Consolidation is flavour of the month for IT departments. It helps businesses lower the cost of IT management by reducing the number of physical servers, desktop PCs and network infrastructures that must be supported. Consolidation also fits neatly into a company's green strategy, since less IT equipment produces less carbon and contributes to lower electricity bills. Here are four examples of IT consolidation.
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CASE STUDY 1
Virtual desktop infrastructure: Leicestershire Constabulary VDI keeps bobbies on the beat
Like most frontline public services, Leicestershire Constabulary has turned to technology to reduce bureaucracy, while also keeping costs down.
Inspector Sanjiv Pattani of Leicestershire Constabulary says when the government released £50m to fund mobile policing initiatives following the publication of the late-2007 Flanagan report, the Midlands force was already looking at ways to use existing IT to increase officer productivity.
"We decided on a mixed economy of devices - Blackberry mobiles for selected teams without vehicles; demountable Panasonic Toughbooks in mobile units. The fundamental element to both was remote desktop access," says Pattani.
James Pearce, Leicestershire Constabulary information systems analyst, says the IT team had to translate the business case and user requirements into a successful delivery project. "It was decided to take the standard physical platform and make it virtual and accessible," he said.
The force was able to take advantage of the fact that it was already using Citrix Presentation Server for application delivery. "We wanted to take the virtual desktop infrastructure [VDI] and co-locate it anywhere. So implementing Citrix XenDesktop seemed a good fit, as we did not have to reposition the apps," says Pearce.
Although some bespoke development work was required to make key applications - such as Crime & Intelligence and Command & Control - work on the various mobile platforms, Pearce says the roll-out benefited from previous experience of the Citrix interface.
By September 2008, Leicestershire Constabulary had worked with Citrix reseller Point-to-Point to deploy 150 mobile handheld and laptop devices to frontline staff. Pattani says this has reduced the amount of time they spend at the police station by 35%. There are further plans to deliver over 300 more data terminals according to role-specific responsibilities in the near future.
"The VDI project has enabled officers to complete full crime reports at the scene in a way that is less manually intensive, while also improving the quality and accuracy of information, as well as our efficiency and visibility in the community," he says.
CASE STUDY 2
Server virtualisation: The Eden Project grows a greener IT infrastructure
Just like any mid-sized business, The Eden Project relies on its IT infrastructure for key day-to-day operations. But unlike other growing businesses it had more reason to look for "green" products when it began to experience space, cooling and power problems, on top of regular electricity "brown-outs" in the area.
Jon Curry, head of IT at The Eden Project, says that as far as energy consumption is concerned, the IT team is "always trying to do the right thing". It has achieved some easy wins by factoring the energy performance of equipment and IT suppliers' green credentials into the procurement process.
He says server virtualisation offered a potential solution to the disaster recovery challenges posed by its growth and power issues, that would also support the core environmental remit of the popular Cornwall botanical visitor attraction.
"We have UPS [uninterruptible power supply] units on site, but the vast majority of our server estate is due to be replaced within the next three years," Curry says. "One of the advantages of server virtualisation was that we would be able to restore data to any point, as opposed to taking on a major disaster recovery contract."
The Eden Project worked with third-party virtualisation specialist S3 Consulting to consolidate its datacentre infrastructure using NetApp storage virtualisation and VMware server virtualisation technology running on HP ProLiant servers. Curry says the project has gone smoothly, with virtualisation technologies deployed across a dozen of its servers so far.
The visitor attraction has already reduced its physical storage requirements by 50% using the storage virtualisation deduplication and thin provisioning features. Application performance and systems resilience and capacity have improved. And the removal of decommissioned servers, along with their space and cooling requirements, is expected to reduce IT's power consumption by 35% this year.
"We made the business case not by how much we would save, but against how much it would cost us in patching, downtime and solving other such problems if we did not do this," Curry says. "We expect the project to pay for itself within 18 months."
CASE STUDY 3
Software-as-a-service: SaaS streamlines online customer contact for Comet
When Comet established its goal to become "Britain's most trusted electrical specialist", it turned to self-learning customer relationship management (CRM) software to improve its online customer contact processes.
Simon Parkinson, general manager of the Comet customer information centre, says, "We had a bunch of in-house systems to support the customer contact process that were time-consuming and did not allow us to react to the consumer as we can now."
Within three months of deploying RightNow Technologies' CRM software and its self-learning knowledgebase in 2003, more than 40% of enquiry e-mails were eradicated. Today, this has increased to a 50% reduction in e-mails coming into the Customer Care team because 94% of customers opting for self-service are able to successfully access the constantly updated knowledgebase via the website's questions and answers page.
