Columbia Sportswear Gets Extreme on Software-Defined Data Center Strategy, Sets Torrid Pace for Reaping Global Business Benefits
Columbia Sportswear Gets Extreme on Software-Deﬁned
Data Center Strategy, Sets Torrid Pace for Reaping Global
Transcript of a Brieﬁngs Direct podcast on how a major sportswear company has leveraged
virtualization and hybrid cloud to reap substantial business beneﬁts.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Sponsor: VMware
Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the special BrieﬁngsDirect podcast series coming to
you directly from the VMworld 2014 Conference. I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at
Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series of BrieﬁngsDirect IT
We’re here in San Francisco to explore the latest developments in hybrid cloud
computing, end-user computing, and software-deﬁned data center (SDDC).
Our next innovator case study interview focuses on Columbia Sportswear in
Portland, Oregon. We're joined by a group from Columbia Sportswear, and we'll
learn more about how they've made the journey to SDDC. We'll see how they’ve
made strides in improving their business results through IT, and where they expect to go next
with their software-deﬁned efforts.
To learn more, please join me in welcoming our guests, Suzan Pickett, Manager of Global
Infrastructure Services at Columbia Sportswear. Welcome.
Suzan Pickett: Thank you, Dana. We're happy to be here.
Gardner: We're also here with Tim Melvin, Director of Global Technology Infrastructure at
Tim Melvin: Thank you for having us.
Gardner: Also joining us is Carlos Tronco, Lead Systems Engineer at Columbia Sportswear.
Carlos Tronco: Howdy.
Gardner: Let’s start at a high-level. First, I think people are familiar with your brand, but they
might not be familiar with your breadth. You're global. Tell us a little bit about the company, so
we appreciate the task ahead of you as IT practitioners.
Pickett: Columbia Sportswear is in its 75th year. We're a leader in global manufacturing of
apparel, outdoor accessories, and equipment. We're distributed worldwide and we
have infrastructure in 46 locations around the world that we manage today. We're
very happy to say that we're 100 percent virtualized on VMware products.
Gardner: And those 46 locations, those aren't your retail outlets. That's just the
infrastructure that supports your retail. Is that correct?
Pickett: Exactly, our retail footprint in North America is around 110 retail stores
today. We're looking to expand that with our joint venture in China over the next few years with
Swire, distributor of Columbia Sportswear products.
Gardner: You're a fast-growing organization, and retail itself is a fast-changing industry. There’s
lots going on, lots of data to crunch -- getting more inference about preferences -- and bringing
that back into a feedback loop. It’s a very exciting time.
Tell me about the business requirements that you've had that have led you to reinvest and re-
energize IT. What are the business issues that are behind that?
Pickett: Columbia Sportswear has been going through a global business transformation. We've
been refreshing our enterprise resource planning (ERP). We had a green-ﬁeld implementation of
SAP. We just went live with North America in April of this year, and it was a very successful go-
live. We're 100 percent virtualized on VMware products and we're looking to expand that into
Asia and Europe as well.
So, with our global business transformation, also comes our consumer experience, on the retail
side as well as wholesale. IT is looking to deliver service to the business, so they can become
more agile and focused on engineering better products and better design and get that out to the
Gardner: To be clear, your retail efforts are not just brick and mortar. You're also doing it online
and perhaps even now extending into the mobile tier. Any business requirements there that have
changed your challenges?
Pickett: Absolutely. We're really pleased to announce, as of summer 2014, that Columbia
Sportswear is an AirWatch customer as well. So we get to expand our end-user computing and
our VMWare Horizon footprint as well as some of our SDDC strategies.
We're looking at expanding not only our e-commerce and brick-and-mortar, but being able to
deliver more mobile platform-agnostic solutions for Columbia Sportswear and extending that out
to not only Columbia employees, but our consumer experience.
Gardner: Let’s hear from Tim a little bit about what your data center requirements are. How
does what Suzan told us about your business challenges translate into your IT challenges?
Melvin: With our business changing and growing as quickly as it is, and with us doing business
and selling directly to consumers in over a hundred countries around the world,
our data centers have to be adaptable. Our data and our applications have to be
secure and available, no matter where we are in the world, whether you're on
network or off-premises.
The SDDC has been a game-changer for us. It’s allowed to take those
technologies, host them where we need them, and with whatever cost
conﬁguration makes sense, whether it’s in the cloud or on-premises, and deliver
the solutions that our business needs.
Gardner: Let's do a quick fact-check in terms of where you are in this journey to SDDC. It
includes a lot. There are management aspects, network aspects, software-deﬁned storage, and
then of course mobile. Does anybody want to give me the report card on where you are in terms
of this journey?
