The following question and answer briefing with Kennards Hire IT manager Richard Fox-Smith was sent to us by Microsoft, as part of the Tech.Ed conference on the Gold Coast this week and the launch of Windows Server 2012. Normally Delimiter does not publish vendor announcements verbatim, but this material was sufficiently interesting that we decided to publish it at length. This isn’t the normal vendor PR guff.
Can you please give me a brief overview of Kennard’s Hire?
Kennards Hire is an all-Australian family-owned business that has grown into one of Australia’s leading hire companies. We offer a large and diverse range of tools, equipment and vehicles in our general hire centres, as well as a number of specialist divisions. We operate over 125 branch stores and have around 900 employees with revenue over 200 million.
How big is your IT team? What were some of the business challenges you were facing?
From an IT perspective, we’re a small team, seven full time employees, and three casuals. As a result, one of our challenges is maintaining the IT component in such a small team for such a large organisation.
We did our initial standardising on Microsoft five years ago and did a complete refresh of our servers and our base technology. At the time, we ended up going with Citrix XenServer and over time have two separate XenServer farms. Most of our major workloads are virtualised in the data centre, while delivering our critical line of business applications via Citrix – out of Frontline’s data centre, so virtualisation is a key critical component around our IT stack.
However, early on we decided on a coherent Microsoft strategy and as a business we wanted to keep the Microsoft stack as clean as we could. As a result, in our strategic IT review we identified three elements: Simplify and standardise our hypervisor based on Microsoft Hyper V3; Develop a DR strategy with Windows Server 2012; and Strategic management tools – with System Centre 2012 managing patching operations.
What specific features in Windows Server 2012 are addressing some of Kennards IT needs?
Windows Server 2012 has some great new features but specifically the Hyper V Replication and improved high availably are the main features we were after. With Hyper V replication we will be able to do cross data centre replication, enabling us to setup a disaster recovery site. High availably improvements to VM failover will also help us improve uptime to our business. In our previous arrangement if a VM or a host failed, the VM didn’t automatically respawn which is certainly an improvement over what we had before.
The idea that there’s no shared storage, no common anything between data centres worked really well which has been very effective in terms of our pilot phase and provided us a huge amount of flexibility in terms of what’s next, because we didn’t have to go out and buy duplicate storage arrays or third party solutions to achieve what we want. We potentially save about $50 to $60K not having to implement a 3rd party solution. However, that was not comparing to implementing SAN base replication.
For Kennards keeping IT modest is key – we’re just trying to keep it simple and keep the business very happy with our service. We realised that combining Windows Server 2012 and Systems Centre 2012 were the next strategic generation of technology that Kennards needed to enable us to build our modern data centre and continue to deliver IT to the business and our customers.
What are some of the key workloads that you’re running now on Windows Server 2012? Is Kennards moving beyond virtualisation and building for a private or hybrid in the future?
It’s early days but the key workload we’re running is a number of Citrix instances. So we’ve got our front counter production traffic running on Windows Server 2012. As a business, there’s nothing more important than that workload. We’ve finished our proof of concept and are effectively in a production pilot at the moment. And the plan is to move all our workloads in the coming months.
Disaster recovery is certainly one of the key goals down the track. At the moment we’re in the early phases of getting all the technology in place to allow us to do that, but it’s certainly part of the vision. Ideally the DR component would not be on premise; it would be in a cloud. But for now, it’s really getting some of those key building blocks in place to enable us to do that and Windows Server 2012 is critical to do this.
What is strategic value of being an early adopter of Microsoft technology?
Early adoption gave us strong insight into the Windows Server 2012 product feature set and capability. One of the key things that we’ve done with each refresh cycle refresh is to be closely aligned to the latest Microsoft product set. At Kennards, we have a very lean IT department and IT is a significant enabler for the business, and the service levels from the IT area to the business are very high, and it’s held in high regard.
A strong part of that has always been the rationalisation and consolidation down to the Microsoft stack, because it’s enabled us to do a lot with little. We are very agile in terms of the ability to deploy new infrastructure and integrate new businesses into the Kennards family. So the agility and the ability to get things done quickly with a fairly lean resource space that is the critical for us as a business.
What’s next on your IT agenda?
In terms of our whole IT agenda, a lot of our focus is around the business and their applications – that is the line of business apps and the key deliverables there. Kennards really is all about the branch – it’s about delivering services to our customers.
IT is an enabler around the line of business and what we can to do to assist the 125 branches, and we see Microsoft technology allowing us to do that by not getting in the way of the business. Our infrastructure strategy is datacentre centric and Windows Server 2012 and System Centre 2012 is a key in building our next gen data centre.
What role does Frontline play at Kennards?
A: Frontline has been our trusted partner and advisor over the last five years. They were instrumental in rebuilding our core technology infrastructure. Not so much on the application side, but certainly on the core infrastructure component, and also a very extensive BI project which was really the final delivery of our complete rebuilding phase. In addition, Frontline assists us in helping us develop our IT strategy and provides some ongoing management services. For example Frontline hosts our entire infrastructure in their data centre. They also provide the deep architecture and technical skills allowing us to focus on the day to day operations, once they have deployed the technology.