Parkinson says monitoring what customers are saying about thousands of different products and managing the knowledgebase this creates between Comet and its hundreds of suppliers would be extremely difficult to do manually. "The self-learning capability of RightNow is a key differentiator," he says, enabling the team to refine customer-related information for the rest of the business to better match customer expectations and requirements.
The fact that RightNow employs an on-demand, or software-as-service (SaaS), delivery has also been a key factor in its continued, successful use by Comet, where a 100% first-time contact resolution rate has been achieved, even during peak shopping seasons.
Parkinson says that because it is fully hosted it is easier to manage the SaaS model in terms of long-term costs, and the process of upgrading the CRM software - which the retailer is about to do again - was easier compared with traditional, on-premise systems.
"There are also a huge number of standard or bespoke reports, which form the main output of our work, but RightNow provides accurate data that we can track, deal with and respond to in a very short time," he adds. "We know who each customer is, when we spoke to them and what the resolution to their contact was."
CASE STUDY 4
Unified communications software: Midlands Mental Health Trust unifies communications
Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) wanted to reduce staff dependence on pagers and radios by creating a communications platform that could easily integrate new technologies.
As one of the largest and most complex NHS-based mental health trusts in the UK, it needed to find a better way of easily staying in contact with staff when they are away from their desk.
Richard Rennalls, BSMHFT telecommunications manager, says the Trust wanted to create a next-generation communications platform to improve staff contact in support of more responsive patient care.
As in all public sector organisations, the platform investment had to enhance patient service levels while also lowering costs. So BSMHFT last year invested in a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) based unified communications platform supporting voice, data, remote access and video to improve staff mobility.
The Trust selected Siemens' OpenScape and HiPath products to run over its existing wireless large area network (Wlan), coupled with Siemens' fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) technology, HiPath Mobile Connect, to automatically switch between its telecom operator's cellular network and the Trust's VoIP network, even during a call.
"Siemens was the only supplier able to offer a true, open, session initiation protocol (SIP) solution [at the time], with a complete enterprise feature set," says Rennalls. In addition, a high level of integration with BSMHFT's existing integrated services digital exchange (iSDX) network was key to achieving a lower total cost of ownership.
Since implementation, overall operating costs have dropped. A new contact centre, designed to take over from a series of smaller units, has also been introduced. It uses Siemens' multimedia customer query routing, tracking and handling system, HiPath ProCentre, to improve the ability to resolve customer enquiries on the first call.
Rennalls says the unified communications implementation has introduced technology that fits with the strategy of the Trust. "In particular, WiFi and applications such as DACS [Digital Alarm and Communications Server] and FMC are key to potential cost and efficiency savings."
Ernst & Young AG is one of Germany’s leading certified accounting companies, and is part of Ernst & Young Global operations. This is a major global organisation offering a range of services, such as tax reporting, accounting and auditing and technology and security risk in 700 locations in 140 countries around the world.
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As one may imagine, the technology requirement for an organisation of this size is as complex as it is large and developments in technology were becoming harder for Ernst & Young to keep abreast of. For example, storage and backup requirements increase continually, as has the average size of a server room and the amount of energy that such a facility generates. Even though by the laws of IT servers are decreasing in physical size, the systems are often now rack-mounted. This means that they require more space, and the amount of power that was typically generated only a few years ago, perhaps 200W, has probably now more than doubled.
The amount of investment required from supporting such an increase in power generated would, projecting forward, almost certainly have detracted from Ernst & Young’s core business. It decided to embark upon a radical act: IT decided to bring the IT servers of its national data centres in Eschborn near Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Rotterdam under one roof.
Centralisation is certainly no silver bullet; it’s actually an expensive process. Premises have to be researched, located and specified and political issues such as relocations or redundancies all have to be considered. So it was not an easy task to convince Ernst & Young’s management of the benefits.
Harold Klein, CTO Ernst & Young
The decision was made easier, nevertheless, by the fact that two of the three data centres were closing due to lease expiration. As management was already faced with this expense, it was easier for the centralisation and its related costs to be approved.
Dr Harold Klein CTO of Ernst & Young expresses confidence that, having convinced management to embark on this strategy of co-location, the benefits to the rest of the business will soon become apparent. “By outsourcing the data centre,” he says, “we have the freedom to concentrate on what is unique for Ernst & Young.”
Two steps to consolidation
This unique job entailed two steps. The first step was to centralise the data centres in an off-site location– that is, the co-location. The second was the consolidation, which, ultimately, is the part of the process that would reduce IT infrastructure costs.
