Smarter, more agile green IT – now within reach for small businesses
By Robert Colman
The value of having greener, more energy efficient IT departments has been well understood for the past few years, but until recently those efficiencies weren’t financially viable for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Times have changed quickly, as Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada can attest to. With IT virtualization, the company has become much more agile and, in the process, much more efficient.
By Robert Colman
Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada is the exclusive distributor of Harley-Davidson and Buell motorcycles, Genuine Motor Parts and Accessories and Motorclothes apparel in Canada. Deeley provides infrastructure solutions that continually improve business processes for their network of 71 authorized Harley-Davidson Retailers.
Brent Husband, manager of technical operations at Deeley, saw the time his team had for system enhancements decreasing because they were spending the bulk of their time maintaining their 45 Microsoft Windows servers.
“We’re not that big a company, and we’ve been experiencing tremendous growth in the last four or five years,” says Husband. “It’s always the same challenge – doing more with less. From the technology side, we were having challenges keeping pace with the demand on IT for new services and for revising existing services, and there wasn’t an interest corporately to double the size of the IT department, especially when you consider we were spending the majority of our resources just keeping things running that we’d already built and deployed. We really wanted to reinvent ourselves and become a more streamlined, forward-thinking, and dynamic type of IT organization.”
What Husband found was that the IT department as it was couldn’t meet the expectations of its client — the Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada management and internal customers.
“When you ask people outside of IT what makes IT great, it’s that they deliver new products and new services — that’s where the perceived value of IT was for Deeley’s various departments,” says Husband. “Recognizing that we had finite resources, we really needed to adopt some more modern structure and technology to allow us to become more agile, more dynamic, and more efficient. Although there were a variety of things we looked at doing to change, the biggest strategy was to change our technology infrastructure so that we could become more dynamic and have less of a requirement to administer or maintain that infrastructure.”
Husband worked with Dell to consolidate and rationalize the IT infrastructure at Deeley. Dell not only helped Deeley increase staff efficiency, they also helped Deeley create a more robust disaster recovery strategy for the company’s Windows servers and move away from single-application servers, reducing the physical space required for back-up servers and saving significant amounts of energy in the process.
Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada was able to reduce deployment time for new services and eliminated 40 per cent of its physical servers.
“Deeley and the challenges they experienced are very similar to what a lot of SMBs across Canada would echo,” says Chris Keenan from Dell. “It keeps coming back to some common foundations. For instance, power and cooling is up front and paramount for all of our customers. While they certainly want to take advantage of the latest and greatest technologies, they’ve got to be mindful of what the costs associated with that is. That is one aspect that is very similar among SMBs. Another is that they want to take advantage of the latest and greatest technologies and trends in data centres today, but the question is how to do so using an SMB budget. This requires understanding what the technology is, how to implement it and manage it.
The Deeley IT team implemented a long-term storage and server virtualization strategy, starting with Dell EqualLogic Internet SCSI (iSCSI) storage area networks (SANs) and continuing with Dell PowerEdge blade servers running Microsoft virtualization software.
“Overall, Deeley had 35 servers that were a generation or two old that they wanted to replace,” explains Keenan. “What we looked at was a consolidation strategy using virtualization technologies. Using virtualization allows customers to run multiple servers on one physical hardware device. So where a company could have previously had 16 physical servers, taking up a portion of a rack, that can now be reduced to 10 physical servers, and by virtualizing it they end up working with even less.”
Keenan notes the value of working with Microsoft on this project.
“Microsoft just released the latest version of their virtualization software, and it’s a wonderful fit for SMBs,” he notes. “The other piece that was particularly valuable in this project was the storage. When you’re trying to consolidate, a lot of the times you have so many physical servers drawing so much power, they’re the vessels that hold the hard drives that contain all the data. So by putting the storage in a much more efficient space, it: a) lets customers better use the storage they need, so they’re not wasting drive space and therefore wasting physical space on the racks and power; and b) enables ease of management for data. A key pain point for a lot of customers these days is how to manage data, growth, regulatory compliance, and availability for employees.”
The environmental and financial benefits might be great, but Husband sees the real value of virtualization in the fact that it’s moving the company into the future.
“The virtualization architecture really allows you to do a lot more with your resources,” says Husband. “The driver wasn’t the power savings. I agree with everybody who says that it just makes good business sense to go green. Additionally, taking a longer term view, we believe that the so-called “cloud-based” model of computing is the future. Processing is a commodity. And eventually, just like banking and hydro, we won’t build this service ourselves. This virtualization model is just a stepping-stone. We’re already dipping our toe into cloud computing. We outsource security to the cloud. Cutting our teeth in virtualization helps us cut our teeth on the idea of pooling our resources — processing and storage, cutting them up and using them as we need them. It will be interesting to see how our traditional partners like Microsoft and Dell position themselves for that, because it’s certainly going to happen and have an impact on their existing business models.”
This also creates a new role and relationship for IT with senior management and customers — that of a change agent.
“We’re sharing our view of the future with senior management, and we’re also talking to our suppliers about it, telling people this is what we think the future looks like, this is a stepping stone towards it, you’ve got to start thinking about how this is going to impact your departments or our business relationship, and anyone working in IT — some of the things they are doing in IT today probably won’t be done at all, or at least not how it’s being done today.”
Part of the reason why IT is able to take on this role is that management is a lot more tech savvy than it may have been five or 10 years ago. “Technology is more mainstream than ever, so our executive is hearing terms like virtualization and the cloud,” says Husband. “They may not understand the details, but the terms aren’t alien.”
Selling to senior management
Husband still had to properly sell this new IT structure to senior management, which required understanding the business in a way that the IT department wasn’t used to doing.
“First and foremost, we had to demonstrate an understanding of what the business leaders’ vision of the future was,” says Husband. “We had to demonstrate that we were aligned with what they wanted to accomplish. And if we didn’t have that, it would be very difficult to get buy-in. Then we had to articulate that alignment from an IT perspective and sell the notion of virtualization. The jargon doesn’t mean anything to management, but operating more cost-effectively, more efficiently — building that framework that will allow them to be where they want to be in the future — does.”
By creating a roadmap for senior management to explain how the IT department was gradually changing to suit management’s needs, it also gave Husband a useful tool to manage future projects.
“Now, when someone comes to us and says they want a new CRM system, we can look at the roadmap and determine if it fits into the business framework,” says Husband. “The roadmap is the framework for that discussion. It focuses everyone’s perception of the business.”
The ripple effect
The energy savings and environmental impact of the changes happening in IT is also having an influence on the rest of the company.
“It is generating a lot of enthusiasm,” says Husband. “We have a green committee in our organization, and it has expanded — we’re seeing all sorts of things like more recycling, proper waste management, energy consumption, and more. In our organization, we don’t have a telecommuting policy, but we are doing a lot more video conferencing. Once again, it’s green friendly, but we’re saving a lot of money doing it by not flying across the country. We’ve now got the technology and the experience to be comfortable doing it.”
Any big change has to come down to dollars and cents. Keenan notes that SANs and virtualization had a price tag in the hundreds of thousands a few years ago.
“Now, if SMBs look at the total all-in costs with the servers, storage, virtualization software and some training, they can get that starting from about $30,000 to upwards of $100,000, depending on their size,” says Keenan.
“The challenge with Deeley and a lot of other SMBs is there’s no cookie cutter approach, and I think that prebundled packages have been a problem in the past — that’s never the way they look when you’re done,” he notes.