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Wholesaler rings up Christmas sales with HPE Nimble Storage

National Tree Company remedied sluggish performance with an HPE Nimble Storage dHCI converged all-flash system, boosting order processing and sales in time for the holidays.

Despite a year of COVID-19 shutdowns, the National Tree Company managed to ramp up Christmas tree sales by implementing Hewlett Packard Enterprise Nimble Storage dHCI.

The Cranford, N.J., wholesaler imports and distributes artificial Christmas trees and other seasonal items to major retailers. Its customers include Amazon, Home Depot, Target and Wayfair.

National Tree experienced storage performance issues during the 2019 holiday rush. The momentum of orders overwhelmed aging legacy storage, forcing National Tree to stagger production and, at times, even shut down order processing to prevent failure. Processing the orders required up to 12 hours before products could be shipped.

Jason GrenardJason Grenard

That was too long for many retailers during a busy season, said Jason Grenard, who joined National Tree in March as director of IT. He said the HPE Nimble Storage dHCI is the key ingredient in an IT revamp.

Nimble dHCI is the vendor's take on converged infrastructure. The dHCI stands for disaggregated hyper-converged infrastructure. The product combines Nimble all-flash arrays with HPE ProLiant servers, tied together with the HPE Nimble Storage automation stack.

Grenard said the new storage allows National Tree to fill most orders in about 20 minutes. The faster turnaround increased production by 70% and helped improve sales by 35%.

"Our orders are going out the door a lot faster. We experience no backlog. People aren't waiting around the use the system or just to make sure it doesn't crash," Grenard said.

HPE Nimble Storage flash and InfoSight

National Tree risked losing high-end retailers unless it could avoid a repeat of the uneven performance. Grenard was hired and tasked with finding alternative storage for 2020.

Three days after joining National Tree, lockdowns complicated matters for Grenard. In addition to faster storage, Grenard said he needed to find a cloudlike storage system that would enable the company to receive and process orders remotely.

 Grenard is a "big fan" of HPE servers and the Nimble Storage arrays. HPE acquired the Nimble SAN arrays in 2017 for $1.2 billion, a deal fueled largely by Nimble's InfoSight suite for AI and predictive analytics.

"My last employer was a Nimble customer for eight years,"  he said. "When I started to evaluate our infrastructure here, I knew we needed a system that allowed everything to work together. My first thought was to get an HPE-Nimble Storage system. What excited me was seeing how the InfoSight platform works across the entire stack."

Performance equals production

Grenard said National Tree's improved production performance depends on the performance of the Nimble Storage dHCI. He uses a single Nimble all-flash array that is sized for 8 TB of data.

The performance boost comes from the way the Nimble arrays handle data reduction, along with efficient management of virtual machines, Grenard said.  He said Nimble InfoSight provides visibility on how hosts perform as data loads increase during peak usage.

"There is tremendous advantage in identifying a bottleneck and being able to quickly analyze it within the same management platform. We radically changed our infrastructure six months before our busiest season. We had to know the reports the system generated were accurate," Grenard said.

In addition to Nimble dHCI on-premises storage, National Tree is strategically moving some applications to the cloud. Email files and folders were shuttled from Microsoft Exchange to Office 365, and Microsoft SharePoint is the target for publicly shared user files. Grenard plans to migrate ERP systems next year to Microsoft Dynamics 365.

National Tree backups are sent to an HPE StoreOnce appliance with Veeam integration. The company replicates its entire data center to the Iland disaster recovery-as-a-service cloud. While Nimble is the new primary storage, Grenard found a use for the legacy IBM storage system by upgraded it to support virtual workstations for remote employees.

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