Alfred H Knight (AHK) is a UK-based mining and metals enterprise that provides a comprehensive range of inspection and analytical services for the mineral and metal industries worldwide. Matthew Underhill, Head of Infrastructure, discusses his role in the business and how it implemented a NetApp solution to simplify its operations, as well how the company plans to prioritise infrastructure investment this year.
What does your role entail and what are the company’s core objectives?
As Head of Infrastructure, I look after pretty much everything that goes up to the point where the user can log in, that includes Internet, networking, storage, compute and virtualisation. The company aims to provide analytical services to the mining industry.
Can you describe the company’s infrastructure and how it works?
We are very centralised in Liverpool. We operate in roughly 30 countries and we provide almost all of our infrastructure over Citrix and everything is hosted on NetApp.
How do you succeed in maintaining an efficient infrastructure?
A lot of hard work! We’ve got a really good team and what we’ve been doing in the last two years since I joined is going through a real modernisation of the infrastructure and maintaining it efficiently or effectively is basically down to our data fabric because you have to have your data where you need it otherwise there’s no point in having it. So, by putting the best of breed technology in place, we’re able to put everything together and maintain it, so it’s about choosing your partners.
How do you ensure that data centre operations run smoothly and how is the NetApp solution assisting with this?
NetApp is allowing us to have this flexibility so we make use of NetApp and of Veeam – it’s a great partnership. It allows us to failover, failback and if we did have any issues we go onto our secondary storage, a bit slower, but we’re not seeing any downtime in that respect. NetApp specifically is rock solid and there’s always innovation on tap which is really helping us to become more efficient. So, for example, with every ONTAP release we’re getting better and better in terms of data deduplication so we can add data and it just keeps going down. Or, if the data isn’t being used, move that to the cloud and free up your AFF (All Flash FAS) and it’s saving money overall.
What are some of the security implications posed to the infrastructure?
So obviously security is on everyone’s mind and keeping the data safe is very important. We need to protect our customers’ data and our own integrity because our results are what makes us. So, we’re seeing a huge spike in emails and phishing. We’re also trying to present portals out to our own users to allow them to access certificates or results or files they need, in a secure manner.
What are your priorities for infrastructure investment this year?
I’m investing in the hardware. People ask why we wouldn’t just rely on the cloud but as we’re on a path to innovation, lifting and shifting just doesn’t work. So, we have to rearchitect to become cloud-native. We have to take our time and get there right which is my priority from an infrastructure perspective. We have to make sure that whatever we’re pushing up in the cloud is cloud-aware, cloud-native and not just placing it there and saying ‘we’re done’.
How has the NetApp solution improved scalability and assured longevity?
It’s incredibly scalable. We can add in new shelves, we can add in other nodes into the cluster if needed. It’s a fantastic investment. In terms of longevity, it allows us flexibility – if we’ve got our primary data, we can tear that off to pretty much anywhere we want. This might be to the cloud or you can go onto some kind of S3 or on-prem if you like, so I’m obviously a fan but I find that it’s helping us to keep our data where we want it at the right time. When you pair it with some of the partners in the ecosystem, I think you’ve got a very stable platform.
What are some of the industry-specific challenges you face?
In the mining industry, we are in some very remote areas so our biggest issue, not necessarily around NetApp, is connectivity and making the data available. That’s where we’re looking to move some things into the cloud because we can then push things closer. We are based in Liverpool but if we can push data that’s needed into an AWS data centre for example, it’ll get it closer, faster, easier and enable less time to deliver results and answer customer questions.
Can you walk us through the end-to-end process that you offer your customers?
We have a broad range of services in the industry. Our core service is to provide analytical services, so if a mine or a company is prospecting, they may well dig up some soil and send it to us and we’ll let them know how much copper or gold etc. there is in there so that they mine there. So we have many different ways of finding out information, it depends on what the client wants. We could also provide on-site support and we do this by setting up a lab on mine where they want a quick turnaround, for example if they are chasing a vein of copper, they want to know if it’s still viable to keep going.
What benefits has the solution provided to your customers?
First of all, we’re ensuring that their data is safe. Speed is another factor – it’s not a super quick turnaround but we’re ensuring stability, security and generally if our staff can access the data quicker and more efficiently, they can interact with the customer in a much more seamless way.