TARKETT TARGETS UPTIME

Doug Finnick, Director of North American Infrastructure
Dan Brinkman, Director of North American IT
Tarkett Inc., Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Global flooring company turns to a hosted and managed data center to ensure business continuity in its North American operations.

UPTIME

NFL football teams play on its turf. Families walk on its tile, wood, sheet vinyl and laminates. And shoppers ponder purchases on its retail surfaces. So when data center downtime became a problem for French flooring manufacturer Tarkett Inc., its North American IT leaders decided they needed to put their technology infrastructure on an equally stable footing.

After years of growth, Tarkett’s North American Flooring Division needed to update and consolidate its sprawling IT infrastructure, which was strewn across eight locations. The company’s two main data centers in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and Farnham, Quebec in Canada, had aging equipment and limited backup power supply to protect them from power outages. When storms knocked out power at the Ohio data center, for example, it negatively impacted IT services at half a dozen manufacturing plants and distribution centers.

Therefore, in early 2009, Tarkett’s North American IT department purchased new servers, storage, networking and data backup equipment, and the IT staff began a project to consolidate their data centers and migrate their applications to a single data center hosted and managed by CDW. Their primary objective was to provide the uptime, reliability and security that the growing company required.

"We are a 24/7 operation and are always making products and shipping orders. We are fanatical when it comes to providing good customer service and keeping the promises that we make to our customers, so we focused on having full redundancy in place," says Sandro D’Amicone, Tarkett’s North American vice president of customer experience and information technology.

Tarkett isn’t alone in focusing on business continuity. According to Forrester Research, the top three priorities for enterprises in 2011 are consolidating IT infrastructure, upgrading business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities, and improving security. Tarkett accomplished all three with the same project.

The company did so by architecting an infrastructure with disaster avoidance in mind, deploying server virtualization and turning to a managed services provider. The CDW data center in Madison, Wis., helps ensure business continuity because it provides 24/7 network monitoring, maintenance and troubleshooting support. It’s built to withstand tornadoes and is highly secure, using the latest network security tools.

"This new infrastructure is faster and more reliable," D’Amicone says. "If we did it ourselves, it would have been more costly and probably not as flexible, scalable and secure." Outsourcing allows Tarkett’s IT department to focus less on mundane IT tasks and more on building new, strategic business applications for employees and customers to provide a competitive advantage, says Dan Brinkman, the company’s North American IT director.

"We don’t have to worry whether last night’s backups were successfully completed," he says. "We can spend our time improving our customer-facing applications, enhancing our customer’s experience and providing them more value. We view information technology as a strategic weapon, especially in the multitiered distribution channel we operate in."

"By going to a place like CDW, we received the staffing, security and compliance we needed to support our growth strategies,"

Dan Brinkman,
Director of North American IT,
Tarkett Inc.

Tarkett Warehouse, Middlefield, Ohio

MIGRATION PROCESS

MIGRATION PROCESS The IT department split the project into two phases. During the first phase, in 2009, the company moved its most critical business applications – which run on AS/400 servers – to the CDW data center in Madison. The project included moving related Windows applications that tap into the AS/400 data and provides employees and customers with critical data, such as order status, inventory availability and prices, says Doug Finnick, Tarkett’s director of North American infrastructure.

In the project’s second phase, beginning this year, the company plans to migrate the remaining applications from all eight data centers, including Microsoft Exchange email, SQL Server databases and file and print servers.

Instead of renting equipment from CDW, Tarkett decided to buy its own. Tarkett leased two new AS/400 servers because its existing ones were reaching the end of life. They also acquired IBM BladeCenter blade servers, a NetApp storage area network and VMware virtualization software to consolidate and virtualize the company’s existing rackmounted servers. For data backup and recovery, they bought IBM Tivoli Storage Manager to back up to disk and tape, Finnick says.

Tarkett’s IT staff, working with CDW’s engineers, spent about 11 months migrating the critical AS/400 manufacturing, customer service, distribution and financial applications, and associated Windows-based applications to CDW’s data center.

