Woolworths dumps monstrous environment for hybrid cloud

A year into its IT transformation strategy, Woolworths managed to establish a new convergence infrastructure that will be the basis for its future hybrid cloud environment.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

As Australia's largest, and the world's 15th largest retailer, Woolworths is responsible for turning over AU$58 billion worth of annual revenue on a target market of 27 million, and given that it's constantly reliant on perishable goods, it takes a lot of work and effort for the company to achieve those results.

For Woolworths head of infrastructure Matt Chamley, who spoke at the EMC Forum 2014 in Sydney, his responsibility has been to be mindful in how the IT department could create an environment that would allow the company to receive the greatest return.

With that mind, two years ago Woolworths signed an agreement with Wipro to assist the company with overhauling its monstrous reference infrastructure. While it was built on known brands including Cisco, EMC, VMware, Brocade, and HP, Chamley said there were complications with its reference infrastructure because it was a manually built and engineered architecture.

"This was the problem for us, and so what was needed was an IT transformation program with Wipro to help the structure off the critical path and reduce our risks," he said.

"Wipro has been embedded into our business not only as a provider, but a business partner and a key of our success in moving forward. The relationship with Wipro gave us the opportunity to leverage their global capabilities and skills that has taken us on a transformation journey that is starting to form."

One of the goals Woolworths set out to achieve as part of the new partnership was establishing a converged infrastructure. Chamley said there was "real value" in bringing all siloed technology together so that the company's infrastructure no longer looked like a "rack full of equipment", but a "pool of resources".

A solution Wipro brought to the table as part of its proposition to Woolworths was VCE's Vblock, and after four months of analysis and proof of concept of Vblock, Chamely said the company found "it was the best for Woolworths based our technology, processes, and workflow". Woolworths installed two "father" Vblock 720 systems across two data centres in both active/active and active/passive configurations to support 296TB of data and 118 servers.

One year down the track off the back of the transformation activity, Woolworths has been able to reduce total cost of ownership over five years by 27.4 percent. It has also been able to increase its virtualised workloads where previously the company had 4490 workloads at 45 percent virtualisation and now it has 5041 workloads at 64 percent virtualisation. The company has also migrated one-fifth of its workload over 12 months from its legacy environment to the new Vblock environment.

According to Chamely, investing in the Vblock system returned immediate value back to the business, and not just from a cost perspective.

"Twelve months later we're going to expand our capacity by more than double. This shows two things. The first is the scalability of the arrays, I'm not talking about buying another service or another storage system, I'm talking about scaling out our existing investment and maximising what we have," he said.

"The second thing is how versatile it is in terms of a transformation tool for us to be able to transfer workloads off the environment to be able to really drive that value."

Chamley also highlighted that unlike previous systems that would've taken at least six months to install, test, design, and validate, the time to order and then commission Vblock took under two months.

Patches and firmware updates are now able to be done in near instances too, said Chamley, removing the need for staff to work late nights and the "wait and see" approach to see if firmware updates work.

But the IT transformation for Woolworths is not over yet. Now that the company has established a converged infrastructure through the Vblock as the foundation, the next step is to establish a "true private cloud infrastructure" and leverage the Vblock as the base of it.

The company has initiated an internal project, called the "storm front", as the first step to building a single management environment, Chamley said.

"Ultimately the destination is a hybrid cloud. One of the things we've learnt of the last six month through establishing our cloud strategy is as people start talking about cloud, they talk about it being destination, but it's not a destination; it's not a single flavour of ice-cream, it's not vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate, it's Neapolitan — it's all three," he said.

"What you'll find is you'll have a private instance, a public instance, and you'll have multiple public providers, you'll have some that exist in isolation, and you'll have some that will need to be expanded."

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