Fitness First expects to save hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by replacing its legacy data centre environment with a hybrid cloud using Nutanix converged infrastructure and Microsoft Azure public cloud.

One of the largest fitness brands, Fitness First has continued to expand since opening its first club in London in 1993, with 1 million members across 370 clubs in 16 countries.

Supporting its business growth and expansion has been a challenge for its IT department, with a complex infrastructure environment built up over a number of years, including a variety of applications, operating systems and outdated hardware across its three data centres - one in Amsterdam and two in Australia for the APAC region.

To reduce costs and allow IT to become more responsive to business goals, the company has begun a a major data centre consolidation and migration project along with Nutanix Global Services Organisation. For example, the company hopes to achieve achieve “six-figure” savings each year by reducing its expenditure on data centre hosting, and consolidating from several hundreds servers down to just two Nutanix hyper converged storage and server racks.

“[The aim] was to reduce down the footprint of what we have in place, and migrate to a purely virtual environment, making sure around that we deliver flexibility to the business in order to react to any business demand,” said Fitness First global programme manager, Jon Forster.

“Just in terms of floor space rental that is a significant reduction: the power and cooling we need, as we get away from having so many racks of kit. Also, since you have less moving parts, you have less servers, you don’t have a SAN, you can the technology so you don’t have tape backup or any of that. All of your run costs are greatly reduced.”

He added: "The IT team can then focus on what to do with it instead of just keeping it running - so you get spin-off benefit of much more business focused IT instead of just making sure the lights stay on.”

Legacy infrastructure overhaul

Fitness had previously relied on a combination of physical hardware going back “six or seven generations”, including HP servers and Toshiba SANs. The kit was running various operating systems mostly versions of Microsoft Server 2003 and some Linux, as well as older SQL server databases.

“Each sever was on physical tin and they had all been sized up to run at what the peak may be sometime over the next three to five years. So it was all over-sized hardware,” he said.

The infrastructure supported the company’s major applications, including Members First - an in-house developed membership management system, a SAP MIS system, and another SAP application to support processing of financial information across its international operations.  

The complexity of its infrastructure caused a number of problems - most notably the “growing” cost of managing systems, but also the difficulty to react to the business’ demand for IT.

“So if we need to build a new area of the Members First application, it is slow, because you are standing up physical hardware in order to do development work. It makes it very difficult to have a consistent infrastructure from doing the development work all the way through to doing the go live into production,” said Forster. 

Since getting board approval for the data centre migration in December, much of the work has been completed, with the firm planning on completing the move into a single Tier 3 Telecity environment in June this year.

It is now using Nutanix’s Virtual Compute Platform, virtualised using Microsoft’s Hyper-V - chosen for consistency with the Azure cloud, its .NET development, database and operating systems.

The new environment will consist of 32 Nutanix blocks in two sizes - the larger 3461 system, which will be used as data or application blocks, and the 1450, for managing the environment across the data blocks. Some physical HP servers will be deployed as physical domain controllers.

One of the main attractions for Nutanix’s converged infrastructure systems was what Forster described as the relative simplicity compared to more individual hardware components from separate vendors. 

“It is all in one box - you have no gap between your compute power and your storage. So there is less support contracts, less cost, less complexity in terms of running that support and you don’t have one party pointing at another if there is a problem and the technologies keep aligned," he said.

Azure public cloud

Fitness First is also using Microsoft Azure to deliver certain applications via the cloud, as well as providing disaster recovery and backup purposes. It is part of hybrid cloud which has been deployed using the Azure Pack cloud management platform to coordinate on-premise systems in the same way it can tap into public cloud resources.

“For the APAC region we are looking to host our main membership system in [Azure], plus we are looking to potentially move some of our finance systems in there - that is being discussed at the moment,” he said.

The public cloud also enables Fitness First to manage certain peak workloads. “With our membership systems, there are certain times of the year that can be more busy. Also there are certain times within each month when we would run certain core processing - basically around all the billing - that is a peak time for processing," he said. 

Forster added that, in the past the company had over-provisioned systems in order to ensure that it could meet demand, resulting in large amounts of under-utilised infrastructure. “Because one you had to size for the maximum peak you are going to use, you can’t scale it up and down when you need to," he said.

"You have to build it to the biggest [requirement]. It is the concept of ‘I need to drive six people around in a car one day in the month, therefore I better have a car all the time that can take six people’. It is inefficient, really inefficient.” 

Digital aims

One of the areas that the outdated infrastructure caused problems was in moving quickly to create new digital offerings. However, it is now possible to provide resource to developers much more quickly.

“We are moving more quickly into digital technology, such as providing the members with more information on their fitness, personalised online fitness classes and so forth,” Forster said.

“That is something that we are building now, but we want to flex and grow with the business and the demand by our members to make sure that we can deliver a good solution to them. 

He added: “With the demand of any such new technologies you can never be sure one hundred percent what the demand is going to be. So if you don’t have a flexible infrastructure in order to support that you risk putting too much in place - or even worse, not having enough.”

The large-scale project has brought a number of secondary benefits for Fitness First. For example, its data centre consolidation has provided the opportunity to rationalise its application estate and further reduce costs. 

“I did full review of all the applications we have running. So some of them we have reduced down, some of them we have ceased. Some of them we have looked at other ways they could be delivered so we are already seeing benefits,” said Forster.

“So far we have probably taken out about 10 percent, but there are some large applications in there. So we have saved six figures from closing down applications - that is a side benefit from actually doing this.”