Like many IT teams these days, the IT department at facilities solutions specialist ABM has to do a lot with constrained resources.
With more than 350 offices in the U.S., British Columbia, Puerto Rico and various international locations (in Europe, Africa and Asia), and 115,000 employees, the IT staff numbers only 19 - down from 36 a few years ago. At the same time, the company has been growing rapidly since 2000, mostly through acquisitions that introduced a plethora of technologies to the company's IT assets. ABM provides facility solutions, including energy, commercial cleaning, maintenance and repair, HVAC, electrical, landscaping, parking and security services across a whole range of markets.
"This topic turns heads. A lot of people are comfortable running on VMware. We just want to do things better. -- Andre Garcia
Its rapid growth, combined with limited budget and staff, made it difficult to rapidly deliver and manage IT services where they were needed, says Andre Garcia, assistant vice president, Global Infrastructure Services, ABM. IT services were in ever greater demand, but the team did not have the staff to manage those services or the budget to hire more people.
ABM Virtualized Its Servers With VMware, Struggled With Data Center Automation
The company had already begun its virtualization journey: It had virtualized its server estate with VMware, but had not yet achieved the level of datacenter automation required to help its staff keep up with the growth in the company's business and IT infrastructure.
"We needed to figure out how to provision services globally wherever our customers and business partners operated," Garcia says. "It took too long to deliver servers to the business. We needed more automation to amplify the talents of our small staff. The number of projects continues to grow while our IT staffing stays flat."
Garcia says he believes in being an early adopter in new technologies because vendors typically work closely with early adopters and shape offerings to their needs (it helps staff-retention too, he says, because engineers want to learn and grow).
When Microsoft launched the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program (RDP) for Windows Server 2012 R2 and Microsoft System Center 2012 R2, Garcia made sure that his team participated. He wanted to evaluate the possibility of using System Center to manage ABM's virtual infrastructure since his team already used System Center 2012 for installing and managing applications on ABM's desktops and servers.
At the time, Garcia's team was already struggling with VMware's software in certain areas. Then he received a $1.6 million proposal from VMware to upgrade to vCloud Suite.
Cost and Licensing Complexity Headaches for IT
"The issues were cost, licensing complexity and sometimes the technology just didn't work," he says. "We rolled out vCloud Director trying to implement a hybrid cloud, but vCloud Director wasn't working for us because we had an Active Directory with .local at the end of it."
During the RDP, the team worked with Microsoft Services to Consulting to connect System Center 2012 R2 to its VMware environment. That gave it the capability to manage its VMware virtual machines (VMs) using System Center's Virtual Machine Manager component, providing Garcia's team with more control over the VM life cycle, from provisioning to configuration, deployment and deprovisioning.
At the same time, when Garcia's staff started discussing the results of the Microsoft RDP, they came to a surprising conclusion: Hyper-V virtual machines (VMs) might be good enough to replace its VMware VMs. With its Microsoft Enterprise Agreement license, ABM was already licensed to use Hyper-V. As part of the RDP, Garcia had his team investigate shifting some or all of ABM's virtualized workloads from VMware to Hyper-V 3.0.
"It became clear that we could really run our environment on Hyper-V with what Microsoft had planned," he says. "The conversation became, 'why are we on VMware?' as opposed to 'why should we switch?'"
Windows Server 2012 R2 a Tipping Point in Virtualization Technology
"We are always interested in participating in Microsoft RDPs because we want to stay on the cutting edge of technology, and we want to work closely with Microsoft as it develops new versions of the products we depend on," Garcia says.
"Windows Server 2012 R2 represents a tipping point in new technology; Microsoft is finally on par with or ahead of VMware capabilities. The fact that we are already licensed for this technology makes us, and companies everywhere, wonder why they need anything but Hyper-V."
The company has begun to deploy certain production workloads, like Microsoft Lync Server 2013, onto Hyper-V hosts and is now focusing on building its Hyper-V experience with the aim of eventually migrating all VMware workloads to Hyper-V.
Garcia says the entire team has been certified in Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) IT services management practices to help them correctly implement the System Center 2012 R2 Service Manager component.
The team has also begun using Windows Azure to extend on-premises workloads into the cloud and deliver IT services in markets where it has no datacenter, allowing it to serve customers like London's Heathrow Airport.
"I feel that we're bucking the trend; going against the grain, so to speak," Garcia says. "This topic turns heads. A lot of people are comfortable running on VMware. We just want to do things better. Our goal is to be as efficient as possible by leveraging as much automation as possible."
"Our vision is to implement all the System Center 2012 R2 components and get our team to the point where consolidating platforms becomes easier, managing multiple platforms becomes easier and the pieces are connected and managed through a single pane of glass," Garcia says. "That will be Nirvana."
Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at firstname.lastname@example.org>/p>
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