To succeed in the car rental business, you need low prices and great service. In many locations, customers can walk 10 paces to find the same car or a better deal. Europcar South Africa understands this well and has discovered that the secret
to delivering superior pricing and service is having cutting-edge technology in the data center. The company recently created a private cloud environment—using the Windows Server 2012 operating system, Microsoft System Center 2012 data center solutions, and
Dell hardware—to keep operating costs low and deliver new services quickly. Europcar estimates that it has boosted IT efficiency by more than 85 percent and reduced operating costs by 35 percent, which includes a 25 percent reduction in data center energy
costs. It has also compressed disaster recovery from two hours to 15 minutes.
The car rental business is highly competitive. Nearly every company rents the same cars, with the only differentiators being price and service. Europcar South Africa has been successful in the very competitive South African car rental business, with
a fleet of 18,500 vehicles, more than 120 locations throughout southern Africa, and a staff of 1,000 people. It is part of Europcar, one of Europe’s leading car rental services, with a presence in 140 countries.
One of the keys to the success of Europcar South Africa is something that customers never see: the servers and software running behind the scenes in the company’s data center. The company has invested in technology that facilitates the rapid delivery of
new services and low operating costs. “We’re constantly trying to drive efficiencies up and costs down, especially in this economic climate,” says Shaun Phillips, General Manager of IT Infrastructure and Operations for Europcar South Africa. “Customers can
go across the street and get the exact same car, so we have to constantly innovate and improve service to keep customers coming back.”
To outfit the company with an agile, responsive IT infrastructure, Europcar virtualized key elements of its data center environment in 2011 by using the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Hyper-V technology running on Dell PowerEdge servers.
It also deployed Microsoft System Center data center solutions to centrally manage its virtualized environment. By virtualizing infrastructure services, such as Active Directory service, Microsoft Exchange Server messaging, file and print servers, web servers,
and other workhorse applications, Europcar consolidated its server infrastructure by a whopping 46 percent, running 53 virtual machines on just five Dell host servers.
||By using Microsoft software and Dell hardware, we’ve built an elastic, automated private cloud infrastructure that scales with our business.
| Shaun Phillips
General Manager, IT Infrastructure and Operations, Europcar South Africa
Virtualizing servers dramatically reduced server acquisition costs, power and cooling costs, data center space, and server deployment time—from six weeks needed to requisition physical hardware to 45 minutes to set up a virtual machine. However, the company’s
reservation, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, and other core business systems still ran in an expensive mainframe environment that was far from agile. Changes to these systems took months to make and slowed the company’s ability
to roll out new services.
Europcar wanted to rewrite these older applications, or purchase commercial products that emulate them so that they could run on the Windows operating system and industry-standard servers with the same levels of agility and cost-effectiveness that the company
had demonstrated with its virtualized applications.
Look for Further Speedups and Cost Efficiencies
Even with a virtualized environment, Europcar still felt pressure to accelerate IT service delivery. “Speed and accuracy are critical to our business, and customers are asking us for new services, most of which are very reliant on technology,” Phillips
says. “One of the promises that we make to our customers is that they will be able to rent a car in 60 seconds. Technology is what enables our employees to provide the fast, efficient service that delivers this promise.”
One way to speed up IT service delivery was to let internal business customers request IT resources using a self-service portal that would initiate a series of automated steps, rather than wait on the IT staff to execute a series of manual processes. This,
and achieving even higher virtualization densities, would help the company continue to pare operating costs and keep car rental prices low.
Increase System Resilience
Finally, Europcar desired even more resilience in its infrastructure. “We rent a car every four seconds, so our systems have to be available around the clock,” Phillips says. However, while the company had disaster recovery capability, it did not have
synchronous replication, whereby a copy of an active workload runs in another location. If servers at its main data center failed, it was two hours before the IT staff could get the workloads running in the disaster recovery location.
Europcar South Africa decided that the next step in making its technology infrastructure even more efficient and responsive to the business was to convert its virtualized infrastructure into a private cloud environment. A private cloud is a cloud infrastructure
that is dedicated to and managed by one organization. Virtualized compute and storage resources are managed centrally and reconfigured automatically on demand.
What made the move to private cloud computing possible and economical for Europcar was the introduction of the Windows Server 2012 operating system, which is optimized for cloud computing, and Microsoft System Center 2012, which is an end-to-end management
solution that is also optimized for virtualized and cloud environments. “Microsoft provides a complete cloud solution: the operating system, the hypervisor, and the management tools,” Phillips says. “With competitors, you have multiple moving parts, higher
licensing and support costs, and a more complex environment. Microsoft technology gives us everything required at minimal cost.”
