Goodwill Embraces the Benefits of Virtualization

One of the biggest challenges for charitable organizations is putting dollars to work in the most effective way possible. At Goodwill Industries New York and New Jersey, which provides essential services and aid for 95,000 individuals, including the disabled and veterans, the task is enormous. “Information technology is at the center of almost everything we do,” said CIO Andre Bromes. “It allows us to serve people and provide services in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”

The journey to greater efficiency hasn’t been easy. Like any organization, Goodwill of NYNJ requires an IT infrastructure to support its overall mission, along with the 41 stores it operates in the region. This includes everything from point-of-sale systems and donation management data to human resources and security systems. Bromes said that IT systems must conform to three basic criteria: confidentiality, integrity and availability—often referred to as CIA. Yet, at the same time, pricing is critical. “The end goal is to purchase innovative solutions that allow us to scale and operate in the most effective way possible,” Bromes said.

Over the last few years, as server and storage virtualization have gone mainstream and the price tag for the technology has dropped, Goodwill has fully embraced the concept. Three years ago, it turned to VMWare to virtualize its data center, which now operates 97 percent virtual. The organization also relies on virtualized desktops. But it also has turned to disaster recovery and availability management vendor Veeam to provide support to the company’s business continuity initiative. The result? “We have been able to cut down on IT management and overhead, administrative costs and more—all while improving availability and redundancy,” Bromes said.

In the past, the organization used DAT and other tape backup technology from a number of vendors.

“One of the problems,” Bromes said, “is that we had to maintain backup libraries and support legacy technology, which often weren’t backward compatible. The cloud has changed that and introduced a new level of efficiency and cost-effectiveness revolving around data recovery.

“The thing that is easily overlooked,” Bromes said, “is that the ability to backup data is only part of the requirement. There’s a need to have a robust data recovery system in place and, in our case, ensure that it can support a virtualized environment.” Using the Veeam solution, he was able to test core applications and SQL upgrades before plugging them into a backup and disaster recovery system. The fully operational solution now supports 70 applications with an IT staff of only 2.5.

The initiative has paid other dividends. In one case, when a store’s server crashed—meaning it could not log into the network—Goodwill was able to get operations up and running within a couple of hours remotely, rather than dispatching IT staff to the location. In the past, that could mean several hours in transportation and support time.

“Because we are now operating in a cloud-hosted environment, we are able to push a couple of buttons and, usually, get a server live again,” Bromes said. “This approach allows us to hope for the best but plan for the worst—and be entirely prepared when there’s a need to restore a system.”

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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