Auto parts supplier moves from ERP on Unix to Linux cluster

One of the world’s largest automotive suppliers has signed a three-year contract extension with Dell to standardize its IT environment on Dell Inc. hardware and services across its 200 facilities in 24 countries, including seven in Ontario.

Under the terms of the contract, TRW Automotive will receive 24,000 Dell OptiPlex desktops, Latiude notebooks, Dell Precision workstations, hundreds of Dell PowerEdge servers and dozens of Dell/EMC storage systems. Financial details of the deal were not publicly disclosed.

The agreement, announced earlier this week, also includes high-performance computing clusters (HPCC) made up of PowerEdge servers running the Linux operating system platform. These clusters support one of TRW’s QAD Inc. enterprise resource planning systems in North America. TRW runs its other ERP systems on Unix.

“By standardizing one of our ERP systems in North America from a Unix platform to a Dell cluster running Linux we’ve been able to build a really high availability environment, which was difficult to do before because of the costs involved,” said company global CIO Joe Drouin.

While TRW had some Linux in the data centre before running DNS, DHTP and smaller, less critical servers, this project marks the first time mission critical applications, like ERP, will run on Linux instead of Unix.

“This is our first push where we’ve put a mission critical system on to Linux,” said Drouin. “It’s a 24/7 kind of environment.”

TRW expects the deployment to help it consolidate its data centres down to four in Germany, Brazil and Kuala Lumpur and North America, including its data centre at its St. Catharines, Ont. plant.

Likewise, Evans Research analyst, Jennifer Ewen, who covers the Canadian storage market, said cost and energy savings are two of the main reasons companies of all sizes are looking to vendors to storage consolidation solutions.

“A lot of the newer equipment has a much higher capacity so for the same footprint, the same power requirements you can have a lot more storage,” said Ewen. “You can save physical space costs and energy costs as well and the actual equipment itself can be less expensive.”

By standardizing on a single platform, Drouin expects savings in maintenance and support, reduced reliance on specialized labour and a more flexible operating environment.

“Right now we’ve got a pretty mixed up back end,” he said. “If you walked into a data centre you’d find some midrange stuff, proprietary Unix and the occasional AS/400.”

Server consolidation also allows organizations to better manage their staff in that it’s easier to get a few specialized people in a few locations rather than many far-flung locations, said Ewen.

“Each individual can have a more specialized skill set because there are other people to support them,” she said.

In terms of services, the contract includes Dell Custom Factory Integration (CFI) services under which Dell will ship the hardware to TRW’s factories with software images already installed on the machines.

“That’s a big savings for us when you consider the time we used to spend customizing and managing deployment of new PCs and maintaining PCs, it’s taken a big load off of the internal IT resources,” said Drouin. “It’s also freed people up to start thinking about new ways to leverage open source software.”

Drouin, for example, currently has some IT staff working on projects on MySQL as well as open source hosting platforms.

Also under the services portion of the deal, Dell is helping TRW design and implement its storage area networks (SANs) to store data critical for running its business.

Compared to direct attached storage, networked storage allows organizations to relocate storage on the fly, said Ewen.

“You don’t have to override capacity on your servers in case your application might need more,” she said. “If you need more capacity on the disk drive for example, you can access that through pool of storage, you don’t have to take the server down and mount a new hard drive or mount an extra drive.”

Like server consolidation, SAN and NAS solutions also make storage easier to manage, which leads to cost savings, Ewen added.

“You can save money because you’re accessing a pool of storage,” she said. “It’s also simpler to back up and replicate because you can do it through the entire SAN as opposed to scheduling each individual server.”

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