100 percent virtualized
Pickett: We're 100 percent virtualized with our compute workloads today. We also have our
storage well-deﬁned with virtualized storage. We're working on an early adoption proof of
concept (POC) with NSX for software-deﬁned networking.
It really ﬁlls our next step into deﬁning our SDDC, being able to leverage all of our virtual
workloads, being able to extend that into the vCloud Air, and being able to burst our workloads
to expand our data centers our toolsets. So we're looking forward to our next step of our journey,
which is software-deﬁned networking via NSX.
Gardner: Taking that network plunge, what about the public-cloud options for your hybrid
cloud. Do you use multiple public clouds, and what's behind your choice on which public clouds
Melvin: When you look at infrastructure and the choice between on-premise solutions, hybrid
clouds, public and private clouds, I don't think it's a choice necessarily of which answer you
choose. There isn't one right answer. What’s important for infrastructure professionals is to
understand the whole portfolio and understand where to apply your high-power, on-premises
equipment and where to use your lower-cost public cloud, because there are trade-offs in each
When we look at our workloads, we try to present the correct tool for the correct job. For
instance, for our completely virtualized SAP environment we run that on internal, on-premises
equipment. We start to talk about development in sandbox, and those cases are probably best
served in a public cloud, as long as we can secure and automate, just like we can on site.
Gardner: As you're progressing through SDDC and you're exploring these different options and
what works best both technically and economically in a hybrid cloud environment, what are you
doing in terms of your data lifecycle. Is there a disaster recovery (DR) element to this? Are you
doing warehousing in a different way and disturbing that, or are you centralizing it? I know that
analysis of data is super important for retail organizations. Any thoughts about that data
component on this overall architecture?
Pickett: Data is really becoming a primary concern for Columbia Sportswear, especially as we
get into more analytical situations. Today, we have our two primary data centers in North
America, which we do protect with VMWare’s vCenter Site Recovery Manager (SRM), a very
robust DR solution.
We're very excited to work with an enterprise-class cloud like vCloud Air that has not only the
services that we need to host our systems, but also DR as a service, which we're very interested
in pursuing, especially around our remote branch ofﬁce scenarios. In some of those remote
countries, we don't have that protection today, and it will give a little more business continuity or
disaster avoidance, as needed.
As we look at data in our data centers, our primary data centers with big data, if you will, and/or
enterprise data warehouse strategies, we've started looking at how we're replicating the data
where that data lives. We've started getting into active data center scenarios, active, active.
We're really excited around some of the announcements we've heard recently at VMworld 2014
around virtual volumes (VVOLs) and where that’s going to take us in the next couple of years,
speciﬁcally around vMotion over long-distance. Hopefully, we'll follow the sun, and maybe ﬁve
years from now, we'll able to move our workloads from North America to Asia and be able to
take those workloads and follow where the people are using them.
Gardner: That’s really interesting about that geographic element if you're a global company. I
haven't heard that from too many other organizations. That’s an interesting concept about an
ongoing cloud and workloads, moving around the world throughout the day.
You mentioned that we're here at VMworld 2014. We've seen some news around different types
of cloud data offerings, Cloud Object Store for example, and moving to a virtual private cloud on
demand. Where do you see the next challenge is in terms of your organization and how do you
feel that VMware is setting a goal post for you?
Is there a symmetry between where VMware is going with its products and where you'd like to
go with your data center?
Tronco: The vCloud Air offerings that we've heard so much about this week are an exciting
Public clouds have been available for a long time. There are a lot of places where
they make sense, but vCloud Air, being an enterprise-class offering, gives us the
management capability and allows us to use the same tools that we would use on
It gives us the control that we need in order to provide a consistent experience to
our end users. I think there is a lot of power there, a lot of capability, and I'm
really excited to see where that goes.
Gardner: How about some of the automation issues with the vRealize Suite, such Air
Automation. Where do you see the component of managing all this? It becomes more complex
when you go hybrid. It becomes, in one sense, more standardized and automated when you go
software-deﬁned, but you also have to have your hands on the dials and be able to move things.
Carlos, how do you feel about the management components in the news that you have heard so
Tronco: One of the things that we really like about vCloud Air is the fact that we'll be able to use
the same tools on-premises and off-premises and won't have to switch between tools or
dashboards. We can manage that infrastructure, whether it's on-premise or in the public cloud,
will be able to leverage the efﬁciencies we have on-premise in vCloud Air as well.
We also can take advantage of some of those new services, like ObjectStore, that might be
coming down the road, or even continuous integration (CI) as a service for some of our
development teams as we start to get more into a DevOps type of world.
Gardner: Let’s tie this back to the business. It's one thing to have a smooth-running, agile IT
infrastructure machine. It's great to have an architecture that you feel is ready to take on your
tasks, but how do you translate that back to the business? What does it get for you in business
terms, and how are you seeing reactions from your business customers?
