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Virtualization Freezes Costs

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 2010-10-12 Print this article Print

Retail and distribution companies once viewed IT as a way to improve supply chain management and store operations. These days, they use technology solutions to manage relationships with customers, vendors and business partners.

For the Schwan Food Co., a frozen-food distribution giant based in Marshall, Minn., the virtualization of the vast majority of its back-office IT needs has been a decade-long process. When IT first approached senior managers about the concept in 2001, there was some explaining to do because virtualization wasn’t commonly known.

But Cory Miller, Schwan’s senior operations manager over IT, found a way to explain the value of virtualization to the uninitiated. “I told them that this technology had the capability to turn a small Windows server into a mainframe computer,” he recalls. “They all knew how reliable mainframes were, but when I added virtualization’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness, the idea became easier to sell.” 

It took a number of years before a series of virtualized server, desktop and disaster-recovery projects took hold, but the company is now starting to reap the rewards. Through a Citrix Systems desktop virtualization effort, for example, it expects to save $1,200 per desktop over the next several years. 

With a disaster recovery solution from SunGard Data Systems in place, testing shows that recovery time during a disaster is being cut in half—with 100 percent reliability. As a result of the VMware-based servers, 31 percent of available data center space is now free, and energy costs have been reduced by an estimated 19 percent. 

“As of 2005, we could see that if we didn’t get this server virtualization project off the ground, we’d run out of data center space by 2008,” Miller says. “We would have run out of cooling capacity as well. Now, when we have a request to add a server to the system, we don’t have to build it up by hand as we did before. That would take days; now it takes only minutes.” 

Security, of course, is always a major concern that needs to be addressed before such a large-scale effort can take place. Reflex Systems is providing segmentation and security protection, and Schwan has been carefully evaluating which business units should be virtualized. 

The sheer size and scope of the company’s reach created a challenge: Schwan delivers more than 350 products—including pizzas, egg rolls, beef portabella dinners and Gold ‘N’ Nugit ice cream bars—to customer segments that include grocery stores and public facilities such as schools, government offices and prisons. The company also provides a “deliver-to-door” service to homes.

“We saw many other business units that would benefit from this without any compromise,” Miller says. “Our warehouse operations, for example, were a great fit. In those locations, you’d have employees and managers who each had their own desktop computing unit—essentially just to access Word and other Office software, and to use e-mail. 

“We can take 40 to 50 of those employees and put them on the same virtual desktop computer. To the employees, it’s the same as using their own computer. In fact, it’s even better because the virtual systems are more reliable and faster.”

Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.
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