At the time, one AS/400 was housed in the main Quebec data center, while the other AS/400 was housed in the main Ohio data center. The Tarkett and CDW teams moved the Quebec AS/400 applications first. They installed the new server in Madison, replicated the Quebec transactions in real time, and for several weeks, performed extensive testing to ensure the new server ran properly, Brinkman says. By mirroring all production transactions on the Madison AS/400s for several weeks, the cutover weekend involved just redirecting the users to Madison instead of having to restore the entire production system. After the Quebec applications and users were moved to Madison, they repeated the process with the AS/400 applications in Ohio.

"The goal is that when we cut over, there should be zero downtime and zero impact to our business and customers," D’Amicone adds.

Redundancy was a high priority. In Madison, Tarkett consolidated all the AS/400 applications into one new AS/400 server, and for redundancy purposes, they had applications and data replicated in real time to a second new AS/400 server, Finnick says. That way, if the first AS/400 goes down, the company can configure the second AS/400 to take over operations within four hours with no data loss.

The company moved its related Windows applications, such as reporting tools, faxing software and customer portals, to the IBM blade servers. In doing so, the IT staff consolidated 20 rack servers into four blade servers, thanks to VMware ESX 3.5 virtualization software.

Tarkett implemented VMware’s VMotion software to further aid business continuity. If one blade goes down, the software will automatically migrate the virtual servers to the other blades to keep the applications running, Finnick adds. The IT staff is using IBM’s Tivoli Storage Manager to back up the virtual machines and data stored on the NetApp device.

To further ensure uptime, the company bolstered its wide area network (WAN) with multiple connections into each office. To boost network performance, the company installed Riverbed Steelhead WAN optimization devices at each site. The technology caches data locally, which speeds up the delivery of data to users.

"This allows us to centralize to one data center without needing to have 20 MB pipes in every location and ensures that whatever we throw at the network — data, Voice over IP and video — users will still have good performance," Finnick says.

BUSINESS CONTINUITY BEST PRACTICES

A good business continuity strategy is important because downtime can decrease worker productivity, tarnish a company’s reputation and result in lost revenue. Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst of the Server and StorageIO Group, shares these business continuity tips.

  • BACK UP YOUR DATA.

Companies must make multiple copies of data to disk, to tape, to the cloud – or perhaps all three. They should be point-in-time copies, copies that are stored at different intervals, and stored in different locations. One copy is never enough because that one copy could be corrupted or destroyed in a disaster.

  • VIRTUALIZATION ENABLES BUSINESS CONTINUITY.

When IT administrators run multiple virtual machines (VMs) on a server, and that server crashes, those virtualized applications can failover to another server. Some companies run applications on stand-alone servers to ensure good quality of service, but they should virtualize those applications, too. That way, if the server goes down, the VM running that one application can quickly move to another server to ensure uptime.

  • USE SHARED STORAGE.

Shared storage, through storage area networks and network-attached storage, stores data in a central location and improves reliability. IT administrators can use a RAID configuration and replicate data to other drives in real time.

ROI AND BENEFITS

Tarkett, which pays CDW a monthly fee for hosting and managing its data center infrastructure, achieved a return on investment within the first year. The flooring company is saving $30,000 a year from Phase 1 of the project alone, and the savings comes from not having to build and operate a new data center facility and hiring the staff to manage it, Finnick says. "CDW has the ability to deliver compliance for us. All of their processes are solid. Everything is documented and auditable," he says.

The new infrastructure and data center is providing the company with the performance and business continuity it needs. Tarkett’s employees and customers are getting faster, more reliable access to AS/400 applications and data, Finnick adds.

And in the off chance a power outage or disaster hits a Tarkett facility, having centralized IT operations at the Madison data center allows seamless rerouting of customer communications to another office during the outage, so customer service isn’t affected, D’Amicone says.