Reliable, Longtime Hardware Partner
Europcar built the hardware foundation of its private cloud from 24 Dell PowerEdge R710 and R720 rack servers that act as Hyper-V host servers, two Dell M1000e blade enclosures outfitted with 32 Dell PowerEdge M620 servers (used for terminal services),
and 14 Dell EqualLogic PS4000 and PS6000 Series storage arrays containing 320 terabytes of storage. Europcar ultimately plans to scale this environment to 36 Hyper-V host servers configured as four clusters: a massive database cluster running Microsoft SQL
Server 2012 data management software, a development cluster, and two infrastructure clusters.
||Instead of buying hardware and manually building servers, we can [use the private cloud to] deliver services to the business within 20 minutes, faster even than the 45 minutes that we’d achieved with virtualization.
| Shaun Phillips
General Manager, IT Infrastructure and Operations, Europcar South Africa
Europcar has always used Dell hardware. “I have been a Dell customer for 11 years,” Phillips says. “I’ve worked around the world in multiple industries and, no matter where you go, you get the same level of support from Dell. It’s easy to sell and ship a computer,
but for Dell, every hardware sale is a strategic interaction, and it makes sure that the deployment is a success.”
Phillips brought in BUI, a local member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to coordinate the private cloud design and construction at Europcar. “We believed that BUI was the best partner to help us move to a private cloud environment because of its skills
in System Center,” Phillips says. “The success of a Microsoft-based private cloud relies on how well you implement System Center, so BUI was a tremendous help.”
Microsoft Services worked closely with BUI, provided architectural guidance, and supervised the work. Additionally, the Microsoft and Dell account teams worked together closely with Europcar, BUI, and Microsoft Services to make sure Europcar achieved its
goals. The local Microsoft team enrolled Europcar in the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program for Windows Server 2012 to make sure it had access to Microsoft resources while it explored the new operating system.
To date, Europcar has created nearly 300 Hyper-V virtual machines in its private cloud, enough to run all of its already-virtualized applications, its mainframe-based line-of-business applications (which Europcar is gradually moving to the cloud environment
as it rewrites or replaces them), and applications for many new business initiatives. Europcar expects to run its entire business from its private cloud by September 2013.
Essential Capabilities Built into the Operating System
The Europcar private cloud relies on a number of enhancements in Windows Server 2012 that help make it a success. One of the most important is the compute and memory capacity improvements in Hyper-V. Windows Server 2012 supports host servers with up
to 320 logical processors and 4 terabytes of physical RAM, virtual machines with up to 64 virtual processors and 1 terabyte of memory, and clusters with as many as 64 nodes and 8,000 virtual machines per cluster. “With the Hyper-V capacity improvements, we
can assign many more virtual processors and more memory to each virtual machine, so we can build much larger virtual machines,” Phillips says. “This is key for us as we virtualize our core line-of-business applications.”
Hyper-V Replica is another critical feature for Europcar; it provides asynchronous replication of virtual machines between storage systems, clusters, and data centers over two sites to provide business continuity. By using Hyper-V Replica, Europcar can maintain
identical images of workloads in its primary and disaster recovery data centers and also have more control over virtual machine replications.
“In Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V, if you had 10 or 20 virtual machines in a Cluster Shared Volume, you had to replicate all of them even if you only wanted to replicate five,” Phillips says. “Plus, it was a very manual process to move the virtual
machines. With Hyper-V Replica, we can replicate just the virtual machines that we want and do it really quickly.” Europcar uses another Windows Server 2012 feature, Offloaded Data Transfer, to quickly move virtual machines between host servers. This feature
allows for quick transfer of large amounts of data from one location to another.
Automated Management and a Self-Service Portal
Around the same time that it upgraded to Windows Server 2012, Europcar upgraded to System Center 2012 and used it to build a self-service portal. Internal business customers use this portal to request virtual machine resources without going through the
IT department. “We have a lean IT team, and giving business users a self-service portal is an easy and efficient way for them to interact with our organization and request resources,” Phillips says. “It lets us react to their needs much faster.”
For example, if the Marketing department launches a new advertising campaign and needs web servers, marketers can request the needed resources over the portal with a few clicks. If web traffic surges after a television ad appears, System Center 2012 automatically
detects the traffic increase and provisions new virtual machines on the fly.
Behind the scenes, the Virtual Machine Manager component of System Center 2012 monitors physical and virtual machine performance, and the Operations Manager component monitors overall server health and lets Virtual Machine Manager know if a server slows
or overheats. Operations Manager also provides deep insight into virtualized workloads and the overall private cloud infrastructure so that the IT team can better understand business demands as its cloud scales. The Service Manager component automatically
documents change and problem management issues, and the Orchestrator component automates the workflows needed to build and tear down virtual machine and storage resources.
