Virtualization Spurs ERP Operations and Disaster Recovery for Sportswear Giant Columbia
Virtualization Spurs ERP Operations and Disaster Recoveryfor Sportswear Giant ColumbiaTranscript of a sponsored BrieﬁngsDirect podcast on how Columbia Sportswear has harnessedvirtualization to provide a host of beneﬁts for business units.Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Sponsor: VMwareDana Gardner: Hi. This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and yourelistening to BrieﬁngsDirect.Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on how outerwear and sportswear maker and distributor, Columbia Sportswear, has used virtualization techniques and beneﬁts to improve their business operations. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BrieﬁngsDirect podcasts.] We’ll see how Columbia Sportswear’s use of deep virtualization assisted in rationalizing its platforms and data center as well as led to beneﬁts in their enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation. We’ll also see how it formed a foundation for improved disaster recovery (DR) best practices.Stay with us now to learn more about how better systems make for better applications thatdeliver better business results. Here to share their virtualization journey is Michael Leeper. He isthe Senior Manager of IT Engineering at Columbia Sportswear in Portland, Oregon. Welcome,Michael.Michael Leeper: Good morning, Dana.Gardner: We’re also here with Suzan Frye, Manager of Systems Engineering at ColumbiaSportswear. Welcome to BrieﬁngsDirect, Suzan.Suzan Frye: Good morning, Dana.Gardner: Let’s start with you, Michael. Tell me a little bit about how you got into virtualization?What were some of the requirements that you needed to fulﬁll at the data center level? Thenwe’ll dig down into where that went and what it paid off.Leeper: Pre-2009, wed experimented with virtualization. Itd be one of those things that I had my teams working on, mostly so we could tell my boss that we were doing it, but there wasn’t a signiﬁcant focus on it. It was a nice toy to play with in the corner and it helped us in some small areas, but there were no big wins there. In mid-2009, the board of directors at Columbia decided that we, as a company, needed a much stronger DR plan. That included the construction of a new data center for us to house our production environments offsite.
As we were working through the requirements of that project with my teams, it became prettyclear for us that virtualization was the way we were going to make that happen. For variousreasons, we set off on this path of virtualization for our primary data center, as we were workingthrough issues surrounding multiple data centers and DR processes.Our technologies werent based on the physical world any more. We were ﬁnding more issues inphysical than we were in virtual. So we started down this path to virtualize our entire productionworld. By that point, mid-2010 had come around, and we were ready to go. We had built our DRstack that virtualized our primary data centers taking us to the 80-90 percent virtual machine(VM) rate.Extremely successfulWe were extremely successful in that process. We were able to move our primary data center over a couple of weekends with very little downtime to the end users, and that was all built on VMware technology. About a week after we had ﬁnished that project, I got a call from our CIO, who said he had purchased a new ERP system, andColumbia was going to start down the path of a fully new ERP implementation.I was being asked at that time what platform we should run it on, and we had a clean slate to lookeverywhere we could to ﬁnd what our favorite, what we felt was the most safe and stableplatform to run the crown jewels of the company which is ERP. For us that was going to be theSAP stack.So it wasnt a hard decision to virtualize ERP for us. We were 90 percent virtual anyway. That’swhat we were good at, and that’s where teams were staffed and skilled at. What we did wasdesign the platform that we felt was going to meet our corporate standards and really meet ourgoals. For us that was running ERP on VMware.Gardner: It sounds as if you had a good rationale for moving into a highly virtualizedenvironment, but that it made it easier for you to do other things. Am I reading too much into it,or would you really say that your migration for ERP was much easier as a result of being highlyvirtualized?Leeper: There are a couple of things there. Speciﬁcally in the migration to virtualization, weknew we were going to have to go through the effort of moving operating systems from one siteto another. We determined that we could do that once on the physical side, relatively easily, andprobably the same amount of effort as doing it once by converting physical to virtual.The problem was that the next time we wanted to move services back from one facility toanother in the physical world, were going to have to do that work again. In the virtual space, wenever had to do it again.
