The government-owned Royal Mail Group (RMG) in the United Kingdom operates the national postal service, which is facing the need to transform its IT infrastructure to meet new business challenges. The company decided to consider virtualisation of its existing Windows environment to achieve savings and improve management and monitoring of the infrastructure. Working with CSC and Microsoft Services, RMG decided to implement the virtualisation service with the Hyper-V feature of Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter and the Microsoft System Center suite of monitoring tools. The deployment, using HP hardware, has the capacity to host around 720 RMG servers, of which around 120 virtual machines—including production servers—have been migrated so far. By virtualising its server estate, RMG expects a return on investment in 19 months and savings of £1.8 million over four years.Situation
Royal Mail Group (RMG) is the only business in the United Kingdom (U.K.) that delivers postal services to every household in the country. Directly employing 165,000 people, every working day RMG processes and delivers more than 70 million items to 28 million addresses for prices that are among the lowest in Europe. Each week RMG serves over 24 million customers through its network of 12,000 post offices and 3,000 separate processing sites. Its domestic and European parcels business—General Logistics Systems and Parcelforce Worldwide—handles some 404 million parcels a year.
||"We were looking for a well designed environment that was flexible and scalable enough to add a product or service without incurring significant cost. We wanted to use virtualisation technology so it could easily add or remove applications, making the business more dynamic."
Head of Infrastructure Management Royal Mail Group
Owned by the government, RMG is likely to become partly privatised during the current parliament. In the meantime, the company is making every effort to develop the new services clients want, which often need to be driven by greater business agility and richer real-time information.
For the past seven years RMG has worked with IT outsourcing partner and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner CSC to reduce the cost and improve the performance of its existing IT infrastructure. Vinod Patel, Programme Director, CSC, says: “We have helped our client make its IT much leaner than before, leading to service improvements and measurable savings.”
As part of its drive to a more flexible infrastructure, RMG tasked CSC with implementing a server virtualisation and management platform to replace more than 700 existing RMG servers and non-production environments. The aim was to reduce total cost of ownership of the infrastructure and cut time and budgetary overhead when commissioning new infrastructure. The company runs a mixture of Microsoft Windows 2000 Server and Server 2003 operating systems, with various business applications.
Adrian Steel, Head of Infrastructure Management, Royal Mail Group, says: “Microsoft Services and CSC, jointly with RMG, helped create the business case. After the project was approved by Royal Mail, we set our goal to achieve a rapid return on investment; the challenge was put to CSC to drive rapid benefit. We were looking for a well designed environment that was flexible and scalable enough to add a product or service without incurring significant cost. We wanted to use virtualisation technology so it could easily add or remove applications, making the business more dynamic.”Solution
Collaboration between business partners was the key to ensuring successful delivery of the virtualisation project. CSC recommended working with Microsoft Services and HP to implement the virtualisation service for RMG using the Hyper-V feature of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter. CSC supported this decision even though VMware was its current standard service offering for virtualisation. Patel says: “Hyper-V was the right business fit for RMG because of the nature of its Microsoft estate and the familiar easy to use highly integrated tools and interfaces.”
The solution comprised of two C7000 Hewlett Packard (HP) blade enclosures and two HP EVA 4400 storage arrays. CSC engaged with Microsoft and HP to aid in the design and implementation including migrating 360 physical servers. Microsoft Services and CSC developed the original solution architecture, the high level designs and finally the detailed designs, while also training the CSC offshore team in deployment.
The solution is using the Microsoft System Center IT infrastructure management suite to provide the management and monitoring layer, not only on Hyper-V but on the new HP hardware as well. Patel says: “Due to the high-profile nature of the project, CSC’s Microsoft Practice and Microsoft Services decided to deploy the most recent versions of the Microsoft System Center suite.”
Due to limited availability of data about the existing environment, CSC and Microsoft used the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit. This powerful inventory assessment and planning solution gave a true picture of the landscape and helped to choose the appropriate servers for virtualisation. Further innovations for the environment include the Dynamic Infrastructure Toolkit for System Center to help data centres pool resources more efficiently.
Although cross site disaster recovery capability was not a contractual requirement, the solution has inherent resilience to help ensure continuous access to hardware and data storage. Hyper-V is also hosting the on-premise Microsoft Office SharePoint Server environment for the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Dedicated (BPOS-D) Suite project at RMG.Benefits
RMG is well underway with the server virtualisation migration, which Steel says is “no longer viewed as a project, but business as usual.” With 70 virtual servers completed in the initial phase, the number has now risen to 120, with a target of up to 400 by the end of 2010 financial year end. Projected savings are on target, while business productivity gains have already been realised through virtualisation. Steel says: “The Hyper-V project will pay back the original investment in 19 months, and, over four years, will realise savings of £1.8 million compared to the previous operation.”
Collaborative Joint Microsoft Services and CSC Approach Accelerates Delivery
The dedicated Microsoft practice of CSC worked collaboratively with Microsoft Services to bring together additional Hyper-V and System Center knowledge, which accelerated delivery of the solution. “As we moved to deployment, Microsoft Services involvement in the team with CSC ensured issues were resolved quickly,” Steel says, “Working as a team with CSC, Microsoft Services passed on its in-depth experience at every stage. The result is a world class deployment.”
Innovative Technique for Physical to Virtual Server Conversion
As with all projects deploying new technology, skills transfer was vital for success. The RMG virtualisation project was no exception. Working together CSC and Microsoft Services developed an innovative physical to the virtual conversion process that could be successfully and reliably implemented by the CSC offshore team. Steel says: “The involvement of Microsoft Services was critical to mitigate project risk. Microsoft Services helped take the CSC operational teams through structured training and involvement in the pilot phase. This hands on experience helped instill a high degree of confidence to proceed with managing the solution while also continuing with the remaining physical to virtual conversions.”
Virtualisation Reduces Risk of Downtime and Data Loss
||"The Hyper-V project will pay back the original investment in 19 months, and, over four years, will realise savings of £1.8 million compared to the previous operation.”
Head of Infrastructure Management Royal Mail Group
The previous infrastructure carried with it a high risk of downtime from the existing Windows environment. Steel says: “Due to most of our servers being six or seven years old, the risk of a server failure was ever present and real—and with this came the concern of losing data or compromising the business core function. With virtualisation, disaster recovery is simplified, operations and maintenance are easier.”
Hyper-V uses the clustering capabilities of Windows Server 2008 R2 to provide support for disaster recovery within IT environments and across data centres.
Monitoring Tools Improve Operations and Maintenance
Operations and maintenance of the previous physical servers was time consuming and expensive. The work is now managed in an automated way and is less reliant on the special skills of individual technicians. The move to virtualisation is also helping RMG meet its environmental sustainability commitments through reduced energy consumption.Microsoft Virtualization
Microsoft virtualization is an end-to-end strategy that can profoundly affect nearly every aspect of the IT infrastructure management lifecycle. It can drive greater efficiencies, flexibility, and cost effectiveness throughout your organization. From accelerating application deployments; to ensuring systems, applications, and data are always available; to taking the hassle out of rebuilding and shutting down servers and desktops for testing and development; to reducing risk, slashing costs, and improving the agility of your entire environment—virtualization has the power to transform your infrastructure, from the data center to the desktop.
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