Air Products had a problem that most companies would love to have: it was struggling to keep up with rapid growth. Expanding and opening new offices and plants around the world required much faster delivery of supporting IT infrastructure. IT
staff plans to respond to management’s demand for increased speed by upgrading to Microsoft System Center 2012 to automate time-consuming IT processes such as deploying software and building virtual machines. By using System Center, Air Products will be able
to perform these tasks up to three times faster. This helps the IT staff to be an enabler, rather than a blocker, of business growth. Increased automation also relieves IT of such mundane tasks as building servers, so that they can focus instead on higher-value
work that adds more value to the business and avoids expanding IT headcount.
When you bite into a crisp apple, there’s a chance that Air Products nitrogen was used to keep it from spoiling in storage. When you fill your car with diesel, Air Products oxygen may have been used in the fuel’s manufacture.
Air Products makes a wide range of gases and chemicals used by thousands of industries, ranging from semiconductor materials to refinery hydrogen, natural gas liquefaction, and advanced coatings and adhesives. Air Products surfactants make cars and golf
balls shiny. Air Products gases and chemicals are used to make solar panels and thousands of other products. In 2011, the Allentown, Pennsylvania–based company had revenues of US$10.1 billion, operations in over 40 countries, and nearly 19,000 employees worldwide.
Air Products has been expanding rapidly, especially in Asia, and has aggressive growth goals set through 2015. Management asked its IT department to become more agile in delivering services and products to support this growth. The IT staff struggled to deploy
infrastructure as quickly as the business needed and to also make the best use of its limited staff.
“It took us months to deploy computing infrastructure in new manufacturing plants and offices, but management needed us to do this in weeks or days,” says Todd Houser, Automation Lead Engineer in the IT Department at Air Products. “Hiring more staff was
not an option; in fact, the business expected us to grow the business with fewer staff. We needed to automate more IT tasks so that our staff could be more efficient and focus on higher-value work.”
Previously, in late 2008, the Infrastructure Automation Team in the Air Products IT Department launched a program to eliminate wasteful work and automate any IT processes it could. Mostly, these early efforts consisted of writing a few Windows PowerShell
scripts to automate some processes. However, the team lacked a flexible tool for expanding its automation efforts.
||It used to take us two weeks to build a virtual machine. With System Center 2012, we believe we can reduce that to three days. As we move into private cloud computing, this speedup will be critical.
|| Todd Houser
Automation Lead Engineer, IT Department, Air Products
Between 2008 and 2011, Air Products used VMware virtualization software to virtualize about 70 percent of its 1,500 servers, which are primarily located in three data centers—Allentown, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. By virtualizing its server infrastructure,
Air Products was able to significantly speed up server deployment, but there were still many manual steps involved in creating virtual machines.
To further streamline IT work, the IT staff is investigating a plan to change its virtualized infrastructure into a private cloud environment. This evolution would further reduce process steps, give the business greater agility in deploying needed technology,
and lower costs. With private cloud computing, virtualized computing resources are pooled along with storage and networking resources and made available to employees by using an automated, on-demand model.
The plan to move to cloud computing heightened the push for better automation tools. “The level of automation that was sufficient for a virtualized environment was not sufficient for cloud computing,” Houser says. “We needed to go beyond creating virtual
machines from templates to automating complex workflows across many IT areas and software programs.”
In July 2010, the team learned about and began testing Opalis, an automation tool for orchestrating and integrating IT tools. Air Products was keen to determine how it might use Opalis to streamline IT processes. However, because the product’s Java code
base was unfamiliar to most of the IT staffers, it was difficult for them to link Opalis to the company’s other infrastructure management products. Consequently, Air Products used Opalis in a limited capacity.
Later that summer, Microsoft acquired Opalis and made it part of Microsoft System Center 2012. Air Products decided to participate in the Technology Adoption Program (TAP) for the Orchestrator component of System Center 2012. “We liked the fact that Opalis
would be rewritten from the ground up, using Microsoft technology, so we could get rid of the Java script,” Houser says. “We knew that we could use System Center 2012 Orchestrator to expand our automation efforts across our entire IT infrastructure.”
Nearly all 1,500 Air Products servers run the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise or Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter operating systems. Also, Air Products already used System Center to manage its infrastructure—specifically, Microsoft System Center Configuration
Manager 2007 R3 to deploy software and track IT assets, and Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 to monitor servers and applications.
“System Center 2012 would work well with our Microsoft management infrastructure, but also enable us to orchestrate processes involving non-Microsoft infrastructure elements, such as VMware and BMC Remedy,” Houser says.
Between April 2011 and February 2012, as a participant in the System Center 2012 Orchestrator TAP, Air Products deployed pre-release versions of the software. It plans to move System Center 2012 into production as soon as final code is available.