“By using Orchestrator, we can provision virtual machines from a user-friendly interface in a completely automated fashion; we no longer need a highly skilled engineer to do all this work,” says Phillips. “System Center is a key competitive differentiator
for us. What’s nice is that we can manage our entire environment, including Linux-based virtual machines, from System Center.”
With its new private cloud infrastructure based on Microsoft software and Dell hardware, Europcar South Africa can more dynamically deliver the innovative services that customers demand while at the same time operating more efficiently and cost-effectively.
By getting maximum use from a highly consolidated infrastructure, the company has reduced its data center energy costs. And by using Hyper-V Replica, it has dramatically reduced the time needed to replicate workloads at its disaster recovery location.
Improved Business Agility
Its private cloud infrastructure gives Europcar the ability to expand and contract compute sources on the fly to accommodate changing business needs. For example, the company needs more compute power during holiday seasons and at month’s end for financial
reconciliations, and it has a good idea of the level of business it will do every day of the week and hour of the day. Now, instead of manually provisioning and tearing down server resources to match this fluctuating demand, Europcar has an infrastructure
that adjusts itself.
“By using Microsoft software and Dell hardware, we’ve built an elastic, automated private cloud infrastructure that scales with our business,” Phillips says. “It scales active resources down on a Wednesday when business is slow, and up on a Friday when we’re
busy, and does it automatically.”
||With Hyper-V Replica, we’ve been able to reduce our disaster recovery time from two hours to 15 minutes.… This enables us to deliver the level of customer service that we promise.
| Shaun Phillips
General Manager, IT Infrastructure and Operations, Europcar South Africa
This “breathing” infrastructure also adjusts dynamically and precisely when the business deploys new services, integrates acquisitions, or adds websites. “The business is constantly coming up with new ideas to better serve our customers or compete more effectively,
and our IT development teams constantly need servers to support these services,” Phillips says. “With our private cloud, business teams and developers can requisition their own resources in minutes. Instead of buying hardware and manually building servers,
we can deliver services to the business within 20 minutes, faster even than the 45 minutes that we’d achieved with virtualization. We’ve eliminated nearly all the manual work.”
As a result of this remarkable agility, Europcar has been able to quickly roll out technology initiatives that would have taken far longer and been more expensive to implement in a traditional data center environment. For example, it deployed Microsoft Lync
Server 2010 to provide videoconferencing capabilities across the company and give headquarters staff face-to-face contact with branch office employees.
It also deployed Dell tablets running the Windows 8 operating system, which reservation agents use to assist customers. By using mobile devices, customer-facing employees can get out from behind a counter and interact with customers more naturally. They
can present upgrade options to customers, sort out customer queries on the spot, and make digital notes when customers return cars, letting customers sign on the device.
IT Efficiency Increased by 85 Percent, Costs Reduced by 35 Percent
Extensive automation yields time and cost savings across the IT organization. “The car rental business is not traditionally a technology business,” Phillips says. “What makes us competitive is our pricing, and what keeps prices down is not spending money
every time you do something. With Microsoft private cloud software, the business can make money from new services without spending so much money.”
When it moved from a standalone server to a virtualized infrastructure, Europcar increased IT productivity by around 85 percent, says Phillips. By moving to a private cloud and taking advantage of all the automation features in Windows Server 2012 and System
Center 2012, the company will further increase productivity.
“With our private cloud environment, we estimate that we will reduce our overall costs by about 35 percent, in lower server acquisition costs; lower power, cooling, and real estate costs; lower software licensing costs; more efficient use of storage; and
management efficiencies,” Phillips says. “These operational savings are critical to being able to offer the lowest possible rental prices to customers.”
Reduced energy costs also help the company be a good environmental citizen, which is a corporate objective. By virtualizing its infrastructure and making use of Dell Energy Smart technologies, Europcar significantly reduced data center energy use—by around
25 percent—which helped the IT organization align with a companywide policy to minimize carbon dioxide emissions. By moving to a private cloud, the company will further trim energy costs.
Disaster Recovery Reduced from Two Hours to 15 Minutes
The private cloud environment has contributed to a more reliable infrastructure and always-on IT services. By using Hyper-V, Europcar can quickly replicate workloads from one data center to another, to keep the business running in the face of a disaster
or even to perform routine server maintenance.
“With Hyper-V Replica, we’ve been able to reduce our disaster recovery time from two hours to 15 minutes,” Phillips says. “If we can’t transact, we can’t rent cars, so minimizing downtime is extremely important to our business. With a private cloud running
on reliable Dell hardware and Windows Server 2012, our systems are available around the clock. This enables us to deliver the level of customer service that we promise.”
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
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