Journey to the Enterprise Cloud
As chief information officer for one of the largest sugar producers in the United States, Don Whittington has managed his share of challenging IT projects. But few have rivaled Florida Crystals Corporation’s (FCC’s) SAP migration from a 100 percent physical environment to a multi-tenanted, infrastructure-as-a- service (IaaS) cloud managed by Virtustream.1
Whittington’s pre-cloud SAP environment encompassed more than 100 physical SAP systems and other servers. It ran on older Intel® technology-based servers at third-party data centers in multiple states. The infrastructure supported a full suite of SAP modules, with more than 25 SAP production instances and over 40 additional SAP instances for development, quality assurance, and sandbox computing. There were multiple terabytes of structured and unstructured data, and dozens of associated applications, including numerous home-grown applications and a Microsoft Exchange* cluster supporting thousands of mailboxes.
To bring FCC’s SAP environment into a production cloud environment at Virtustream, IT teams had to virtualize FCC’s SAP environment for the first time. They needed to maintain business operations for thousands of SAP users in three countries, and avoid disrupting critical development projects that were on 24-hour-a-day schedules. They also had to keep terabytes of data in sync while moving it from a competitor’s data centers to Virtustream’s hosting environment in Virginia as well as to a new, cloud-based disaster recovery (DR) center in San Francisco.
“I’ve spent my entire career in technology, and spent many years applying technology to address business needs,” says Whittington, who also serves on the board of directors for the Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG). “This was definitely up there in terms of the technical complexity. The unfamiliarity and relative newness of cloud technologies were the biggest challenges. We also weren’t sure how our legacy, home-grown applications would run, and we had some inflexible deadlines that were driven by the crop calendars.”
Yet FCC and Virtustream on-boarded the solution in less than three months, and FCC is achieving the benefits it anticipated. Whittington says the process involved “challenges but no real surprises.”
“The key piece of advice is to be an active participant in managing the project. Make sure there is a defined escalation process. Choose your vendor carefully, and thoroughly vet them to ensure that the cloud you’ll use is enterprise- class: secure, compliant, dynamic, and resilient, with application-level service-level agreements and good economics.”
At a Glance
- Virtualize and on-board a complex SAP environment without disrupting business operations or development projects
- Organized people, processes, and technologies for an 80-day physical-to- cloud migration
- Added disaster recovery capabilities, including one-hour failover of business operations
- Increased SAP performance by an average of 30 percent while saving 34 percent on compute costs and 47 percent on storage and backup costs
- Increased business agility by deploying applications in hours rather than weeks
- Choose an enterprise-focused cloud service provider with a comprehensive process for bringing enterprise workloads to the cloud.
- Ensure the cloud uses enterprise-class technologies and rigorous security measures.
- Work closely with your service provider throughout the preparation and on- boarding processes.
- Develop detailed, repeatable test plans.
- Involve business units and users in establishing business processes and validating tests. Test the user experience.
- Educate enterprise IT staff on new roles and practices.
How did they do it? Whittington and Matt Theurer, a co-founder and senior vice president of Virtustream, point to five major factors: an experienced enterprise cloud provider, proven technologies, an almost year-long process of detailed planning and preparation, a “test everything” philosophy, and such close collaboration that boundaries between the two companies practically dissolved. “We truly worked hand in hand,” Theurer recalls. “By the time we were a fourth of the way into the migration, it wasn’t Virtustream and FCC anymore. It was just the migration team.”
Business Drivers for IT Strategies
Florida Crystals is the company behind such well-known brands as C&H* and Domino* Sugar. Privately held and vertically integrated, FCC is an industry innovator that has grown both organically and through acquisitions.
Its operations stretch from sugarcane fields to refineries to store shelves, yielding a complex organizational structure and an SAP environment that touches on agriculture, consumer products, real estate, and even energy. FCC operates the largest biomass power plant in North America, providing renewable energy for the company’s operations plus tens of thousands of homes. The company is also the first producer of certified organic sugar grown and harvested in the United States.
To support such a dynamic environment, Whittington concentrates his IT resources on core skill sets and strategic initiatives. Given his company’s commodity-based business, he’s committed to minimizing overhead and controlling IT costs while increasing agility and flexibility.2
Whittington had previously outsourced much of his infrastructure, and saw the cloud as the next logical step. “The cloud gives us the flexibility to react to changing business needs more rapidly,” he says. “It provides us with speed and flexibility; reduces physical hardware proliferation, management, and cost; and gives us the ability to grow or shrink our footprint as necessary. We also have the ability to provision and manage our own systems alongside externally managed systems.”
