There comes a time when just keeping things running is not enough. That is what Winnipeg-based George Henry Young International’s (GHY) three-man IT team came to realize when they found themselves spending almost all of their time keeping the company’s servers going and nothing else.
GHY is a privately-held customs brokerage company providing brokerage and international trade services.
“It is amazing how you paint yourself into a corner when you are not thinking about it,” said Nigel Fortlage, vice-president of information technology with GHY. “We were so busy dealing with being reactive, we were spending 95 per cent of our time as a team doing nothing but making sure the server farm was doing what it was supposed to be doing.”
A little over three years ago, GHY was operating with two separate server systems made up of seven servers each. An AS/400 server was used to handle GHY’s customs brokerage applications while several other servers, running a variety of different server operating systems, including Windows and Linux, handled the firm’s other business operations and applications.
Fortlage said the situation was making his team miss opportunities for doing such things as simplifying business operations, incorporating new technologies and solutions that would help the firm’s more than 100 employees improve their work and gain productivity. On a more personal level, spending all of one’s time doing maintenance was not providing a lot of job satisfaction.
In 2002, when the server lease renewal was coming up, Fortlage decided the way to tackle these problems was through server consolidation, reducing the number of servers to two: an IBM eServer i270 and an IBM eServer i820.
Fortlage said the immediate result of the consolidation was a huge freeing up of time amongst his IT staff. Where 95 per cent of time was previously spent stuck in is-it-running mode, it dropped to five per cent after the consolidation.
As well, the consolidation cost less than some of the other server configurations the company had looked at earlier. At one point, Fortlage thought GHY might have to add nine servers in order to do everything the company had planned to do. “At the end of our fiscal year in 2003, as a department, our IT operating costs dropped 14 per cent. Out of that 14 per cent, $100,000 is directly attributable to the server consolidation.” The consolidation work also helped GHY to improve its backup and recovery processes. Before, the company used five different tape backup drives and four different tape formats.
“As an IT professional, I had zero confidence in my ability to recover,” Fortlage admitted. “Now we are doing 100 per cent backups nightly; we use one tape drive and one tape format and save two-and-a-half hours of our backup window.”