To make the teams go through the effort of virtualizing a server to then move it to another datacenter, we all need to do is do the work once. For my engineers, any time we get them to do themundane stuff once its better than doing it multiple times. So we got that effort taken care of inthat early phase of the project to virtualize our environments.For the ERP platform speciﬁcally, this was a net new implementation. We were converting froma JD Edwards environment running on IBM big iron to a brand-new SAP stack. We didn’t haveanything to migrate. This was really built from scratch.So we didn’t have to worry about a lot of the legacy conﬁgurations or legacy environments thatmay have been there for us. We got to build it new. And by that point in our journey, virtualizedwas the only way for us to do it. That’s what we do, it’s how we do it, and thats what we’re goodat.Across the boardGardner: Just for the beneﬁt of our audience, let’s hear a bit more about Columbia Sportswear.You’re pretty much across the board. You’re manufacturing, distributing, and retailing. I assumeyou’re doing an awful lot online. Give us a sense of the business requirements behind your storyaround virtualization, DR, and ERP.Leeper: Columbia Sportswear is based in Portland, Oregon. Were the worldwide leader inapparel and accessories. We sell primarily outerwear and sportswear products, and a little bit offootwear, globally. We have about 4,000 employees, 50 some-odd physical locations, notcounting retail, around the world. The products are primarily manufactured in Asia with salesdistribution happening in both Europe and United States.My teams out of the U.S. manage our global footprint, and we are the sole source of IT supportglobally from here.Gardner: Let’s go to Suzan. Suzan, tell me a little bit about the pace at which you were able toembark on this virtualization journey. I saw some statistics that you went from 25 percent to 75percent in about eight months which was really impressive, and as Michael pointed out, nowover 90 percent. How did you get the pace and what was important in keeping that pace going?Frye: The only way we could do it was with virtualization and using the efﬁciencies we gained with that. We centrally manage all of IT and engineering globally out of our headquarters in Portland. When we were given the initial project to move our data center and not only move our data center but provide DR services as well, it was a really easy sell to the business. We could go to the business and explain to them the beneﬁts of virtualization and what it would mean for their application. They wouldn’t have to rebuild and theywouldn’t have to bring in the vendor or any consultants. We can just take their systems, virtualize
them, move them to our new data center, and then provide that automatic DR with Site RecoveryManager (SRM).We had nine months to move our data center and we basically were all hands on deck, everybodyon the server engineering team, storage, and networking teams as well. And we had executivesupport and sponsorship. It was very easy for us to go to the business market virtualization to thebusiness and start down that path where we were socializing the idea. A lot of people, of course,were dragging their feet a little bit. We all know that story.But once they realized that we could move their application, bring it back up, and then move itbetween data centers almost seamlessly, it was an instant win for us. We went from that 20-30percent virtualization. We had about 75 when we were in the middle of our DR project and todaywe’re actually at around 93 percent.Gardner: One of the things I hear a lot from people that are doing multiple things withvirtualization, like you did, is where to start, how to do this in the right order? Is there anythingthat you could come back with from your experience on how to do it in the order thatincentivizes people to adopt, as you pointed out, but then also allows you to move into theseother beneﬁts in a way that compounds the return on investment (ROI)?Frye: I think it surprises people that we have a "virtualize ﬁrst" strategy today. Now it’s assumedthat your system will be virtual and then all the beneﬁts, the ﬂexibility, the portability, theoptimization, and the efﬁciencies that come with it.But like most companies, we had to start with some of our lower tier or lower service-levelagreement (SLA) systems, our development systems, and start working with the business ongetting them to understand some of the beneﬁts that they could gain by working with virtualsystems.Performance is thereAgain people are always surprised. Will you have SQL virtualized? Do you have SAPvirtualized? And the answer is yes, today we do, and the performance is there, the optimization isthere, and that ﬂexibility is there.If you’re just starting out today, my advice would be to go ahead and start small. Give thebusiness what they want, do it right, and give it the resources it needs to have. Don’t under-promise, over-deliver, and let the business start seeing the efﬁciencies that they can realize, andsome of those hidden efﬁciencies as well.We can support DR testing. We can support almost instant data refreshes, cloning, and snapping,so their upgrades are more seamless, and they have an easier back-out plan.From an engineering and development perspective, were giving them technologies that theycould only dream of four or ﬁve years ago. And it’s really beneﬁted the business in that we’re
auto-provisioning. We’re provisioning in minutes versus days. We’re granting resources whenneeded.It’s a more dynamic process for the business, and we’re really seeing that people are saying,"You’re not just a cost center anymore. You’re enabling us, you’re helping us to do what we needto do and basically doing it on-demand." So our team has really started shining these last fewyears, especially because of our high virtualization percentage.Leeper: For a company thats looking to move to this virtualization space, they’ve got to getsome wins. You’ve got to tackle some environments or some projects that you can be successfulat, and hopefully by partnering with some business users and business owners who are willing totake a little bit of a chance.If you set off trying to truly attack an entire data center virtualization project, you’re probably notgoing to be really successful at it. There are a lot of ways that the business, application vendors,and various things can throw some roadblocks in this.Once you start chipping away at a couple of them and get above the easy stuff, go ﬁnd one thatmaybe on paper