4-page Case Study
Posted: 10/29/2012
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Kennards Hire Equipment Rental Firm Improves IT Efficiency and Business Agility with Software Upgrade

Kennards Hire rents equipment to construction professionals and the general public across Australia. To keep pace with the fluctuating nature of the construction business, Kennards Hire is upgrading to Windows Server 2012 to gain more flexibility in its IT infrastructure. By using the wealth of automated efficiencies in Windows Server 2012 and Microsoft System Center 2012, the Kennards Hire IT team expects to increase productivity and remain responsive to the business. IT staff can provision virtual machines faster, troubleshoot problems more easily, and automate manual tasks. Kennards Hire will avoid a AUD$50,000 (US$52,000) expense by using Hyper-V Replica, a Windows Server 2012 feature, as its disaster recovery solution. The company will also use the new clustering and workload migration features to improve the availability of business-critical applications.

Situation
When Australians need an extension ladder, power saw, pressure washer, jackhammer, generator, scaffolding, mower, or hundreds of other specialized items, they often visit their local Kennards Hire retail store. The company rents construction and maintenance equipment to construction professionals and the general public. Kennards Hire is headquartered in Sydney and has 128 branch stores throughout Australia.

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* Because we have a small team, we are always juggling competing priorities. By using Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 to automate repetitive activities, we can drive efficiency. *

Stuart Dean
Group IT Manager, Kennards Hire

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Kennards Hire has maintained a successful business in uncertain economic times. The construction business tends to move rapidly in different directions, and the Kennards Hire IT organization needs to be able to support fluctuating business needs. “We need an agile, flexible, and dynamic IT infrastructure to respond quickly as opportunities unfold,” explains Stuart Dean, Group IT Manager at Kennards Hire.

The company began to create such an infrastructure in 2007 when it engaged Frontline Systems, a local member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to act as its IT infrastructure consulting and integration partner. Together, the two firms dramatically overhauled the Kennards Hire IT environment by standardizing on Microsoft software and virtualizing its fleet of servers. Kennards Hire used Citrix XenServer to virtualize its servers and the workloads they hosted, and Citrix XenApp to virtualize application delivery. The key applications running in the virtualized environment were its business-critical enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and point-of-sale (POS) application called Baseplan.

At the time, in mid-2008, Kennards Hire was unable to use Hyper-V virtualization technology because it was incompatible with the firm’s storage area network (SAN). The Citrix XenServer hypervisor license was free, and Kennards Hire knew that it would pair well with Citrix XenApp. However, because the company ran the Windows operating system across its data center, XenServer, while very reliable, was never a good fit with the company’s desire to standardize on Microsoft technology.

“We have a small IT staff of eight people, of which only three build virtual machines,” says Richard Fox-Smith, IT Manager for Kennards Hire. “We would rather build on our Windows skills and have the team learn Hyper-V than another operating system. With Hyper-V, our Windows skills are transferable to tasks such as resolving workload balancing issues or investigating virtual machine usage patterns.”

Additionally, while the XenServer version that Kennards used was free, the tradeoff was limited functionality. For example, it provided no way to create a highly available infrastructure or to intelligently place virtual machines across host servers. Also, it was not easy to add disaster recovery capabilities, and Kennards Hire was faced with purchasing a AUD$50,000 (US$52,000) disaster recovery solution.

For four years, the Kennards IT staff had used Microsoft System Center data center solutions to monitor, configure software for, and back up its physical servers and wanted the same automated efficiencies in managing its virtual infrastructure. “We wanted to move toward cloud computing: outsource non-core applications to hosting providers and manage physical, virtual, on-premises, and cloud-based applications from a central management console,” Fox-Smith says. “We needed an advanced virtualization infrastructure that we could use to embrace external cloud services and build our own cloud as well.”

Solution
Kennards Hire assessed the Windows Server 2012 operating system and felt that it had a tremendous number of features and the flexibility that could help it meet its goals. “Our strategy for the next three to five years is to take advantage of the efficiencies that cloud computing can provide, align with one software infrastructure vendor, achieve greater response times and availability, and achieve greater infrastructure scalability,” Fox-Smith says. “Instead of switching from XenServer to Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2, we decided to skip a generation and move right to Windows Server 2012.”

