Kennards adopts Windows Server 2012 for virtualisation

After becoming a test subject for Windows Server 2012, Kennards will now be adopting the new product as part of its virtualisation road map.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor on

Nearly four years since it first began its virtualisation journey, Kennards is keen to move forward with Microsoft Windows 2012 for its virtualised IT environment, according to its group IT manager Richard Fox-Smith.

He was speaking at Microsoft's TechEd conference in the Gold Coast, Queensland.

Kennards is a construction equipment hire company with 900 employees and 40,000 customers nationwide. It conducts over 850,000 invoice-type transactions per year and makes more than AU$200 million in revenue.

The company was selected as a candidate for Microsoft's rapid-deployment program (RDP) for Windows Server 2012, and had early access to the product before it was launched in Australia today.

Frontline Systems is its IT service provider partner, and has been working with Kennards for four years. It is responsible for managing the company's datacentre.

Frontline was initially recruited to fix Kennards' disparate IT infrastructure and help build an IT road map to simplify complexities and lower costs. For such a large company, Kennards had a small IT team servicing its needs.

"It was about taking IT infrastructure from a very basic and unmanaged environment to a more standardised one," said Frontline general manager of Cloud Services Michael Chanter. "Then it was ultimately looking at technology such as virtualisation, with the goal being a truly dynamic environment where customers are easily able to burst resources, deploy apps quickly, and so on."

The pair decided to use a Microsoft technology stack early on. The next step for Kennards was to virtualise the datacentre, which involved deploying a lot of Citrix technology on top of its core Microsoft infrastructure. Microsoft System Center was deployed as a management layer across that.

By doing so, Kennards got an adaptable IT environment that can be managed by its small IT team.

But after three and a half years, it was time to review its virtualisation platform, as Kennards realised that technology had moved on significantly since it first deployed Citrix Xen Server, and disaster recovery (DR) was increasingly becoming important for Kennards.

"Currently, we are in one datacentre, so we needed technology that would enable DR fairly easy for us to operate," Smith said. "Also, with our success in virtualising a lot of our workloads, really we wanted to think about the cloud first rather than thinking about physical servers or anything along those lines."

Kennards was also under pressure to ensure the availability of the point of sale at its branch offices.

"If that goes, then we get a bullet," Smith said. "Branch managers care about the fact we don't have a DR solution."

Coincidentally, when Kennards realised it was time to take action earlier this year, Microsoft approached the company to participate in the Windows Server 2012 RDP.

"We were given the opportunity to explore the technology, and it was almost exactly what we wanted to deploy," Smith said.

Kennards tested Windows Server 2012 and deployed two versions of the release. So far, Kennards has been impressed with the stability of the product, and that has prompted the company to explore what it can do in its datacentre in a private cloud environment.

Kennards is now running several workloads in production on Windows Server 2012 with high availability on its virtual machines.

"Previously, if a host fails, the virtual machines would simply not spawn, and there would be a bit of manual work to fire it up," Smith said.

But what Kennards was particularly impressed with was the new Windows Server's Hyper-V replication technology for DR. This has enabled the company to easily publish virtual machines across to a different server.

"This really enables us to start planning out our DR solution, which we had previously struggled with," Smith said. "With Hyper-V replication, we are able to do cross-datacentre replication, enabling us to set up a DR site.

"Also, the idea we are not tied to our storage in some way really opens up flexibility and validates our decision that things have to be virtualised from the go."

The fact that no storage is shared obviated the need to buy duplicate storage arrays or rely on third-party offerings.

"We potentially saved about AU$50,000 to AU$60,000 not having to implement a third-party solution," Smith said. "However, that was not comparing to implementing SAN-based replication."

As a result of the RDP, Kennards has decided to integrate Windows Server 2012 with its System Center.

"Hyper-V is the future for our datacentre," Smith said. "We have another project to upgrade to System Centre 2012, which will let us manage the virtual machine aspect — something that we were lacking.

"It really brings our technology stack back to a pure Microsoft one, because we have Hyper-V back in the family."

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