Agrium saving big with imaging tool


The installation and maintenance of software images is a challenge for many corporate IT departments, but with Novell’s ZENWorks for Imaging a Calgary-based company expects to save up to $30,000 each time it rolls out a new image.

A marketer, producer and distributor of agricultural products, Agrium Inc. has 15 major facilities and 40 smaller sites across North America. While the major facilities each have a dedicated IT staffer, the smaller sites are supported centrally by Agrium’s Calgary headquarters.

Bruno Picone, director of IT infrastructure at Agrium, said the company decided in 2000 to move to a locked-down PC strategy. The decision was maintenance driven, said Picone. Users were adding programs on the fly as they wished, requiring a major effort by the IT department to get them back up to speed whenever there was a problem or a crash.

The lock-down decision, however, created an administrative challenge of how to easily manage the more than 700 different applications Agrium employees may need to do their jobs.

“We needed a mechanism to manage all these applications for the user community, and to be able to re-image a PC and have the user up and running in about an hour,” said Picone.

As the company was already using other Novell tools, Agrium turned to Novell’s ZENWorks for Imaging tool. Picone said they’ve been using it since August and will soon deploy a new desktop image to Agrium’s 2500 users.

One benefit has been that because ZENWorks allows them to create a software image independent of the hardware that will be running on the machine, Agrium no longer needs to purchase extra PCs with identical hardware as in the past. By maintaining one core image, Agrium can also now manage that image with just one-half full time staff position.

Picone added they’ll be better able to track software use and ensure license compliance.

The remote imaging capability is also a key component. In the past, IT staff would have had to travel remotely to each of those 40 sites and touch each desktop. Now it can all be done centrally from Calgary, and overnight to minimize user disruption. “We believe it costs us $30,000 to re-image all our machines on a one-time basis,” said Picone. “Now we don’t think we’ll have any costs.”

Linda Shepel, senior network administrator with Agrium, added security will also improve with the new imaging tool. Without that $30,000 price tag, Agrium’s IT staff can more frequently push out security updates, rather than waiting for a critical mass of updates to build up before pulling the trigger.

The importance of imaging as an IT issue will vary for each company depending on their infrastructure lifecycles said Ross Chevalier, CTO and CIO with Novell Canada. Organizations that do more frequent hardware or core OS refreshes will have a higher concern for imaging.

“Instead of trying to show up at each desktop with your stack of CDs and then running the installer to corporatize each of these components it’s much faster and much easier to blow out an image,” said Chevalier.

Some organizations are building an image vault of different role-based images, said Chevalier, while others choose to push out a basic image to all users and then use Novell’s application deployment functionality to push out additional applications based on the user’s role.

“As budgets compress, organizations are looking for longer lifecycles out of their workstations, since the longer you can keep a device that’s already paid for in operation the better for the business,” said Chevalier. “However, without a good solution to be able to deploy new applications some of those savings can be lost through the hands-on administrative requirements.”

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