is a little difﬁcult, but go get that one done. Then you can very quickly pointback to success on that piece and start working your way through the rest of them.Gardner: Yeah, one of those roadblocks that you mentioned Ive heard people refer to is issuesaround licensing and tracking and audits. How did you deal with that? Was that an issue for youwhen you got into moving onto a virtualized environment?Leeper: Sure. It’s one of the ﬁrst things that always comes up. Im going to separate VMwareand the VMware licensing from app and application licensing. On the application side of thehouse, it’s getting better today than it was two or three years ago when we started this process.Be conﬁdentYou have to be conﬁdent in your ability to deal with vendors and demand support onvirtualization layers, work with them to help them understand their virtual licensing packages,and be very conﬁdent in your ability to get there.Early on, we had to just look at some vendors straight in the eye and tell them we were going todo this, because this was the best thing for our business, and they needed to ﬁgure out how tosupport us. In some cases, thats just having your team, when you call them support, not have toopen with "We’re running this on a VM.We know we can replicate and then duplicate things in the background when we need to, butsometimes you just have to be smart about how you engage application partners that may not bequite as advanced as we are and work through that.
On the VMware side, it came down to their understanding where our needs were and how toproperly license some of the stuff and work through some of those complexities. But it wasntanything we spent signiﬁcant amount of time on.Gardner: You both mentioned this importance of getting the buy-in on the business side andshowing wins early, that sort of thing. Because it’s hard many times to put a concrete connectionbetween something that happens in IT and then a business beneﬁt, was there anything that youcan think of speciﬁcally that beneﬁted your business that you could then turn around and bringback and say. Well that’s because we did X, Y, and Z with virtualization?"Leeper: One of the cool ones we’ve talked about and used for one of our key wins involves ourentire architecture obviously with virtualization being key to that.We had a business unit acquire an SAP module, speciﬁcally the BPC for BW module. That wasindependent of our overall SAP project and they were being run out of a separate business group.They came to IT in the very late stages of this purchase and said, "These are our needs andrequirements," and it was a fairly intense set of equipment. It was multiple servers, multipleenvironments, kind of up and down the stack, and they were bringing in outside consultants tohelp them with their implementation.The interesting thing was, they had specd their statement of work (SOW) with these consultantsto not start for the 4-6 weeks, because they really believed thats how long it was going to takeIT to get them their environments and their hardware, using some of their old understanding ofIT’s capabilities.And reality was that we could provide them their test and dev environments that they needed tostart with these consultants within a matter of hours, not weeks, and we were able to do so. I hadthe pleasure of calling the ﬁnance VP and informing him that his environments were ready andthey were just probably going to sit idle for the next 4-6 weeks until the consultants actuallyshowed up, which surprised all sorts of people.Add things laterWe didnt have all their production capacities, but those are things we could add later. Theydidn’t need production capacity in the ﬁrst month of the project anyway. So our ability to havethat virtualized infrastructure and be able to rapidly deploy to meet business requirements is oneof the really kind of cool things we can do these days.Gardner: Suzan, you’ve mentioned that as an enabler, not a roadblock. So being able to keep upwith the speed of business, I suppose, is the best way to characterize this?Frye: Absolutely. Going back to SRM, another big win for us was, as we were rolling out onsome of our Tier 1 mission-critical applications, it was decided by the business that they wanted
to test DR. They were going down the path of doing that the old-fashioned way by backing updatabases, restoring databases, and taking weeks to do that, days and weeks.We said, "We think we have a better way with SRM and our replication technologies. We havethat data here. Why dont you let us clone that data and stand it up for you?" Literally, within 10seconds, they had a replica of their data.So we were enabling them to do their DR testing with SRM, on demand, when they wanted to dothat, as well as giving them the beneﬁt of doing the faster cloning and data refreshes. That wasjust a day-to-day, operational activity that they had no idea we could do for them.It goes back to working with business and letting them know what you can do. From a day-to-day, practical perspective that was one of our biggest wins. Its going to speciﬁc business unitsand application owners and saying, "We think we have a better way. What do you think aboutthis?" Once they got their hands on it, just looking at their faces was really a good moment forus.Gardner: Sure, and of course, as an online retailer, having that dependability that DR provideshas to be something that lets you sleep a little better at night.Frye: Just a little bit.Gardner: Lets talk a little bit about where you go now. Another thing that I often hear in themarket is that the beneﬁts of virtualization are ongoing. Its a journey that keeps providingmilestones. It doesnt really end.Do you have any plans around private cloud perhaps, getting more elasticity and ﬁt-for-purposebeneﬁts out of your implementations? Perhaps youre looking to bring other applications into thefold, or maybe you’ve got some other plans around delivering on business applications at lowercost.So where do you go next with your virtualization payoff?Private cloudLeeper: We consider ourselves having up a private cloud on-site. My team will probably startlaughing at me for using that term, but we do believe we have a very ﬂexible and dynamicenvironment to deploy, based on business request on premises, and were pretty proud of that. Itworks pretty well for us.Where we go next is all over the place. One of the things were pretty happy about is the fact thatwe can think about things a little differently now than probably a lot of our peers, because of howmigratory our workloads can be, given the virtualization.
