City Harvest Improves Data Feeds and Food DeliveryBy Samuel Greengard
For organizations serving the poor and hungry, getting food from industry sources to people's tables is a challenging task. At City Harvest, which provides free deliveries of food to 500 emergency food programs throughout New York City, efficient scheduling, logistics and inventory management are critical.
"Last year, we rescued 55 million pounds of food, 50 percent of which is fresh produce," says James Safonov, head of technology and information security for the organization. "We have 22 trucks making 400 food pickups and deliveries throughout the week, and we rely on IT systems to handle the task efficiently."
A couple of years ago, City Harvest had a variety of IT systems that didn't always work well together. It had a networking layer from one vendor, servers from a different one, and storage systems from still another vendor. "When we wanted to troubleshoot a latency or other performance issue—especially when virtualization was involved—we were completely in the dark," he explains. We couldn't get a straight answer, and it took a long time to get to a resolution."
Building Out a New Converged Infrastructure
City Harvest's management recognized the need to update its IT environment. After formulating a strategy and surveying options, the organization turned to Cisco Systems to build out an entirely new converged infrastructure based on the vendor's HyperFlex solution.
The organization went live with the new IT framework in July 2016, and it hasn't looked back. The platform delivers an end-to-end hardware and software-defined network (SDN) solution that boosts IT flexibility and performance for City Harvest. It encompasses servers, switches, storage, security tools and virtualization components.
One of the top benefits, Safonov says, is an ability to add and update systems on the fly. There's no need to shut down systems for updates or maintenance tasks.
Another advantage is that the IT team can troubleshoot across the stack, and it can spend much less time handling firmware upgrades, patches and other chores. "We no longer have to handle everything separately and piecemeal," he notes.
Along with a migration to thin-client systems, the overall IT cost saving was about 75 percent, but the IT staff also trimmed the time it previously spent overseeing systems by about 15 percent. "We are able to spend the time far more strategically to better run the organization," Safonov reports. Finally, City Harvest eliminated an entire rack of servers, which led to direct cost savings and reduced energy costs.
More importantly, all of this is helping City Harvest improve delivery schedules and ensure that more food reaches the mouths of hungry citizens.
"One of the challenges we face," Safonov explains, "is that City Harvest serves about 500 food programs in New York City, and it's important to coordinate efforts so that different hunger relief organizations aren't duplicating efforts." While the New York City Food Assistance Collaborative operates a data warehouse that organizations use, previous systems weren't always up to the task of sharing information in near-real time.
But things are different today. "We are now sharing data across the city to make better decisions and to better help the hungry," Safonov reports.