4-page Case Study
Posted: 7/3/2012
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Pella Window Maker Improves IT Service Delivery, Efficiency with Hyper-V Private Cloud

Pella has long been a trusted name in home and commercial construction, making beautifully crafted, energy-efficient windows and doors. But the construction business has been tough lately, and Pella has to create a premier product with lower overhead. The company’s IT staff supports this efficiency by moving its virtualized data center from VMware to Microsoft private cloud software—the Hyper-V technology in Windows Server 2008 R2 and Microsoft System Center 2012. With the switch, Pella is able to reduce IT inefficiencies and move to a measurable, service-oriented IT model. It can focus its IT staff on new business initiatives rather than on server management and give them a more rewarding work environment. By switching to Microsoft, Pella has also gained software licensing efficiencies that save money and provide more flexibility.

Situation
Pella is synonymous with beautiful, high-quality windows and doors used in both residential and commercial buildings. The Pella, Iowa–based company was founded in 1925 and today has 7,100 employees, showrooms across the United States and Canada, and 10 manufacturing facilities in the United States.

Pella understands that technology is vital to increasing productivity and improving competitiveness. Its small IT team continuously looks for technology solutions that help them focus their resources on promoting business growth, rather than on managing infrastructure.

Pella primarily runs Microsoft software in its data center, but in 2004, it virtualized its data center environment by using VMware software—the virtualization market leader at the time. An employee downloaded a copy of the software, played with it at home, and brought it into the office. Within a few short years, Pella had virtualized 85 percent of its 600 servers.

The timing of the server consolidation was fortuitous, because Pella’s business started to slow down in late 2005 with a downturn in the US housing market. “Virtualization really helped us reduce hardware costs during this tough time; we were able to retire hardware and not replace it,” says Jim Thomas, Director of IT Operations at Pella.

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* With System Center 2012, we have much more granular insight into and control over the services we’re delivering to the business. This is critical in helping Pella make great windows and doors.
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Jim Thomas
Director of IT Operations, Pella
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However, as the economic recession persisted, Pella needed to do more than just reduce server costs. It needed to make its already-lean IT staff as efficient as possible—making sure staffers were supporting business initiatives rather than spending hours a day maintaining and configuring servers. Also, recruiting people to work in rural Iowa isn’t always easy, and Pella likes to keep its employees challenged with new technologies and skills.

“We’re a pretty lean organization, and by ‘lean,’ I mean not only that we have a small staff but that we focus on things that matter,” Thomas says. “With virtualization, we eliminated many of the tasks associated with deploying servers and resolving hardware problems. But we wanted to become a true service-oriented organization, where we define the services that we provide and drive measurable improvements through metrics. We thought that the flexibility of cloud computing was the way to get there.”

Solution
By cloud computing, Thomas is referring to the pooling of virtual compute, storage, and networking resources into a seamless computing “fabric” in which resources are dynamically and automatically provisioned, reconfigured, and reallocated to handle fluctuating workloads. Pella didn’t have this capability with a purely virtualized environment.

In early 2012, Pella began researching private cloud offerings from Microsoft—specifically, Hyper-V virtualization technology in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system and Microsoft System Center data center solutions. A private cloud infrastructure is one that is dedicated to one organization’s use.

“VMware licensing changes caused us some concern,” Thomas says. “Making a switch to Hyper-V was going to save us money today and tomorrow as our business grows, because we wouldn’t take on additional licensing costs. We also felt that the larger Microsoft cloud vision and ecosystem was superior to what VMware had to offer and were excited about where it could take us as our business started recovering from the economic downturn. The Microsoft private cloud solution could help accelerate our view of services and our ability to move services across our three data centers.”

The idea of switching the well-established VMware environment to Hyper-V did concern some Pella IT staff members who were not familiar with Hyper-V or System Center. They were worried about the migration effort and were not convinced that Hyper-V could replace VMware ESXi.

“VMware has been very critical of Hyper-V,” explains John McConeghey, IT Manager at Pella. “But when we looked at the whole Microsoft cloud solution from top to bottom, we saw that it better aligned with the skill set of our staff, the applications we were using, and the platforms we were running.”

Create Proof of Concept to Address Concerns
In December 2011, the local Microsoft account team introduced Pella to FyrSoft, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with a Gold competency in Systems Management and a specialty in building cloud solutions using Microsoft software. FyrSoft helped Pella analyze its workload data, determine if the migration was feasible, and devise a migration plan.