Operating System Deployment
One of first tasks that Air Products simplified with System Center was deploying the Windows 7 operating system to 20,000 PCs around the world. Management wanted 3,500 PCs upgraded to Windows 7 in just three months, but the IT staff knew that it couldn’t
meet the deadline using manually built images. The team had started out using the Operating System Deployment (OSD) feature in System Center Configuration Manager, in conjunction with the BMC Remedy Action Request System.
||It took us months to deploy computing infrastructure in new manufacturing plants and offices, but management needed us to do this in weeks or days.
|| Todd Houser
Automation Lead Engineer, IT Department, Air Products
When System Center 2012 Orchestrator became available, the Infrastructure Automation Team used it and Opalis to create a runbook (automated workflow) that took configuration information from Remedy and plugged it into OSD, which then built the image. The runbook
also automated the process of testing newly configured PCs on the company’s network.
Fully Automated Virtual Machine Provisioning
Air Products is also planning to use System Center 2012 to speed up virtual machine creation. To request a new server, an Air Products employee simply fills out a form in Remedy. System Center would take the form and send it to an approver. Once approved,
System Center will forward the form to the IT staff, which will notify the VMware team of the need to set up a virtual machine shell. System Center will then install the needed software. When the virtual machine is configured, System Center will notify the
requestor that the server is ready and provides the logon information.
“By using System Center, we will be able to take a process that involved many manual handoffs and automate everything but the initial approval,” Houser says. “It will be a much faster way to create a server.”
By deploying System Center, Air Products can deploy software much faster, and the increased automation relieves the IT staff of low-level tasks and helps them add greater value to the business.
Deployed Software and Servers as Much as Three Times Faster
By automating Windows 7 deployment with System Center, Air Products will be able to dramatically speed up its migration to the new operating system. “With System Center 2012, our installers can build machines as much as three times faster,” Houser says.
“Builds that used to take up to four to five hours now take 60 to 90 minutes. We hope to deploy Windows 7 to the majority of our 15,000 PCs, which will allow us to retire Windows XP before it is out of support. We would not have thought this was possible without
using System Center."
The IT team can also build servers (virtual machines) much faster. “It used to take us two weeks to build a virtual machine. With System Center 2012, we believe we can reduce that to three days,” Houser says. “As we move into private cloud computing, this
speedup will be critical. We just wouldn’t be able to move to cloud computing without this tool. We’re very reliant on System Center in getting us to where we want to go.”
Enhanced Ability to Support Business Growth
In the past, the Air Products IT staff was always one of the limiting factors in aggressive business growth. By using System Center, IT can be a growth enabler. “We can now scale as fast as the business needs us to,” Houser says. “System Center helps
our staff do more every day, so we can handle business growth without adding more staff.”
The ability to deploy operating systems faster means that Air Products could speed up its operating system upgrade schedule if needed. “It took us four years to move from Windows 2000 to Windows XP because we had to wait until the hardware depreciated and
replaced the operating system when we replaced the computer,” Houser says. “It was just too time-consuming to do operating system replacements on in-place PCs. But with the automation efficiencies provided by System Center, we have the ability to upgrade operating
systems and other software when the business needs us to.”
Improved Use of IT Resources
Having the ability to automate many manual tasks, the Air Products IT staff will be free to take on higher-value work that adds more value to the business, such as deploying new applications and investigating new business-enhancing solutions.
“By using System Center we can use it to help reduce many processes as much as 50 percent, but more valuable than the time savings is the fact that we’re doing the right kind of work now,” Houser says. “Instead of writing custom scripts to perform low-level
process tasks, I can spend that time creating runbooks that do far more. System Center helps us deliver services that the business requires without adding more headcount.”
Houser expects the efficiencies to multiply as more IT groups adopt System Center 2012. “The Infrastructure Automation Team is developing a much better reputation with the IT groups that we serve,” he says. “The System Center tools are getting so good that
these other teams want to use them, which will lead to more efficiency across the organization. What we’re accomplishing in IT is getting more recognition in the company, and we have a better sense that we’re helping the business be more successful.”
Microsoft System Center 2012
Microsoft System Center 2012 helps your organization achieve IT as a service by enabling productive infrastructure, predictable applications, and cloud computing on your terms. With System Center 2012, use a self-service model to deliver flexible and cost-effective
private cloud infrastructure to your business units while capitalizing on existing data center investments. Applications run your business, so System Center 2012 is designed to offer deep application insight combined with a service-centric approach to help
you deliver predictable application services. Finally, by using System Center 2012, you can deliver and consume private and public cloud computing on your terms, with common management experiences across both.
For more information about Microsoft System Center 2012, go to:
For More Information
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