Getting value from virtual

When Hellmann Worldwide Logistics needed to upgrade its local server environment, the company decided to launch a project of data centre virtualisation, to create an IT infrastructure that would both provide enhanced efficiency and help the company to continue with rapid regional expansion.

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Getting value from virtual Hellmann Worldwide Logistics chose to virtualise its local data centre, rather than just replace its old servers and infrastructure, says Altaf. (ITP Images)
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By  Mark Sutton Published  January 13, 2013

Virtualisation is at the core of many of the advances made in ICT in recent years, bringing enhanced efficiency to environments and enabling new models including cloud computing. The technology has taken off, with widespread adoption in many larger enterprises, although virtualisation has not been universally adopted. According to TechTarget, two-thirds of organisations have virtualised 50% or less of their infrastructure.

Roadblocks to virtualisation include lack of skills, confusion over tools for server availability and performance monitoring, managing storage and backup of virtual machines, and software licensing issues. Many of these hurdles were faced by the Middle East operations of logistics provider Hellmann Worldwide Logistics when it looked to virtualise its data centre, but the company approached them as challenges to be overcome, rather than a reason not to go forward with modernising its infrastructure.

The logistics provider, which is headquartered in Germany with operations in 54 countries worldwide, began operations in the Middle East in 1999. With specialities in automotive and healthcare, both busy sectors for the region, Hellmann’s business in the Middle East has expanded rapidly. The company began with a user base of around 40 people, but has since grown from its local headquarters in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone, to include 15 facilities in the region and an internal user base of over 130 users. The rapid growth experienced by the company over the past few years resulted in a burden on the IT infrastructure, according to Siddiqui Altaf, IT manager for the Middle East Region for Hellmann.

“We had a massive challenge of how do we accommodate IT, and facilitate our users with IT services, using the existing infrastructure. We decided to start off on a project for server virtualisation,” he explained. “We had a discussion, and came up with two options — option A, if we just replace the existing environment, or option B, if we plan for the future — and go with server virtualisation in a high-end environment. After discussion with the management and my regional boss in Australia, we concluded that, based on our expansion, we would go with option B.”

The company scoped out the project, and selected local systems integrator NewRAS as the partner for the project, based on the support and interactions with NewRAS’ technical team and management, its expertise in virtualisation and integrating multiple vendor environments, and through understanding of Hellmann’s business needs, including strict compliance requirements for standards including ISO 90001 2008.

A number of options for the hardware and software were considered for the project, with the final choice made to deploy IBM blade servers in a BladeCenter H Chassis, with VMware virtualisation software and Veeam virtualisation backup and management software.

IBM hardware was selected, as it is Hellmann’s global standard, which simplifies the operating environment and means that Hellmann’s global IT team is able to provide assistance with any support issues. IBM BladeCenter H Chassis was selected as it has support for SAN, and the project also includes virtualised SAN storage and an IBM tape backup library, part of the company’s audit requirements.

“The reason we selected VMware is it is one of the best products in the virtualisation environment that we have seen so far; and it is used in our global and regional offices,” Altaf said. “We went with VMware vCenter Operations Manager, which gave us entire visibility on how the systems run, what the capacity utilisation is, and lets us manage our virtual environments with various alerts and automation.”

The need for backup that would meet compliance standards, and how to manage that in a virtual environment was a particular challenge to Hellmann. Many of the audit points related to SAN usage and FTP ports. The company selected IBM fibre channel SAN storage and tape drive, to standardise with the rest of the organisation globally, and to get the performance benefits of fibre channel systems, but selected backup administration solutions from Veeam, over its global vendor Symantec. Altaf said that Veeam offered a wider functionality, and provides more flexibility and automation to manage the virtual storage.

“We are a heavily audited company and NewRAS came at the right time and helped us design our virtualisation project and consolidate our storage making it fully redundant, and gave us a perfect solution for our data backup and replication,” he said.

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