We started looking into things like hybrid cloud approaches and the idea of maybe moving someof our workloads out of our premises, our own data facilities, to a cloud provider somewhereelse.For us, thats not necessarily the discussion around the classic public cloud strategies forscalability and some of those things. For us, its a temporary space at times, if we are, say,moving an ofﬁce, we want to be able to provide zero downtime, and we have physical equipmenton-premises.It would be nice to be able to shutdown their physical equipment, move their data, move theirworkloads up to a temporary spot for four or ﬁve weeks, and then bring it back at some point,and let users never see an outage while they are working from home or on the road.There are some interesting scenarios around signiﬁcant DR for us and locations where we donthave real-time DR set up. For instance, we were looking into some issues in Japan, when Japanunfortunately a year or so ago was dealing with the earthquake and the tsunami fallout in power.We were looking at how we can possibly move our data out of the country for a period of time,while the infrastructure was stabilizing, speciﬁcally power, and then maybe bring it back whenthings settle down again.Unfortunately we werent quite virtual on the edge yet there, but today we think thats somethingwe could do. Thinking about how and where we move data to be at the right place at the righttime is where we think the next big win for us.Then, we get into the application proﬁles that users are asking for and their ability to spin upenvironments very quickly to just test something. It lets us get out of having IT as being theroadblock to innovation. A lot of times the business or part of our innovation teams come up withsome idea on a concept, an application, or whatever it is. They dont have to wait for IT to fulﬁlltheir needs. The environments are right there for them.So I challenge the teams routinely to think a little bit differently about how weve done things inthe past, because our architecture is dramatically different than it was even two years ago.Gardner: Well, great. We have to leave it there. Weve been talking about how outerwear andsportswear maker, Columbia Sportswear has used virtualization technologies and models toimprove their business operations. We’ve also seen how better systems makes for betterapplications that can deliver better business results.So I’d like to thank our guests for joining this BrieﬁngsDirect podcast. We have been here withMichael Leeper. He is the Senior Manager of IT Engineering at Columbia Sportswear inPortland, Oregon. Thank you so much, Michael.Leeper: Thank you.
Gardner: And we have been joined by Suzan Frye, Manager of Systems Engineering, also thereat Columbia Sportswear. Thanks to you, Suzan.Frye: Thanks, Dana.Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks to you allaudience for listening, and come back next time.Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Sponsor: VMwareTranscript of a sponsored BrieﬁngsDirect podcast on how Columbia Sportswear has harnessedvirtualization to provide a host of beneﬁts for business units. Copyright Interarbor Solutions,LLC, 2005-2012. All rights reserved.You may also be interested in: • Case Study: Strategic Approach to Disaster Recovery and Data Lifecycle Management Pays Off for Australias SAI Global • Case Study: Strategic Approach to Disaster Recovery and Data Lifecycle Management Pays Off for Australias SAI Global • Virtualization Simpliﬁes Disaster Recovery for Insurance Broker Myron Steves While Delivering Efﬁciency and Agility Gains Too • SAP Runs VMware to Provision Virtual Machines to Support Complex Training Courses • Case Study: How SEGA Europe Uses VMware to Standardize Cloud Environment for Globally Distributed Game Development • Germanys Largest Travel Agency Starts a Virtual Journey to Get Branch Ofﬁce IT Under Control