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Virtualisation has enabled gm2 Logistics to reduce its data centre footprint by a third

Server and storage virtualisation helped gm2 Logistics to simplify data management and ensure business continuity. It also reduced the data centre’s carbon footprint through lower power and cooling requirements, leading to a reduction in capital and running costs.

 

Date: 1 Aug 2011

gm2 Logistics is a service organisation, providing warehousing, distribution, accounting and IT. Based just outside London, it is part of the James McNaughton Group, whose core activity is the distribution of paper, board and other substrates to the UK graphics art market. gm2 Logistics has a fleet of 91 vehicles that operate across 10 depots around the UK. A flexible and reliable storage platform is key to ensure that about 740 tons of paper products are delivered to more than 1,350 customers on time every day.

The IT infrastructure at gm2 Logistics supports two central distribution centres (CDCs) and about 7 regional distribution centres (RDCs) that are responsible for warehousing, trucking, shipping and other services for one of the largest paper merchants in the UK and Ireland. High availability and low costs are essential in this extremely competitive, low-margin industry. Any downtime would leave trucks wasting time waiting to be loaded, thus critical IT failures have the potential to disrupt delivery and affect customer service.

The business need
The company’s ageing storage system was struggling to support growing demands for capacity. It was constantly shuffling data from one place to another, which was very labour-intensive and made it impossible to predict and prepare for changing data requirements. High availability across the company’s 80 servers was also a growing need. Since the company sells around £1.5M of paper a day it could not afford any downtime.

gm2 logistics had a traditional data centre – one where it had attempted to respond to growth by adding servers and storage systems dedicated to specific applications, business functions, customers and geographic locations. Over time, it had created a complex, inflexible infrastructure that was difficult and costly to manage.

To solve this issue, Fordway recommended that the company transitioned to a virtualized server and storage environment. Fortunately, the benefits of virtualisation were well understood by gm2 Logistics: it could help them reduce capital and running costs; it would allow them to be more flexible and nimble in response to market changes; and, as every environmentally-aware CIO knows, it could help reduce the data centre’s carbon footprint through lower power and cooling requirements.

The solution
After reviewing the customer’s full requirements Fordway felt the most appropriate solution would be to deploy a new server and data management infrastructure comprising a virtualised server environment and the implementation of two DELL Compellent Storage Center storage area networks (SANs), one at each of the main data centres (which are located 135 miles apart). These would complement the virtual server environment that gm2 Logistics had also decided to deploy. Once deployed, this virtualised server and storage environment would allow the IT department to scale applications and storage easily with minimal disruption.

The primary data store, which currently holds approximately 6TB data, successfully replicates critical data over a 2Mpbs WAN link to the DR site over a hundred miles away. This provides gm2 Logistics with a fully virtualised data centre which massively improves its business flexibility, reduces recovery time for DR and provides a platform for future growth.

The results
Virtualisation has enabled gm2 Logistics to reduce its data centre footprint by a third. To achieve this reduction while increasing performance and availability, gm2 Logistics boots physical and virtual servers instantly from the SAN using the DELL Compellent software, allowing it to eliminate a lot of redundant hardware from its environment entirely. The end result is that gm2 Logistics is consuming less power, which is good for both the environment as well as the company’s IT budget. This is a particularly important as the company is committed to reducing the environmental impact of its business processes.

A capacity management exercise was undertaken before any products were ordered, ensuring that components decided upon during the design stage would be fit for purpose and helping to minimise the risk of project slippage due to unforeseen circumstances.

Once the implementation project teams were engaged, the first task was for all personnel involved to partake in a Project Initiation and Delivery (PiD) workshop. This provided the opportunity to highlight any previously unforeseen elements as well as agree on the project deliverables, timescales and assignment of responsibilities to both parties. PRINCE 2 practices were applied to the project process by the Fordway Project Manager, ensuring that the project ran smoothly. Following that the various products were implemented in line with the plan and the business’s expectations, ensuring that day to day operations and staff were not affected by the implementation of the new infrastructure components.

Time was set aside during the installation to allow user acceptance testing prior to the actual migration of data from the old systems to the newly consolidated virtualised data centre. For the actual migrations Fordway provided assistance in the design of data migration templates and subsequently oversaw the migration of the targeted services. Once the gm2 Logistics IT team had become proficient in the data migration process they took more responsibility with Fordway acting as in an advisory capacity.

Throughout the programme Fordway ensured that the IT team at gm2 Logistics were involved, as this was, at the end of the day, their IT infrastructure. Having a team of people who knew the process and systems involved ensured that Fordway’s time was optimised to add value where required whilst ensuring that gm2’s staff would become confident in the support of their new infrastructure. Fordway remained a guiding hand and valuable partner in the background by delivering ongoing technical support services and infrastructure lifecycle planning and guidance.

The benefits
The IT team at gm2 Logistics did not have the time or inclination to learn how to become SAN experts and were impressed at the ease with which the DELL Compellent SAN could be managed and the broad capabilities that came with it “out of the box”. This was an important factor that no other solution was able to match - alternative SANs would have brought complications and required retraining.

The Compellent SAN offered a unique technology – automated tiered storage, a feature that automatically classifies and migrates data at the block level between tiers of storage based on frequency of use. As a result, gm2 Logistics can now process critical “just-in-time” data from high-performance tier one FC storage and, once that data becomes inactive, it is automatically moved to lower-cost mid-tier drives. This level of automation dramatically eliminates both the time and the responsibility of the IT team to move data manually, while driving down storage hardware costs because unused data (80% of total data) now resides on cheap storage.

This SAN project is one of a string of virtualisation efforts with ‘green’ benefits that gm2 Logistics has now implemented, preceded by efficiency drives on servers and the desktop. Although the drivers to start with were cost and control the greening of the data centre has delivered a huge upside for them and the ability to extend this across their SAN infrastructure was a major, unplanned bonus.

For further information please contact at Fordway on 08448 700100 or visit www.fordway.com

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Tags: Server Virtualization, Storage Virtualization

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