Private Cloud Nurtures Farming Co-op

Mention farms, and most people think of bucolic fields full of corn and cows. But farms are very different these days. Most still have corn and cows, but there’s also an incredible amount of information technology that helps farmers operate more efficiently and profitably.

Just ask the 44,000 farmers who are members of the Lantmännen cooperative, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. This economic association operates in 19 countries and has 12,000 employees. Its operations are divided into four sectors—Agriculture, Machinery, Energy and Food—and encompass five corporate functions: Economy & Finance, Information & Communication, Legal Affairs & Organization, Human Resources and Internal Auditing.

Lantmännen’s purpose, according to its Website, “is to maintain a highly competitive enterprise and a cooperative with clear owner control based on the farmers’ needs. One of its goals is to create a cohesive group, able to maximize its strength throughout the value chain and tap into synergies and economies of scale.”

To achieve these goals, the cooperative depends heavily on information technology. “Our farmers develop their products the old-fashioned way, but they want us to handle their products the best, most efficient way,” says Dennis Jansson, chief security officer. “We’ve optimized our operation so we can do that and provide our members with tools that can help them succeed.”

Creating a Private Cloud

One key way in which Jansson has optimized the cooperative’s operations is by creating a private cloud, “the world’s largest private enterprise cloud, based on the number of sites, countries and applications,” he says. “We were early adopters of WAN optimization, virtualization and service-oriented architecture, which enabled us to industrialize packages of applications and make them available to users through the cloud.”

One of the reasons Jansson chose a private cloud over a public one is because he believes it provides better security. The co-op’s private cloud is protected by its security management process, which is a framework for determining how to secure stable solutions from start to finish.

The decision to develop a cloud was based on the needs of Lantmännen’s members. “We made a baseline of our business needs to find out how we could provide the correct services to our members,” Jansson explains.

“We are business-driven. There is no need for us to develop something unless the business asks for it, so we have moved from being a reactive department to one that’s focused on solving business problems and understanding business challenges.”

The first step toward a private cloud involved centralizing and consolidating the servers with VMware. Jansson replaced the servers with a Riverbed box, a Microsoft server and a Riverbed Service Package (RSP) with local print and Active Directory enabled. This setup provided local access to applications throughout the organization. “We tested this implementation at 90 sites, and it worked perfectly,” he says.

Currently, the cloud serves approximately 300 branches in more than 20 countries, and that number will eventually grow to 550 branches. “Every time we connect a branch, the employees there gain access to 5,000 applications and applets,” Jansson says. In addition, there are two backup server centers in rural places in Sweden.

“Now, virtualization and RSP save us about $600 a month per server, including electricity, licenses, maintenance and local backup,” he reports. “We did have to spend money for new hardware, but we estimate real savings at $60 million over five years.

“Another plus is that we know how much everything in IT costs. And by cutting down to one server per branch, we’re reducing tons of carbon dioxide. That’s important to us because we are a socially and environmentally conscious organization.”

Lantmännen even has a standard that says how bright computer screens can be, which cuts down on energy usage. “We checked with doctors to be sure the screens were bright enough so they wouldn’t cause eyestrain,” Jansson recalls. “These are small steps, but we do a lot of small things that add up to big energy savings.”