Essentially, co-location is not about transferring IT departments and employees outside: these operations stay with in the firm. The process works on a pay-per-use, not investment, model and differs to ‘classical’ IT outsourcing in that is a selective outsourcing service. The basic service that Ernst & Young employed was for data centre capacity and carrier connectivity, but with the additional provision of managed services – such as backup and recovery, maintenance, security and performance management.
For an investment to achieve maximum benefit, a co-location model for a data centre should cover a 10-15 year period, but it is difficult to plan exact costing. As a result, companies tend to plan for contingency space, which can lead to oversizing or redundant space. The ongoing miniaturisation of servers and storage, however, means the temptation can also be to plan for less space.
As befitting a major global organisation that has access to and stores large volumes of highly confidential and business-critical data, Ernst & Young’s proposed consolidation was a huge undertaking. Unsurprisingly, it took more than two years to find a suitable co-location partner. The research involved lots of parameters just to search for the right location as local internet infrastructure, income tax and salary costs all had to be considered.
Frankfurt was the clear choice for location for several reasons: as well as being a central European location with excellent Internet infrastructure, and not least that it is the largest German Ernst & Young location with available space for a disaster recovery data centre in its newly built office building.
The next step was to look at five local co-location firms and what they could provide, and on what terms. From these discussions, TeleCity, a European co-location, data centre and managed services company, was the winner.
Flexibility of terms was among the key items. Where other companies wanted a specified commitment from the outset, TeleCity only required a minimum commitment. In effect this means that TeleCity evaluates the space that has been used on a quarterly basis so that if Ernst & Young has used more space it pays more the following quarter, and less if it has used less space. There is a minimum payment, however, that must be paid even if use falls below this threshold.
In contractual terms, the minimum commitment is for 60 server racks for storage and backup. The TeleCity campus is 600m² and contains 200 servers, although it has capacity for 400-500, should they be required.
The investments in equipment – such as a diesel generator, UPS and air conditioning – have been made to cope with maximum capacity at the outset, which means no alterations will be necessary when the data centre runs on full capacity.
This flexibility means that Ernst & Young can upgrade or downgrade at anytime during the contract, and is key to the success of the project. Even though the basic infrastructure and data centre operations have been outsourced, it expects it will hand over some of the more complex managed services to TeleCity in time.
Moving higher up the services chain, Ernst & Young’s needs will inevitably increase and become more complex. Internet access and storage, for example, are functions that add more value to the business, so the benefits of outsourcing must extend beyond the parameters of cost savings alone.
It took two years for Ernst & Young to decide the basic co-location model so it comes as no surprise that it will also take time to evaluate storage services, likely storage area network (SAN) and backup, in the same way. Ernst & Young has no current plans to change partners but, in another example of the flexibility offered, should it find a partner that provides a more cost-efficient and cost-effective service than TeleCity, then it is free to use them.
Ernst & Young is using normal technology in 90% of the space it has taken, but 10% has been reserved by TeleCity for water-cooled storage. So, if and when Ernst & Young decide to change and use water-cooled storage, the technology is already in place to do this.
“We are really trying to think inside the customer’s head. We don’t want to provide only space,” says Dr Bela Waldhauser, managing director of TeleCity.
Bela Waldhauser, of TeleCity GmbH
With the capacity for 60-80 servers in one rack, it is likely that Ernst & Young will, eventually, switch to water-cooled technology. And when that time comes, TeleCity will be prepared.
While Ernst & Young will continue to operate the network infrastructure, hardware, software, data and applications, TeleCity will provide the basic infrastructure such as security, storage, temperature control and disaster recovery.
The thorough negotiation process has kept teething problems to a bare minimum—indeed both parties say there have been no problems to date of any significance—both parties are committed to regular dialogue, to enable the swift resolution of any potential problems.
But, as with any standard outsourcing contract, it is not 100% free of risk. If a co-location partner were to shut down its business, for example, the data centre would have to be moved, which, as well as creating extra costs, this would pose a risk to Ernst & Young’s operations. With this in mind, Ernst & Young chose a partner for whom co-location partner is its core business, rather than a carrier who also runs a co-location site.
At a time when businesses are forced to respond to downward financial pressure—“less for more” is likely a common mantra uttered across boardrooms around the globe—it is not hard to see the immediate benefits of outsourcing basic IT functions, to enable the business to concentrate on what it does best.
What is notable about the relationship between TeleCity and Ernst & Young, however, is the flexibility on both sides and the ongoing commitment to maintaining the relationship – and the agreement. Ernst & Young entered into the relationship confident that TeleCity can provide what it says it will, and without a long-term static cost commitment it knows it has the freedom to use as much, or little, space as required. It also knows that cost it pays will reflect this.