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Ruralco overcomes configuration, speed issues with Azure move

Ruralco overcomes configuration, speed issues with Azure move

Hosted SAP infrastructure was hampering the business

In the early 2000s, Australian agribusiness Ruralco moved its SAP infrastructure into a hosted data centre in Melbourne. But as the company grew, the hosting provider’s inability to scale the infrastructure and slow system performance hindered the efficiency of staff at 40 businesses across 500 retail outlets.

“The infrastructure wasn’t ours and it was very difficult for the hosting provider to change configuration of the environment – it took weeks to add memory, CPU and disk,” Ruralco’s chief information officer, Tom Hansen told CIO Australia.

Scalability and lack of performance were both problems for the ASX-listed organisation, which operates in the areas of fertilisers, wool, livestock, water, grain, real estate, risk management, finance and insurance.

“The hosted environment didn’t have the throughput capacity to handle concurrent requests from our people. For example, at the end of the month, our finance department will run many reports and our previous environment didn’t have the ability to handle those concurrently,” Hansen explained.

Last October, Ruralco gave the data centre provider the flick and moved its core SAP environment to Microsoft’s Azure cloud in Sydney with a disaster recovery site in Melbourne that is mirrored every 15 minutes.

Hansen said there have been a few benefits to moving to a public cloud environment. It’s more scalable and delivered a 60 per cent improvement in the performance of SAP applications to its retail network from day one.

"If we put all our backups, batch jobs, data extractions and the like end-to-end – a lot of them run at night at the same time – they would take up to 27 hours to run. But now they run in half an hour," said Hansen.

The organisation's tech team also benefits from a pre-production staging environment which has improved "throughput for changes and transports into production," Hansen said.

“Previously, we only had one production, test and dev environment – now we have a dev, test, staging and production environment. So we have another level there in the stack to make sure we test our transports prior to them being moved into production.

“Moving to the cloud also allows us to add more interfaces to the environment so we can add extra modules and third party systems. We can also ‘pipe out’ data from our production system into a data warehouse to ‘punch the numbers’ and to have more a real-time analysis on that information. That extra capacity makes it a lot easier – it’s very scalable so this makes the job simpler."

The move to Azure has improved the performance of Ruralco’s core SAP point-of-sale application, which serves several of the organisation’s business units.

“Previously, if someone needed to print an invoice at the point of sale in a regional town, performance from our servers in Melbourne wasn’t up to the task, and the print out could take minutes as opposed to seconds [with the new public cloud infrastructure in place],” said Hansen. This bottleneck has been alleviated completely."

All of Ruralco's tech infrastructure now sits in managed VMs in third party data centres. The organisation rolled out Office 365 in 2016, which makes it easier for 3000 highly mobile staff to do their jobs, said Hansen.

"From an infrastructure point of view, I think the world will be moving to that model because it's very scalable. You can select which service you want, whether it’s complete management, backups and disaster recovery – depending on your budget and environment,” he said.

Ruralco's move to the public cloud has been "cost neutral" compared to running infrastructure on-premise but gains in system performance and capacity were the key drivers, Hansen said.

"Also with the new DR environment, we are very pleased where we have ended up."

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