Font Size

- Aa +

Tue 3 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Optimal returns

Following a significant investment in infrastructure last year, Schneider Electric's IT team is working to gain maximum return on investment in 2009.

Following a significant investment in infrastructure last year, Schneider Electric's IT team is working to gain maximum return on investment in 2009.

Schneider Electric is a truly global name. And in the Gulf, the company has worked to establish itself in a prominent position over the last few decades. With over ten offices across the region, and staff numbering in the hundreds, the company has over time developed an IT infrastructure to support its myriad activities.

"Historically, we had two datacentres. We used to have the headquarters in one location and we used to have a logistics platform in another location. So the applications related to logistics were installed in the logistics centre and the rest of the apps in the other centre," says Claudiu Iarca, Gulf MIS senior manager at Schneider Electric.

Virtualisation gives us agility. You can provision servers easily, you have less reliance on hardware and there is the factor of reduced cost. With virtualisation, you can do away with dedicated machines and optimise operations.

Recently, driven to improve efficiencies and productivity, the company decided to consolidate operations into a single datacentre.

"The consolidation was fuelled by all the benefits that the business could get out of it, including consistent information system governance, security, operational cost reduction, rationalisation and a more agile platform when providing solutions for changing or new business processes," points out Iarca.

Having decided on consolidation, the company took care to move on it in a phased manner, in order to reduce the risk and consequences of failure on a large scale.

"First, we implemented a SAN solution from EMC. This was followed by consolidation to one datacentre location. Then we did an ERP upgrade and implemented a Citrix solution.

Following this, we migrated to a few HP blade servers, which was a continuation of a project started in 2007. Then we moved this entire consolidated datacentre to our new location in Dubai Silicon Oasis. You can see we did it in several waves in order to obtain our objective, while eliminating risks and avoiding unscheduled downtime," says Iarca.

With the new datacentre, all apps are centralised, and offices across the region are able to access and perform necessary activities via this central resource. Applications that are accessed remotely include ERP modules, warehouse management system, reporting and some manufacturing configurations.

"When we decided to consolidate our datacentres, we realised that we would need consistent application access. The types of access that we had earlier were heterogeneous - Lotus Notes for specific applications, Microsoft's Terminal Services for ERP and OLAP access, and HTTP for reports.

We needed to unify access. Second, we wanted to reduce our dependence on bandwidth since it is expensive here. Third, we wanted to ease geographical constraints and gain flexibility in user's locations. And this is what the Citrix solution provided us with," says Iarca.

According to Iarca, the IT team always considers the maturity of a product when picking a solution for implementation, apart from several other factors, and this is what led them to select Citrix. Solutions Middle East, long term partner of Schneider in the Gulf, was selected for the deployment of the solution, which went live in October last year.

"The solution has already given us great ROI. We could not have expected more," states Iarca. More on the plate

Not only was 2008 crucial for the company because of the datcentre consolidation, but also because it was the time the 14-member IT team decided to try their hand at virtualisation.

"Virtualisation gives us agility. You can provision servers easily, you have less reliance on hardware and there is the factor of reduced cost. In a datacentre you have many servers which do not offer optimal utilisation and this might also be cyclic in nature. For example, we have a training server. That training server is not being utilised daily. With virtualisation, you can do away with dedicated machines and optimise operations," points out Iarca.

He goes on, "Another thing is server provisioning. You have changing business processes, new businesses, which means new business processes and you need new solutions for these. If you were to buy a server, it will take two months for it to be installed in your office. With virtualisation, you can provision resources within hours."

After much consideration, the company picked the solution provided by VMWare.

"VMWare has a long history, and they have achieved maturity with their product in the space. Unlike many others, virtualisation is not just a nice-to-have-product, which you include in your general range, for VMWare. They are dedicated to this," says Iarca.

Having installed the virtualisation solution, and having seen benefits from it, Iarca states that they will be looking to take advantage of more of its capabilities, and consider using it for disaster recovery and back-up activities.

Backed by all the investments in hardware and software that the firm made last year, Iarca expects 2009 to be slightly quieter.

"Having implemented this big project last year, the natural development will be to reap its benefit. So the next logical step is to have a network rationalisation and IP telephony rationalisation. We will be rationalising and taking advantage of the new technologies just implemented. We have a considerable amount of bandwidth which we don't need. We need to go on MPLS which can give us quality of service," states Iarca.

IT budgets are planned on an annual basis. General objectives are outlined by the management and the IT team meets them periodically to understand these. Once done, IT proposes solutions and suggests a budget, which is considered by the management before sign off.

"Usually the budgets are approved. I have been with the company for nine years and collaboration between IT and management is good," says Iarca.

As for 2009, Iarca expects the budget to be lower than last year, simply because the company will not be taking up as huge and ambitious projects as they did last year.

"The proposed budget for the year is less than last year's, because we have done a substantial investment in 2008. We do not need a similar investment this year as well," points out Iarca.

Iarca, though, admits that in the prevailing financial situation it is essential for everybody to work at reducing cost levels, which is what the company's IT team will also aim to do - with optimisation and rationalisation - throughout 2009, and thereby help the organisation in weathering the global storm much the better.

For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.