

“We had no visibility into our VDI environment, so when performance issues and other complaints came in, the time taken to diagnose those issues was costly,” said Stiles. “With Xangati in place, we were able to respond more quickly, be more proactive and do the kind of deep dives required to get to the root cause of an issue.

“For day-to-day tasks – network monitoring, storage, compute – Xangati makes it a cinch. It saves a ton of time during our system admins’ daily checks.”

After deploying Xangati, Stiles found a number of major issues, including pockets of CPU constraint on its servers, a tendency for the networking and storage infrastructure to experience I/O bottlenecking, and issues related to memory depletion among servers.

Consolidated information

With this information consolidated onto a simplified and extensible dashboard, it can be readily managed by one member of Weir’s IT team. The dashboard is also displayed on a large overhead screen that lets the department keep a beady eye on conditions without having to dedicate constant human resource to round-the-clock monitoring.

After deployment, Stiles noticed significant improvements across the virtualised infrastructure, with complaint calls to the IT department dropping, and those staffers dealing with complaints from the rest of the business better able to identify causes and not waste time chasing down false positives. Also, more efficient use of resources allows Stiles to invest less in unneeded equipment, and realise better return on investment from existing assets.

“The biggest value for Weir is that the system administrators and engineers can focus their efforts on resolving real issues rather than dealing with constant performance complaints and other random issues,” said Stiles. “They are much happier with a proper tool that can help them do their jobs more effectively and, most importantly, more efficiently.”

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