“We performed a discovery and assessment, outlining the level of effort required to convert Pella from VMware to Hyper-V and addressed their technical questions,” says Jeff Skelton, Managing Partner at FyrSoft. ”There was some misunderstanding about Hyper-V among Pella staff. We were able to resolve those issues and create a proof of concept to demonstrate the capabilities of Hyper-V. While the migration wouldn’t be effortless, we showed them that it would be a lot simpler than they envisioned.”

Thomas adds, “The proof of concept went a long way toward proving that our environment would run and run well on Hyper-V and helping our staff become comfortable with the System Center tool set. Our team is now fully behind this initiative and working to be successful.”

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* VMware licensing changes caused us some concern. Making a switch to Hyper-V was going to save us money today and tomorrow as our business grows, because we wouldn’t take on additional licensing costs.
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Jim Thomas
Director of IT Operations, Pella
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Migrate 650 Virtual Machines
In January 2012, FyrSoft began implementing Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 along with the Microsoft Virtual Machine Migration Toolkit. This toolkit, based on technology from Veeam, automates many of the manual steps otherwise involved in VMware-to-Hyper-V migrations, reducing average migration times from 10 hours per virtual machine to about two hours per virtual machine.

“Pella had nearly 600 virtual machines, so without the toolkit, it would have taken up to 6,000 hours to convert their environment to Hyper-V,” Skelton says. “With the toolkit, it will take one-fifth that time.” Pella finished migrating its main data center to Hyper-V in just two months and has also migrated 10 manufacturing sites and numerous sales offices to Hyper-V.

“We’re dealing with applications that run our business, so to be able to do this migration quickly was very important to us,” McConeghey says. “The migration toolkit was a real benefit that FyrSoft brought to the table; it relieved us of a lot of heavy lifting to get from VMware to Hyper-V.”

One of the great features of the toolkit is the ability to make a copy of a virtual machine before migrating it. If a failure occurs mid-migration, FyrSoft could simply revert back to the old VMware virtual machine in a matter of minutes.

Build Private Cloud with Automated Efficiencies
Pella’s Hyper-V-based private cloud environment consists of 50 host servers (HP ProLiant G6 and BL45 blade servers) that contain approximately 600 virtual machines (100 virtual machines were eliminated during the migration). “I think I have 12 months of growing room in this environment,” McConeghey says. “The biggest challenge we have in the virtual space is memory, and we’re using the Hyper-V Dynamic Memory feature to get the most out of our investment.” Administrators use the Dynamic Memory feature to pool available memory on a physical host and dynamically distribute it to any virtual machines running on that host.

Pella is running most of its critical business applications in the Hyper-V cloud environment, including a critical quoting application used by salespeople to provide quotes to customers and the company’s product shipment tracking application.

Now that the cloud infrastructure is built, Pella has turned its attention to deploying Microsoft System Center 2012 and understanding how to use it to monitor and manage its infrastructure more efficiently. “We’ve learned so much about all the things we can do with System Center,” McConeghey says. “We plan to do lots of automation with the Orchestrator component, and we’re looking forward to monitoring our environment much more closely with the Operations Manager component.” Pella had server monitoring before, but nothing as granular as Operations Manager provides. The company can schedule and ship reports out to business stakeholders on an automated basis to apprise them of service health. “There are synergies across the whole System Center suite, such as triggering an Orchestrator event and having Operations Manager respond automatically, that will make our team so much more efficient,” says McConeghey.

Pella uses Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 to manage its 4,000 desktop computers but will upgrade to System Center 2012 Configuration Manager to take advantage of new features such as the ability to support a range of mobile devices. “We want to be able to better manage all corporate devices, and we’re pleased that Microsoft is supporting a larger ecosystem than just Microsoft devices,” McConeghey says.

Pella is also actively engaged in virtualizing its desktops and applications and evaluating the Windows Server 2012 operating system. “Data bloat is a key concern for every company, and we’re dealing with that here,” McConeghey says. “One of the key features of Windows Server 2012 that we’re very intrigued with is the data duplication feature. We’re very excited about it.”

Benefits
By using Microsoft private cloud software, Pella is able to move to a service-oriented IT model, improve IT staff efficiency, focus on new business initiatives, achieve software licensing efficiencies, and give its IT staff a more rewarding work environment.