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* We needed an advanced virtualization infrastructure that we could use to embrace external cloud services and build our own cloud as well. *

Richard Fox-Smith
IT Manager,
Kennards Hire

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Kennards Hire agreed to participate in the worldwide Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program (RDP) in January 2012 with Frontline Systems. With Frontline’s technical leadership and partnership, Kennards Hire deployed Windows Server 2012 Datacenter on a two-node cluster using IBM x3650 servers. “The RDP was a worthwhile program for us,” Fox-Smith says. “Together with Frontline, we visited Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, Washington, during early 2012 and got a strong technical overview of Window Server 2012 and Hyper-V. It reinforced our decision that this was the optimum next-generation virtualization and cloud-optimized operating system platform for us. The features mapped well to our problem areas and to our need for continuous business IT innovation.”

Frontline Systems was critical to the RDP success. “Frontline Systems got our RDP test environment up and running and helped us explore the many features in Windows Server 2012,” Fox-Smith says. “We work well with them, and they know our IT architecture very well, which is key to us.”

Kennards Hire considers IBM a valuable hardware technology partner. “The IBM x3650 servers have been our standard server hardware platform for the last five years,” Dean says. “They’re very reliable. Each time we upgrade to a new generation, we get significant improvement in virtual machine density.”

Test Availability Features
During the RDP, Kennards Hire tested several Windows Server 2012 features, beginning with clustering improvements. By using the “shared nothing” live migration feature, Kennards Hire can migrate a virtual machine from one Hyper-V host to another that is not part of the same cluster, shares no storage, and has only a gigabit Ethernet connection to the first virtual machine. “The ’shared nothing’ approach to live migration is a very strong feature, something we can see being important for the future, as it ensures that you can keep things running even when not in a cluster,” Fox-Smith says. “Another big improvement for Kennards is the addition of high availability. Hyper-V will automatically fire up virtual machines on another host in the event of a failure.”

Kennards Hire also tested Hyper-V Replica, which provides a storage-agnostic and workload-agnostic solution that replicates virtual machines over IP-based networks. If a disaster occurs at the primary site, the company can restore operations by quickly failing over the replicated services at the target secondary disaster recovery/business continuity site. “We want to use Hyper-V Replica to back up to a cloud environment,” Fox-Smith says. “It is a key addition to our data center operations and will let us implement ‘disaster recovery as a service.’”

Explore Improvements in Capacity, Storage, Networking
The company is very interested in the capacity improvements in Windows Server 2012, which supports virtual machines with up to 64 virtual processors and 1 terabyte of memory and clusters with as many as 64 nodes. For example, Kennards Hire can increase virtual machine density by using Hyper-V Dynamic Memory, an efficient means of allocating memory to virtual machines. It will also be able to reduce storage costs by using the new Storage Spaces capability, which enables organizations to use industry-standard storage to build highly scalable, continuously available storage solutions. This delivers a substantial reduction in costs associated with purchasing and operating enterprise-grade storage solutions such as storage area networks.

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* Frontline Systems got our RDP test environment up and running and helped us explore the many features in Windows Server 2012. *

Richard Fox-Smith
IT Manager,
Kennards Hire

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Kennards Hire also looked at the Network Interface Card (NIC) Teaming feature and Hyper-V Network Virtualization. NIC Teaming provides the benefit of network fault tolerance on physical servers and virtual machines by using at least two network adapters by any vendor, without the need for a third-party teaming solution. Hyper-V Network Virtualization isolates network traffic of different customers or business groups on a shared infrastructure without using virtual local area networks.

“Overall, we were very impressed with how feature-rich and stable Windows Server 2012 was,” Fox-Smith says. “Even the earliest beta releases felt very solid and stable, which was an important confidence booster.”

Automate More Management Functions
The Windows PowerShell command-line interface and scripting language is expanded in Windows Server 2012 to enable command-line management of more data center elements: servers, network, and storage. This will increase the level of control that Kennards Hire is able to extend over data center components. “We build many test environments, and we can now automate nearly all of this work,” Fox-Smith says. “We’ll also have better reporting, because our team understands Windows.”

When Kennards Hire completes its upgrade to System Center 2012, it can use the Virtual Machine Manager component to automate virtual machine deployment and eliminate human error that could lead to inconsistencies and mistakes.

After the RDP ended in August 2012, Kennards Hire converted its test cluster to a production cluster and moved its business-critical ERP and POS systems to Windows Server 2012. “We are running key parts of our business on Windows Server 2012,” Dean says. “We felt good enough about the stability of this new operating system to entrust our primary business applications to it, even in prerelease version.”

Benefits
Kennards Hire is adopting Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 to further improve IT efficiency and effectiveness, business agility, and application availability. It expects to multiply those efficiencies by using System Center 2012 to manage and further automate the operating environment.

