Finally, ZooParc de Beauval prefers hyperconvergence to the cloud

When the impressive white tiger looks you straight in the eye, it is a sense of majesty and awe that goes through you. It is one of the 35,000 animals and 800 species that live in the ZooParc de Beauval, located in Loir-et-Cher, and ranked as the 4th most beautiful zoo in the world. It is home to the famous pandas on loan from China, which the 1.6 million visitors come to see every year. It is constantly evolving and was created more than forty years ago.

Such is not the case with its IT, which only began to take shape five years ago. This IS now supports the activities of all zoos, from animal management to welcoming visitors to hotels, restaurants, shops and also ticket sales. The computer network was the first major project: Five years ago it went from 20 Mbit / s to 1 Gbit / s. “Above all, we have set up 4G backup networks, radio networks, and we are calling for more operators, because Beauval is still at the center of nothing”, laughs Sylvain Spodar, who arrived at the zoo in 2016 to take responsibility for IS and modernize that.

The challenge of modernizing to avoid crashes and cyber attacks

The triggers for this modernization were a major IT outage followed by a ransomware attack, both of which took place just over five years ago. The zoo was convinced of this, the root cause of these problems had to be found in defective IT.

Fiber optics were already installed, but the operation of the network was chaotic, poorly controlled, resulting in incidents that were all the more frequent as the number of daily visitors varied greatly depending on the period; it can in some days reach 30,000. An application server also operated without backup and was open externally without filtering.

When Sylvain Spodar took office, Beauval’s IT system operated on the principle of one software per physical server, where certain hotel applications even required four servers. The first considered solution was to migrate these hotel applications to the cloud, in this case to AWS, which Sylvain Spodar knew well.

“It just needed a latency of no more than 20 milliseconds.”

Sylvain SpodarDirector of Information Systems, ZooParc de Beauval

“It just needed a latency of no more than 20 milliseconds. The first few weeks went well. Then, poorly designed, the software started to calm down as room reservations increased. The screens took a minute or two to load!” Says Sylvain Spodar.

To circumvent the latency issue, he cuddles: Instead of using PCs connected to online servers, Beauval Zoo employees would use thin clients, connected to virtual PCs at AWS (Workspaces offer), which would be directly connected to the virtual machines running the server software. From a functional point of view, it is a success, latency problems disappear. On the other hand, Workspaces are way too expensive.

Nutanix for cost and ease of use

From this moment on, the CIO is looking for an alternative. He finds out virtualization players who suggest leaving IS in place instead. “I had a very good contact with a Nutanix dealer who spoke to me very early on about hyperconvergence. We were then in 2018, but I was not yet ready to take the plunge. Then the idea took off and I asked for it again. , a year later, “says Sylvain Spodar.” Word of mouth showed that Nutanix customers were very satisfied, both in terms of cost and ease of use. So we made that choice. “

The Nutanix configuration – the NX series nodes, each with two Xeon cores – was implemented in 2019. Sylvain Spodar selected two clusters of three nodes each divided into two compartments in active / active mode. This choice of two computer rooms is justified in particular by the geographical location of the zoo, where the slightest storm disrupts the electrical network.

The DSI team migrates to the cluster the applications that were still running on physical servers, as well as the five virtual machines that had been moved to the public cloud.

In terms of backup, the zoo starting from scratch, DSI implemented a Hycu solution specifically designed for Nutanix. In addition, long-term backup of the cloud to Glacier, AWS’s online archiving service.

Tomorrow, analysis and automation

Sylvain Spodar believes he has not yet completed the transformation of IS. Data processing – still archaic, with Excel sheets printed on paper – is undergoing major reform. A data lake for analyzing the commercial activity of the zoo (catering, hotels, etc.) is being prepared, a priori with operations at AWS. A computer scientist was recruited in September.

In terms of animal management, Beauval plans to use the IoT to automatically control temperature and humidity conditions. This process should avoid requiring manual intervention by users in vivarias and terrariums. As for the biological monitoring of the animals, it must be carried out using dedicated software in the category ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System).

Meanwhile, the zoo has equipped itself with Wifi terminals, Ruckus Wireless models have been deployed both in hotels and in certain enclosures.

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