Pickett: We're really excited to be partnering with the business today. As IT comes out from
underground a little bit and starts working more with the business and understanding their
requirements, especially with tools like vRealize Automation, part of the vCloud Suite, we're
now partnering with our development teams to become more agile and help them deliver faster
services to the business.
We're working on one of our e-commerce order conﬁrmation toolsets with vRealize Automation,
part of the vCloud Suite, and their ability to now package and replicate the work that they're
doing rather than reinventing the wheel every time we build out an environment or they need to
do a test or a dev script.
By partnering with them and enabling them to be more agile, IT wins. We become more service
oriented. Our development teams are winning, because they're delivering faster to the business
and the business wins, because now they're able to focus more on the core strategies for
Gardner: Do you have any examples that you can point to where there's been a time-to-market
beneﬁt, a time-to-value faster upgrade of an application, or even a data service that illustrates a
little bit about what you've been able to deliver as a result of your modernization?
Pickett: Just going back to the toolset that I just mentioned. That was an upgrade process, and
we took that opportunity to sit down with our development team and start socializing some of the
ideas around vRealize Automation and vCloud Air and being able to extend some of our services
At the same time, our e-commerce teams are going through an upgrade process. So rather than
taking weeks or months to deliver this technology to them, we were able to sit down, start
working through the process, automate some of those services that they're doing, and start
delivering. So, we started with development, worked through the process, and now we have QA
and staging and we're delivering prod. All this is happening within a week.
So we're really delivering and we're being more agile and more ﬂexible. That’s a very good use
case for us internally from an IT standpoint. It's a big win for us, and now we're going to take it
the next time we go through an upgrade process.
We've had this big win and now we're going to be looking at other technologies -- Java, .NET, or
other solutions -- so that we can deliver and continue the success story that we're having with the
business. This is the start of something pretty amazing, bringing development and infrastructure
together and mobilizing what Columbia Sportswear is doing internally.
Gardner: Of course, we call it SDDC, but it leads to a much more comprehensive integrated IT
function, as you say, extending from development, test, build, operations, cloud, and then
sourcing things as required for a data warehouse and application set. So ﬁnally, in IT, after 30 or
40 years, we really have a uniﬁed vision, if you will.
Any thoughts, Tim, on where that uniﬁcation will lead to even more beneﬁts? Are there ancillary
beneﬁts from a virtuous adoption cycle that come to mind from that more holistic whole-greater-
than-the-sum-of-the-parts IT approach?
Flexibility and power
Melvin: The closer we get to a complete software-deﬁned infrastructure, the more ﬂexibility
and power we have to remove the manual components, the things that we all do a little
differently and we can't do consistently.
We have a chance to automate more. We have the chance to provide integrations into other tools,
which is actually a big part of why we chose VMware as our platform. They allow such open
integration with partners that, as we start to move our workloads more actively into the cloud, we
know that we won't get stuck with a particular product or a particular conﬁguration.
The openness will allow us to adapt and change, and that’s just something you don't get with
hardware. If it's software-deﬁned, it means that you can control it and you can morph your
infrastructure in order to meet your needs, rather than needing to re-buy every time something
changes with the business.
Gardner: Of course, we think about not just technology, but people and process. How has all of
this impacted your internal IT organization? Are you, in effect, moving people around, changing
organizational charts, perhaps getting people doing things that they enjoy more than those
manual tasks? Carlos, any thought about the internal impact of this on your human resources
Tronco: Organizationally, we haven’t changed much, but the use of some thing like vRealize
Automation allows us to let development teams do some of those tasks that they used to require
us to do.
Now, we can do it in an automated fashion. We get consistency. We get the security that we need.
We get the audit trail. But we don’t have to have somebody around on a Saturday for two
minutes of work spread across eight hours. It also lets those application teams be more agile and
do things when they're ready to do them.
Having that time free lets us do a better job with engineering, look down the road better with a
little more clarity, maybe try some other things, and have more time to look at different options
for the next thing down the road.
Melvin: Another point there is that, in a fully software-deﬁned infrastructure, while it may not
directly translate into organizational changes, it allows you to break down silos. Today, we have
operations, system storage, and database teams working together on a common platform that
they're all familiar with and they all understand.
We can all leverage the tools and conﬁgurations. That's really powerful. When you don't have the
network guys sitting off doing things different from what the server guys are doing, you can
focus more on comprehensive solutions, and that extends right into the development space, as
Carlos mentioned. The next step is to work just as closely with our developers as we do with our
peers and infrastructure.
Gardner: It sounds as if you're now also in a position to be more ﬂeet and to be fast. We've all
got higher expectations as consumers. When I go to a website or use an application, I expect that
I'll see the product that I want, that I can order it, that it gets paid for, and now you can track.