Improved IT Efficiency and Effectiveness
By taking advantage of the many improvements in Windows Server 2012, Kennards Hire can extend the effectiveness of its small IT staff. “Because we have a small team, we are always juggling competing priorities,” Dean says. “By using Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 to automate repetitive activities, we can drive efficiency.”

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* We are running key parts of our business on Windows Server 2012. We felt good enough about the stability of this new operating system to entrust our primary business applications to it, even in prerelease version. *

Stuart Dean
Group IT Manager, Kennards Hire

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With the more powerful and enhanced automation provided by Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, Kennards Hire can significantly speed up virtual machine deployment, find problems faster, intelligently and automatically place virtual machines on host servers, and more, all without customized code that is difficult to maintain. By combining Windows PowerShell with Microsoft System Center 2012, Kennards Hire will be able to further speed virtual machine builds, automate more aspects of data center management, and dramatically improve the efficiency and productivity of its relatively small number of IT staff members.

“We’ll be able to find problems faster because of our familiarity with Windows and fix things that are affecting performance,” Fox-Smith says. “All these little conveniences will add up to big time savings overall. We now have a strategic next-generation virtualization infrastructure services technology that can handle all our data center scenarios: single data center, multiple data centers, and cloud-based services. In addition, we can manage our XenServer environment with System Center as we gradually migrate to Hyper-V and ultimately retire that hypervisor services software over the next 6 to 12 months.”

Greater Business Agility
Increased automation and efficiency means that the Kennards Hire IT staff can respond much faster to business needs. “The world is changing fast, and the services our users expect from us continue to change and be more IT-dependent,” Dean says. “We now have an infrastructure that can respond dynamically and predictably.”

Kennards Hire now has a flexible and agile IT infrastructure that can respond quickly to spikes in IT capacity demand and allow the IT team to respond to business needs with new IT resources in a fraction of the time previously required.

Reduced Costs
Kennards Hire expects to reduce its virtualization host servers from 15 to 10 over time, but it realized an immediate cost avoidance of AUD$50,000 (US$52,000) in the third-party disaster recovery solution that it was able to avoid by using Hyper-V Replica. With more sophisticated capabilities built into the operating system, Kennards Hire pays for fewer add-on products and also eliminates extra integration and support costs. “The cost of complexity is high,” Dean says. “By moving more capabilities into Windows Server 2012, Microsoft is making things much easier for customers, especially for midsize firms like ours with small IT staffs and budgets.”

Increased Systems Availability
The company will benefit from higher availability of its IT systems thanks to improved clustering and backup capabilities in Hyper-V and increased consistency of virtual machines due to automated provisioning. The IT staff can migrate virtual machines and storage with no downtime, whether in the event of failing hardware or routine maintenance.

“We have to maintain availability of our most critical applications, which are our ERP and point-of-sale systems,” Dean says. “If we have downtime at 128 branch stores, we have a serious problem on our hands. Anything we can do to mitigate downtime is a huge benefit to the business. It’s all about operational excellence. Upgrading to Windows Server 2012 will contribute greatly to operational excellence.”

Windows Server 2012
Windows Server drives many of the world’s largest data centers, empowers small businesses around the world, and delivers value to organizations of all sizes in between. Building on this legacy, Windows Server 2012 redefines the category, delivering hundreds of new features and enhancements that span virtualization, networking, storage, user experience, cloud computing, automation, and more. Simply put, Windows Server 2012 helps you transform your IT operations to reduce costs and deliver a whole new level of business value.

For more information, visit
www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/windows-server/2012-default.aspx

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 Frontline Systems products and services, visit the website at:
www.frontline.com.au

For more information about Kennards Hire products and services, visit the website at:
www.kennardshire.com.au

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 900 employees

Organization Profile

Kennards Hire rents construction and maintenance equipment to construction professionals and the general public through 128 retail branches across Australia. The company employs about 900 people.


Business Situation

Kennards Hire had virtualized its data center but wanted to build a cloud environment that would deliver more IT management efficiencies, further lower costs, and enhance system availability.


Solution

The company is upgrading to the Windows Server 2012 operating system and Microsoft System Center 2012 to take advantage of high-availability features and storage and management efficiencies.


Benefits

  • Improved IT efficiency, effectiveness
  • Greater business agility
  • Reduced IT costs
  • Increased systems availability


Hardware
  • IBM x3650 server

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

Vertical Industries
Specialty Retail

Country/Region
Australia

Business Need
  • Cloud & Server Platform
  • Cost Containment

IT Issue
  • Private Cloud
  • Virtualization

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Frontline Systems

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