Enterprise Cloud Architecture
In choosing Virtustream, Whittington selected an SAP-certified cloud provider that specializes in enterprise customers and uses Intel technologies throughout its data centers. Virtustream sits on the Partner Technical Advisory Board for VMware and the Cloud Technical Advisory Board for SAP, and has assisted enterprises with physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversions for more than a decade.
Together, FCC and Virtustream established what Theurer calls a private, multi-tenanted cloud. That’s a term some might consider an oxymoron, but Theurer uses it deliberately. “The physical infrastructure for FCC is multi- tenanted, but we wrap such tight security around it and provide such strong isolation that we can give them the security and performance attributes of a private cloud, with the elasticity and economics of a public cloud,” Theurer says. Virtustream also provides standard public and private clouds and hosting services to meet client requirements.
Virtustream uses virtual LANs (VLANs), multilevel security, and other techniques to isolate and secure FCC’s data and network traffic. The Virtustream xStream* cloud infrastructure is based on IBM System x3690 X5* platforms with the Intel® Xeon® processor 5680 and Intel® Ethernet Converged Network Adapters.
Intel® Solid-State Drives (Intel® SSDs) provide high performance in the storage area network (SAN) and act as direct-attached “hot cache” for performance-sensitive workloads that exceed local memory capabilities.
Virtustream is benchmarking Intel Xeon processor E5 and E7 product families in its development lab, and Theurer says these newer platforms will provide significant performance and throughput improvements, particularly for I/O-intensive workloads. Virtustream security teams are also exploring Intel® Trusted Execution Technology (Intel® TXT) to implement a hardware-aided root of trust and Intel® Advanced Encryption Technology–New Instructions (Intel® AES-NI) to accelerate encryption. “Any technology that improves the security and integrity of our data is of value to FCC,” says Whittington.
Detailed Discovery Lays Foundation for Success
FCC and Virtustream used the Virtustream Advisor*, a data-gathering and analysis framework, to guide a detailed discovery process. The Advisor provides tools to gather quantitative data on workloads and resource consumption. Using Virtustream’s Cloud Advisory Services, the two companies also held a series of in-depth workshops to drill down on application interdependencies, regulatory and security requirements, data archiving practices, network connectivity, change-management processes, and other qualitative factors that would affect the cloud environment.
Both companies worked closely to perform statistical modeling of FCC’s workloads, creating a five-year total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) model that showed a solid business case for the migration. This information-gathering and analysis phase also laid the groundwork for the cloud architecture, sizing guidelines, and migration blueprint.
- Virtustream xStream* cloud platform, including Virtustream Advisor* cloud assessment tool and xStream management portal
- IBM System x3690 X5* platforms with the Intel® Xeon® processor 5680
- VMware vSphere* ESXi*
- SAP Enterprise Core component*, Customer Relationship Management*, BusinessObjects business intelligence*, Solution Manager*, Manufacturing Infrastructure and Intelligence*, Auto ID Infrastructure*, NetWeaver Enterprise Portal* and NetWeaver Process Integration*
- Intel® Ethernet 10 Gigabit Converged Network Adapters
- Intel® Solid-State Drives (Intel® SSDs)
- Intel® Xeon® processor 5600 series-based storage appliances
Remote Virtualization with an Ocean of Data
Migrating from a physical, non-virtualized environment to the cloud called for special attention to data movement. “When you convert a physical system to a virtual system, those systems are typically sitting next to each other, and you have high-speed, low-latency access between them,” explains Theurer. “When you go physical- to-cloud, though, you’re probably pushing large amounts of data across high-latency, low-speed lines—and in FCC’s case, we were moving the data 4,000 miles. The challenge was to keep those systems in synch and get the data moved without having to sip the ocean through a straw.”
After calculating it would take more than six months to move FCC’s SAP and associated data through FCC’s available T1 lines, FCC and Virtustream decided on an “airlift” approach. Virtustream created a single-rack xStream appliance that used the Intel Xeon processor 5600 series to help perform the P2V conversion at FCC’s previous hosting center, copy data to USB drives, and run local validation tests. Engineers tested virtual machines in isolation before shipping the disks overnight to the Virtustream data center for further validation in a secure, fenced environment, and eventual integration.