There is a higher expectation from consumers now.
Is that part of your business payback that you could tie into IT? Is there some way that we can
deﬁne the relationship between that user experience for speed and what you're able to do from a
Preventing 'black ops'
Pickett: As an internal service provider for Columbia Sportswear, we can do it better, faster,
and cheaper on-premise and with our toolsets from our partners at VMware. This helps prevent
black ops situations, for example, where someone is going out to another cloud provider outside
the parameters and guidelines from IT.
Today, we're partnering with the business. We're delivering that service. We're doing it at the
speed of thought. We're not in a position where we're saying "no," "not yet," or "maybe in a
couple of weeks," but "yes, we can do that for you." So it's a very exciting position to be in that
if someone comes to us or if we're reaching out, having conversations about tools, features, or
functionality, we're getting a lot of momentum around utilizing those toolsets and then being able
to expand our services to the business.
Tronco: Using those tools also allows us to turn around things faster within our development
teams, to iterate faster, or to try and experiment on things without a lot of work on our part. They
can try some of it, and if it doesn’t work, they can just tear it down.
Gardner: Thanks, Carlos. So you've gone through this journey and you're going to be plunging
in deeper with networking in the latter part of 2014. You've got some early-adopter chops here.
You guys have been bold and brave.
What advice might you offer to some other organizations that are looking at their data-center
architecture and strategy, thinking about the beneﬁts of hybrid cloud, software-deﬁned, and
maybe trying to ﬁgure out in which order to go about it, which proof of concept projects are the
most important, that sort of thing? Any words of advice, now that you've been well into this, that
you could offer others that are just beginning?
Pickett: I'd recommend that, if you haven’t virtualized your workloads, get them virtualized.
We're in that no-limit situation. There are no longer restrictions or boundaries around virtualizing
your mission-critical or your tier-one workloads. Get it done, so you can start leveraging the
portability and the ﬂexibility of that.
Start looking at the next steps, which will be automation, orchestration, provisioning, service
catalogs, and extending that into a hybrid-cloud situation, so that you can focus more on what
your core offerings are going to be your core strategies. And not necessarily ofﬂoad, but take
advantage of some of those capabilities that you can get in vCloud Air for example, so that you
can focus on really more of what’s core to your business.
Gardner: Tim, any words of advice from your perspective?
Melvin: When it comes to solutions in IT, the important thing is to ﬁnd the value and tie it back
to the business. So look for those problems that your business has today, whether it's reducing
capital expense through heavy virtualization, whether it's improving security within the data
center through NSX and micro-segmentation, or whether it's just providing more ﬂexible
infrastructure for your temporary environments like SAN and Dev through the cloud.
Find those opportunities and tie it back to a value that the business understands. It’s important to
do something with software-deﬁned data centers. It's not a trend and it's not really even a
question anymore. It's where we're going. So get moving down that path in whatever way you
need to in order to get started. And ﬁnd those partners, like VMware, that will support you and
build those relationships and just get moving.
Gardner: Carlos, advice, thoughts about 20/20 hindsight.
Tronco: As Suzan said, it's focusing on virtualizing the workloads and then being able to
leverage some of those other tools like vRealize Automation. Then you're able to free staff up to
pursue activities and add more value to the environment and the business, because you're not
doing repeatable things manually. You'll get more consistency now that people have time.
They're not down because they're doing all these day two, day three operations and things that
wear and grate on you.
Gardner: I suppose there's nothing like being responsive to your business constituents. That,
then, enables them to seek for more help, which then adds to your value, when we get into that
virtuous cycle, rather than a dead end of people not even bothering to ask for help or new and
innovative ideas in business.
Congratulations. That sounds like a very impactful way to go about IT. We've been learning
about how Columbia Sportswear in Portland, Oregon has been adjusting to the software-deﬁned
data center strategy and we've heard how that's brought them some business beneﬁts in their fast-
paced retail organization worldwide.
So a big thank you to our guests, Suzan Pickett, Manager of Global Infrastructure Services at
Columbia Sportswear; Tim Melvin, Director of Global Technology Infrastructure, and Carlos
Tronco, Lead Systems Engineer at Columbia Sportswear. Thanks so much.
And a big thank you to our audience for joining us for this special discussion series, coming to
you directly from the 2014 VMworld Conference in San Francisco.
I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series of
VMware-sponsored Brieﬁngs Direct IT discussions. Thanks again for listening, and come back
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Sponsor: VMware
Transcript of a Brieﬁngs Direct podcast on how a major sportswear company has leveraged
virtualization and hybrid cloud to reap substantial business beneﬁts. Copyright Interarbor
Solutions, LLC, 2005-2015. All rights reserved.
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