Home Trust quickly pivots during pandemic with IBM Cloud and VMware

The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges that businesses have faced in their lifetime. But Home Trust — a financial services institution with about 1,000 employees — was ready for it, thanks to a cloud migration the previous year.

“On Friday the 13th, the reality of COVID became apparent and we had to send everyone home,” recalls Doug Caldwell, the company’s vice-president of IT, infrastructure and information security, of the March lockdown.

Sixty per cent of those employees had a corporate laptop to bring home, but the other 40 per cent had to rely on a personal computer to connect to the company’s portal environment. “However, we didn’t have enough capacity in that environment to support that many remote users,” says Caldwell.

Home Trust’s journey to cloud

Fortunately, Home Trust had migrated to IBM Cloud and VMware the previous year. Within 24 hours of lockdown, the IT team was able to go into the IBM portal, configure a new host machine and spin up virtual machines as needed. By Thursday, 95 per cent of employees were working remotely. And by the following Wednesday, all staff were set up to work from home.

“I have to be honest, we got lucky — if this pandemic hit a year ago, we would not have been able to support our staff or our customers,” says Caldwell. Without IBM Cloud and VMware, this process would have taken six weeks to six months — possibly longer because of pandemic-related supply-chain issues.

In 2018, Home Trust’s IT infrastructure was based in two co-location data centres in Etobicoke and Barrie, which were both coming to their end of lease. The company had to make a decision: spend millions of dollars on new servers and amortize that investment or turn to a pay-as-you-go cloud solution instead.

The ultimate decision to move to cloud wasn’t just about moving from a CapEx model to an OpEx one. “Moving to IBM Cloud gave us a much more flexible landscape that would scale up or down with our needs over the coming years,” says Caldwell.

In 2019, Home Trust migrated its on-prem workloads into IBM Cloud, starting with the migration of more than 500 virtual machines (VMs) from its non-production co-location facility. The production environment followed shortly afterwards with another 350 VMs, done by Home Trust staff using the IBM Cloud Portal and automation tools provided by the VMware on IBM Cloud solution stack.

The first phase of the migration took a mere 10 weeks, while the second phase took only 16 weeks — without any major hiccups. The ‘lift and shift’ to cloud was achieved on time and on budget.

Within the VMware environment, Home Trust is able to fail over from one server to another with effectively no downtime. So when COVID-19 hit, they had the infrastructure in place to spin up virtual servers as needed. “Having the flexibility within IBM Cloud enabled us to do that and respond very quickly to something that was completely unplanned and certainly not in the forecast for 2020,” says Caldwell.

This also futureproofs the company for both predictable and unpredictable scenarios. “COVID turned out to be the proof in the pudding. We put the system to the test and it worked,” says Caldwell. “We were able to literally turn on a dime and respond to an unprecedented business challenge.”

Find out more about Home Trust’s journey to cloud here.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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