To mitigate risks and protect production computing, the team used bidirectional data synchronization so applications could roll back to physical operation if needed. Each step involved ongoing data synchronization and repeated tests to confirm interoperability and resolve issues.
“Testing and retesting and testing a third time and a fourth time are really critical, so you can identify the interdependencies and mappings that, of course, drive those testing plans,” Theurer says. “We also involved as many users as we could, and we did a mock cutover before the real cutover. We developed a very repeatable process and were disciplined about avoiding the urge to tweak it as we went along.”
Both companies provided active and ongoing project management. “We assigned roles and responsibilities to our personnel and made sure they knew whom to contact at Virtustream,” says Whittington. “In some cases, as we evaluated our systems with Virtustream, we realized that it made sense to perform net new builds rather than converting the existing system to a cloud-ready virtual image. As a team, we developed detailed testing plans that generated repeatable test results. We built technical tests suitable for the IT staff as well as business tests. We got the business involved in not only developing those tests, but actually performing and validating the tests and the results.”
“The cloud isn’t magic. It takes effort to get there. You don’t just hand things over to a cloud provider and expect on-boarding to happen automatically. For enterprise IT, having a vendor with a systematic, business-oriented on-boarding and migration methodology is much more important than the specific tool they use.”
The final testing and migration, not counting the time spent developing the business case and assessing the business and technical environment, took 61 days, with an additional 20 days of pre-work. The overall process went smoothly, and the cutover to the production cloud followed the mock cutovers successfully, without having to use the rollback window.
“Any massive migration is going to have challenges, but we really didn’t encounter any surprises,” says Whittington. “The key is to expect the challenges and be flexible enough to address them. We had some technical integration challenges, some procedural issues (this is where having detailed test plans are key), and we discovered some previously unknown application interdependencies. One of the benefits of this process is that now we know about and have documented those interdependencies.”
Bottom-Line Impact, But Room to Improve
In moving to the cloud, Whittington has delivered solid business value for FCC. For starters, he reduced SAP operating and capital budgets compared to the previous hosted model, while increasing response times by up to 50 percent.
“If there’s any single best practice, it is to test, test, and test again. Test everything possible, and test it under load. What works for 5 or 10 machines with 600 GB of data might choke if you give it 40 machines and multiple terabytes.”
He enhanced DR, reducing costs and speeding recovery. FCC’s previous recovery point objective (RPO) was 24 to 48 hours, with a recovery time objective (RTO) of up to a week or more. In contrast, FCC and Virtustream recently simulated the failure of the primary data center and had systems up and running again in the DR site in less than an hour.
Whittington has also increased business agility and flexibility while reducing risk. “We have the ability to spin up new servers in minutes,” he says. “We can evaluate software and business impact and either quickly move a solution to production or shut it down, all at very low cost. On a recent SAP enterprise project, we deployed systems infrastructure for a new project in just a couple of hours. On a recent migration and integration project, we were able to provide an isolated and secure environment that was updated daily. The cloud has also freed up time and resources for new business projects that benefit the enterprise.”
Despite the successes, Whittington sees plenty of room for cloud solutions to mature. “Backup vendors haven’t caught up with the reality of cloud computing—they’re struggling with how to effectively deal with cloud- provisioned systems,” he comments. “The interdependencies among historically disparate systems are greater, and the tools to manage and troubleshoot are immature, so root cause analysis can be difficult.”
External clouds also bring new challenges for enterprise IT. “It’s a different world in the cloud, in many ways, and you need to throw out old concepts around resource management,” Whittington says. “In the cloud it’s primarily about memory and storage. People, processes, and systems need to adapt to garner the maximum benefit from the cloud. We’ve also found that agility can lead to server sprawl, which can be a real cost issue. You need to adjust your change management and approval processes to cope with the speed of system deployment.”
Still, FCC’s cloud migration is seen as a major success—at least among those who know about it. “IT is most successful when the end users aren’t even aware of us—they can just do their job and do it more quickly and efficiently,” says Whittington. “Most of our end users aren’t even aware of change. That’s good news to us, since it indicates we’re doing our job well. As for the overall impact, FCC is definitely more competitive as a result of this project. The ability to grow in lockstep with the business is a tremendous benefit. The increased speed and agility allows the company to streamline and improve business processes in a much quicker fashion than before. This has had a positive impact to the bottom line, and we’re looking to expand our footprint.”
1 Intel Capital, Intel’s global investment organization, is an investor in Virtustream.
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