Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG is a regional utility that operates electricity and gas pipelines in around 1,000 municipalities in Schleswig-Holstein and northern Lower Saxony. As part of the energy transition in Germany, the company also connected around 35,500 renewable energy plants to its grids.
The electric grid operated by Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG spans 52,500 kilometers; its natural gas grid spans almost 16,000 kilometers. These networks are monitored and controlled from the state-of-the-art network control center in Rendsburg. A total of 1,250 specialists at 25 locations ensure reliable network operation around the clock every day.
Security of supply is also a top priority for the company’s PIT department. “As Process IT (PIT) we are mainly concerned with IT-supported measurement, control and regulation of network operation,” says Kai Lannte, system administrator at Schleswig-Holstein Netz. “While our office workstations are managed by external service providers, we continue to operate the basic services for our infrastructure, such as the network management center, ourselves.”
Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG also provides services for other regional network operators within the E.ON Group in Germany. The company now provides its basic services for Avacon Netz, Bayernwerk Netz and E.DIS Netz. This expansion entails greater responsibility: “In the future, several hundred thousand kilometers of electricity, gas and communications networks will depend on the availability of our basic services,” says Benjamin Bubbers, who works as a system administrator for the Schleswig-Holstein network. “Any network failure could have an impact on millions of households and companies throughout Germany.”
The utility company was therefore looking for a new data management platform that could keep pace with the growing requirements and guarantee nationwide security of supply.
The Schleswig-Holstein Netz PIT team considered different potential solution options and finally decided to use a hyperconverged infrastructure. Computing, storage, network and virtualization resources were to be integrated in a system that was as easily scalable as possible to ensure quicker response to new requirements. Three hyperconvergence products were shortlisted, with Cisco HyperFlex finally winning the race. “The solution scored not only for its excellent price/performance ratio, but also for its all flash architecture and very flexible expansion options,” says Benjamin Bubbers. “For example, we can specifically upgrade RAM or CPU performance to meet the performance requirements of specific applications. “
Veeam Availability Suite was chosen as the data management solution for the hyperconverged infrastructure right from the start. The PIT team had already had a very positive experience with this solution while operating its VMware vSphere environment. Tests also showed that the marriage of Veeam and Cisco HyperFlex would be highly successful.
“A key factor was the native storage integration of Veeam and HyperFlex,” explains Kai Lannte. “The Veeam solution can backup and restore virtual machines directly from the HyperFlex snapshots. This way, the performance of the production systems is not affected during backup – and we can significantly shorten the intervals between recovery points with more frequent snapshots.”
In order to provide the basic services for the four grid operators with the optimal availability they demand, Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG is setting up an infrastructure throughout Germany. Two HyperFlex clusters with eight nodes each will be installed in each of the four main data centers. Each cluster will be set up in two separate server rooms. In this “stretched cluster” configuration, the data is mirrored synchronously between the two HyperFlex systems. If one server room fails, the remaining system can take over seamlessly.
Even in the event that a location fails completely, there are precautions in place. With the Veeam solution, there is constant replication between the different data centers. “If one location is no longer accessible, we can restart the affected applications at another location in the shortest possible time,” reports Benjamin Bubbers. “The same virtual machine that has previously been running in Bavaria, for example, is then running with the same network address in Schleswig-Holstein. This enables us to meet demanding recovery targets of less than two hours for critical applications.”
The Veeam solution optimizes data transfer over the WAN and offers inline deduplication, data compression, WAN acceleration and more. In addition, Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG can use Veeam to encrypt replication traffic and provide throttling to control bandwidth utilization. “We benefit enormously from these possibilities in everyday life and can also secure data volumes of several terabytes over the WAN with high performance,” says Kai Lannte.
Hence Veeam is today a key component for the reliable business operation of the company. The PIT department not only ensures maximum availability of virtual resources, but also of physical servers such as domain controllers and SQL databases. The additional backup of data on external storage systems and tape is also controlled via the Veeam Availability Suite.
When restoring data and applications, Schleswig-Holstein Netz can draw on a multitude of different options. With the Instant VM Recovery technology from Veeam, for example, failed virtual machines can be restarted directly from the backup and are available again within minutes. Granular recovery of application objects is also very easy. The company uses this option for Active Directory and SQL Server, among others. “In many cases, the first level support can already restore the required objects,” says Kai Lannte. “This saves us time for other tasks.”
The new infrastructure also helps the grid operator comply with their statutory obligations as an operator of critical infrastructure (KRITIS). Veeam’s SureBackup function automatically checks the recoverability of virtual machines. “This information makes it easier for us to prove that we have data protection and risk prevention under control,” says Benjamin Bubbers.
Veeam ONE also plays an important role in this context. The solution continuously monitors the performance and availability of the virtual machines and creates regular backup reports. At the same time, Veeam ONE provides a utility company with valuable infrastructure utilization data. “This in turn helps us to size the HyperFlex systems and plan future capacity,” concludes Kai Lannte. “The Cisco and Veeam solutions simply work very well together at all levels. This gives us exactly the combination of maximum availability and efficiency that we need for secure and economical network operation”.
- Reliable network operation through fail-safe process IT (PIT)
Thanks to Cisco and Veeam, Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG takes the availability of basic applications for network operation to a new level. Recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs) are significantly shortened. External replication between different locations enables the company to restart critical applications immediately, even in the event of a disaster.
- Flexible scalability as requirements grow
Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG provides basic services for several other network operators throughout Germany. As requirements grow, Cisco’s hyperconverged infrastructure can be expanded very quickly and easily. Veeam also provides valuable information on system utilization, thus enabling proactive capacity planning.
- Higher efficiency through better resource utilization
The combination of HyperFlex systems with the Veeam Availability Suite improves PIT efficiency in many areas. Integrated deduplication and compression capabilities, for example, minimize storage requirements and bandwidth usage when backing up data over the WAN.