Buying off the plans, CHH opts for Microsoft’s roadmap

Forest products group takes a virtualisation a leap of faith

Auckland-based forest products company Carter Holt Harvey (CHH) is gradually deploying a Microsoft virtualisation platform, aiming to consolidate servers by at least 50%, increase server utilisation by 60%, and reduce hardware costs.

A key component of CHH’s IT strategy is consolidating its 400-plus servers by 50% by the end of 2007, Krassi Modkov, manager of design and implementation at CHH Infotech, the company’s IT department, told the audience at Computerworld’s virtualisation briefing in Auckland last week.

Part of this consolidation will be achieved through virtualisation, using Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, where and when it makes the most sense, he says. CHH’s technology adoption profile does not necessarily follow standard definitions, he says. When adopting a new technology, the company “rides the technology wave” for as long as it possibly can, says Modkov.

Scoping for the consolidation project began in late 2004, he says. The business objectives included reducing the annual cost of server applications; providing a simplified environment to reduce overall administration, backup, and support activities; improving scalability and reducing end-of-lease migration costs, Modkov says. CHH leases server equipment on a three-year cycle, which means it incurs costs every time the company has to migrate existing applications to new hardware.

After a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) VMware and Microsoft came in very close, says Modkov. In the end, the company decided to go for Microsoft’s virtualisation product, even though it was a relatively new technology, “miles behind VMware”, he says.

“We knew that we were basically the only early adopter,” he says.

But the company, a Microsoft shop, found the technology fit-for-purpose for its current IT environment. In addition, because the IT team was already familiar with Microsoft, it was easy for staff to learn and adopt the Microsoft virtualisation platform, he says.

Taking Microsoft’s virtualisation strategy and technology roadmap into consideration, Modkov felt that the long-term benefits far outweighed any current issues. “We looked at Microsoft’s roadmap, and we believed them,” he says.

He adds that, sometimes, bells and whistles, and fancy functionality, can turn the customer off.

Another reason for choosing Microsoft, Modkov says, was that the company flew in a consultant from the US, who helped set up the system — free of charge. This was necessary, as the tools weren’t very mature at the time, he adds.

The platform turned out to be easy to use and very reliable, but Modkov and his team also learned that backup was not as easy as they first thought and that not all applications work in a virtual environment. He notes that strong governance is needed to control the sprawl of virtual servers, and that virtualisation should be considered a journey, not a project.

Since the consolidation project started in 2005, around a hundred server operating systems have been taken out of the environment, and approximately 180 physical servers have been taken out, Modkov says.

“Server consolidation and virtualisation have been major contributing factors to a significantly reduced operational IT budget,” he says. “And virtualisation has improved our agility and allowed us to be able to respond to rapidly changing business needs.”

The recent introduction of a 64-bit host operating system has resulted in significant performance improvements, he says, and the introduction of servers with hardware-assisted virtualisation has further improved the performance.

Microsoft’s virtualisation technology has matured in the last years, and so have CHH’s processes and skills, says Modkov.

“At the moment, we are very pleased with Microsoft’s product,” he says. “The benefits so far had not been any different with, for example, VMware.”

CHH is now ready to start accelerating the virtualisation adoption, he says. “We will keep monitoring emerging trends and adjust our virtualisation strategy if necessary,” Modkov says.

The company may be investigating other types of virtualisation in the future, such as shared OS virtualisation and desktop virtualisation, he says. Modkov is also interested in de-duplication technology, for example EMC’s Avamar.

Carter Holt Harvey employs 10,000 people across New Zealand, Australia and Asia. CHH Infotech has 150 staff across New Zealand and Australia.