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* We’re dealing with applications that run our business, so to be able to do this migration quickly was very important to us. The migration toolkit was a real benefit that FyrSoft brought to the table.
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John McConeghey
IT Manager, Pella
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Faster Path to Service-Oriented IT
With cloud computing and System Center 2012, Pella is better able to move to a service-oriented IT model with measurable metrics for the services it provides. “Previously, we didn’t have insight into how our various services were performing, but with System Center 2012, we have much more granular insight into and control over the services we’re delivering to the business,” Thomas says. “This is critical in helping Pella make great windows and doors. Our business users are not really thinking about IT most days—but that’s the way we like it. If they’re thinking about us, something’s usually wrong. With our private cloud infrastructure, we’re able to deliver IT services seamlessly and with an attractive cost model. We feel that it’s really an enabler for us to continue to be a continuous improvement organization.”

Greater Focus on Business Needs
With a private cloud model, the Pella IT organization can also work more productively. “With cloud computing, I can provide elasticity to the business without devoting so many resources to watching the environment all the time,” Thomas says. “My teams deliver the most value when they’re supporting new business initiatives, not managing servers. The more robust, solid, and automated the environment is, the more our team can focus on the business.”

For example, Pella is considering using camera-enabled handheld devices, such as tablet computers, in the field so that salespeople can participate in videoconferences and better demonstrate products to customers. With private cloud computing, the IT team can implement and maintain this and other new ideas without hiring more people.

“We’ve obviously been fighting through a very tough economy, and as our business continues to grow, we need to support what the business wants us to do without constantly growing our headcount. System Center will be a big help in that respect,” Thomas says. “We only have 10 people supporting 4,000 desktop computers and 600 servers. We expect to grow our services by as much as 25 percent over the next couple years, and we won’t have to add headcount to do it.”

Software Licensing Efficiencies
In addition to controlling staff costs, Pella benefits from software savings by switching from VMware to Hyper-V and System Center. Licensing for those programs is included in the company’s Microsoft Enterprise Agreement. “We achieved six-figure savings on licensing costs and will continue to see even more significant savings as we avoid purchasing new licenses going forward,” Thomas says. Pella will also eliminate some third-party products, such as server security-update software, because many of the same capabilities are included in System Center.

“Microsoft licensing has gotten more inclusive and easier over the years,” Thomas says. “The ability with the Enterprise Agreement to do a true-up at the end of the year gives us a lot more flexibility. We can make decisions that the business needs and implement the software we need without chasing licensing details. It also gives us a predictable model for what we’re going to spend. When we’re trying to roll out a new initiative, the last thing I need is a six-week licensing contract negotiation. Those things are barriers to our being nimble.”

More Rewarding Work for IT Staff
By venturing into innovative new computing models and software tools, Pella also gives employees more reasons to look forward to work every day. “By using System Center 2012, our team is growing professionally, which is part of the reason they work at Pella,” Thomas says. “Staying fresh and current on technologies is attractive to an IT person. We’re always eager to participate in Microsoft early adopter programs and get our hands on new technologies. Pella is a continuous improvement organization; we’re always striving to do things with fewer steps, using fewer people, making fewer mistakes. That’s exactly what we’re doing in IT. It’s a huge point of pride to our staff and a key point in recruiting people to work in rural Iowa.”

Windows Server 2008 R2
Windows Server 2008 R2 is a multipurpose operating system designed to increase the reliability and flexibility of your server and private cloud infrastructure, helping you to save time and reduce costs. It provides you with powerful tools to react to business needs faster than ever before with greater control and confidence. For more information, visit:

www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/windows-server

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about FyrSoft products and services, call (832) 476-9308 or visit the website at:
www.fyrsoft.com

For more information about Pella products and services, call (641) 621-1000 or visit the website at:
www.pella.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 1000 employees

Organization Profile

Pella designs, manufactures, and installs windows and doors for residential and commercial buildings. The Iowa-based company has 7,100 employees and showrooms across the United States and Canada.


Business Situation

Pella virtualized its IT infrastructure by using VMware software but wanted to make its small IT staff even more efficient and deliver measurable services to the business.


Solution

Pella switched its virtualized infrastructure from VMware to the Hyper-V technology in Windows Server 2008 R2 and used Microsoft System Center 2012 to build a private cloud environment.


Benefits

  • Faster path to service-oriented IT
  • Greater focus on business needs
  • More efficient software licensing
  • More rewarding work for IT staff


Hardware
  • HP ProLiant G6 and BL45 blade servers with Intel Xeon processors

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Microsoft System Center 2012
  • Windows Server 2012

Vertical Industries
Architecture, Engineering & Construction

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
  • Cloud & Server Platform
  • Cost Containment

IT Issue
  • Private Cloud
  • Virtualization

Languages
English

Partner(s)
FyrSoft

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