The goal was to create a "plug-and-play" environment, so when Tarkett decides to build new facilities or acquires a new company that needs to be integrated, Tarkett’s IT team and CDW engineers can quickly provision IT services for the new facility and new employees, D’Amicone says.

And lastly, the move to consolidate the company’s eight data centers, which reduces power consumption, coincides with Tarkett’s goal to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable. CDW’s Madison data center, which was designed with energy efficiency in mind, also aids in that effort. "This helps us reduce our carbon footprint," D’Amicone says.

FUTURE PLANS

Tarkett is pursuing Phase 2 of the project this year. The goal of the six-month project is to migrate the remaining applications from the eight previous data centers to Madison.

Tarkett will upgrade from VMware ESX 3.5 to vSphere 4.0 and add an extra blade to the IBM BladeCenter chassis. The company will replace the original smaller NetApp SAN with 5TB of usable storage with a larger NetApp FAS3140 SAN with 20TB of usable storage. The company will also improve each office’s local area network.

When the project is done, Tarkett will have consolidated about 50 rack servers to five blades. And it will allow the company to decommission the previous eight data centers. "It will allow us to get away from having local data centers," Finnick says.

Tarkett North America is planning a third phase where it will integrate companies that are newly acquired and bring them into the Madison data center. The company is also working on replacing the AS/400 applications with SAP.

Overall, the migration to a managed service provider has been worth the effort, they say. And with some of their time freed up, IT staffers have begun working on new applications to bolster worker productivity and improve customer service.

"There is so much value added to this that it wasn’t a difficult business decision," Finnick says. "There is some additional cost to Phase 2, but if you look at the business continuity benefits, it’s very quickly made up. We can focus on our business, and that’s the goal: let IT be a value-add to the business."

CDW’S ROLE

CDW’s team of solution architects and engineers helped Tarkett design and install the new infrastructure, Brinkman says. The main reason Tarkett chose CDW over competitors was its 24/7 support and because the company was flexible enough to allow Tarkett to install and use whatever technologies they wanted.

"We were looking for a partner that would grow with us," D’Amicone says. "CDW is not rigid. Although they have a standard service portfolio, they worked with us on the technology that best met our needs. They hardened it and made it production-worthy."

Finnick and Brinkman talk to the CDW team that’s managing their infrastructure almost daily. And every quarter, they hold a staff meeting to discuss metrics and review any previous incidents. They talk about forthcoming challenges and how to address them.

"It’s constant communications," Tarkett’s Finnick says. "It’s about improving or adding service or new technology that’s coming up." CDW began working with Tarkett in early 2008. CDW Field Solution Executive Scott Mitchell engaged the appropriate CDW engineering staff to develop a comprehensive offering that met Tarkett’s requirements. The staff included personnel from CDW’s Server and Storage, Microsoft and Cisco infrastructure practices.

"We worked many long hours alongside Tarkett personnel, defining the solution and demonstrating to Tarkett that we would be a trustworthy partner," Mitchell says.

Andy Brolin, CDW’s managed services solutions specialist, says CDW provides Tarkett with three services: network monitoring and alerting, patching and preventative maintenance, and engineering support for resolving incidences and problems.

"We see ourselves as an extension of their IT department," he says. Tarkett’s deployment model is essentially a private cloud, Brolin adds. Tarkett contracted CDW to host and manage its IT infrastructure. Tarkett determines the level of services it needs and pays CDW on a monthly basis for those services. As a managed services partner with 24/7 capabilities, CDW is able to assign engineering resources and turn up services for Tarkett at a moment’s notice.

For example, if Tarkett needs more bandwidth, CDW can increase network capacity. If the company ever needs more processing or memory power, CDW can plug in more CPUs and memory on the fly, D’Amicone says.

Two years into the relationship, Tarkett executives say they are happy with CDW’s data center. "The level of power and redundancy we have, and the procedures and policies that are in place, reduces risk. We are better off now," Finnick says.





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