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Case study: FarmWorks sows seeds of future growth with IBM System x servers

Overview: Business Challenge

 

FarmWorks Australia needed to centralise its servers and storage, and minimise application downtime. It was also looking for IT infrastructure that could support its plans for future business growth.

 

Overview: The Solution

 

With assistance from IBM® Business Partner Silverfern IT, FarmWorks used IBM servers and storage to build a solid platform for centralising and virtualising its core business applications.
Business Benefits

 

  • Centralised servers
  • Reduced operational costs
  • Created a platform for future growth
  • Simplified IT management
  • Increased application availability

 

About Farmworks


FarmWorks Australia supplies rural products and services to agricultural producers through 12 retail outlets in Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. Over the next two to three years, it plans to grow market share and extend its product range, particularly in the eastern states.

 

The Challenge : Laying the foundation for future business growth


FarmWorks Australia’s information technology infrastructure was old, inflexible and out-dated. By the middle of 2010, its fleet of six servers and storage hardware was at the end of its life. The costs of maintaining this older equipment was growing rapidly.


Regional Staff at FarmWorks outlets accessed the company’s core retail management application over a wide-area network using poorly performing regional telecommunications infrastructure. In addition, they stored important data on their local PCs, which managers in the head office could not access or backup. It was clear this infrastructure could not keep up with demand if the company acted on plans to expand its operations in the eastern states.

Due to an unreliable electricity supply at its Osborne Park, Western Australia head office, FarmWorks suffered occasional system outages.


Finally, FarmWorks had no discernable disaster recovery plan, except daily tape backups, which meant the company could have been exposed to financial loss and damage to its reputation if its systems suffered significant downtime or it lost important data.


“To meet these challenges, and achieve our business goals, we needed new IT infrastructure that could be virtualised and was easily scalable to allow for future business growth,” says FarmWorks Australia IT Manager, Brett Muirhead.


“We needed to bring together the accumulated data from our branch computers into one environment, which we could easily manage and maintain from head office,” says Mr Muirhead.

 

The Solution: Increasing performance and resilience with IBM System x® servers


Through a tender process, FarmWorks Australia selected Perth-based IBM Business Partner Silverfern IT to design and implement a new IT system.


In late 2010, Silverfern IT installed two IBM System x3650 M3 servers and an IBM DS3500 storage area network. The system is supported by an IBM System Storage™ TS2340 Tape Library. An IBM 7.5KVa uninterruptible power supply ensures the servers can keep running if the electricity supply fails.


Over three months, Silverfern IT migrated FarmWorks’ retail and accounting applications to a virtual server environment based on VMware vSphere 4.0, running on the new hardware.
“Virtualisation offered a number of operational and cost benefits compared to our existing IT infrastructure,” says Mr Muirhead.


Silverfern IT also implemented a two-tiered disaster recovery system. The virtual servers are replicated every 15 minutes to a network-attached storage device using Veeam backup software. Three times each day, they are also replicated to an additional IBM System x3650 M3 server running VMware at Silverfern IT’s data centre in Perth.


Staff at the company’s outlets now access the retail management application using a thin client protocol. Silverfern IT was able to repurpose many of FarmWorks’ old PCs as thin clients.


According to Silverfern IT Chief Executive Officer, Liong Eng, the new virtualised environment paved the way for the disaster recovery plan.


“We were able to provide a disaster recovery system to help the company eliminate downtime, recover rapidly from system failures and enhance data protection and security,” he says.

 

Future plans: Scalability for future business growth


With the new virtualised environment, FarmWorks can now spend more time and resources on expanding its product lines, growing market share and seizing opportunities to increase profit.
“IBM’s System x servers and storage have provided our business with the flexibility, availability and resilience we needed to respond to changing business demands and enable future growth,” says Muirhead.

 

The Benefits


FarmWorks Australia’s new systems environment enabled the company to centralise its servers, storage and critical business data, expand capacity and operate more efficiently.


“Our new virtualised platform has given our business more reliability, cost-effectiveness and better overall system performance,” says Mr Muirhead. “Ultimately, we are confident the new virtualised environment is secure and reliable. IBM gave us that peace of mind.”

 

Lower operating expenses


With fewer servers, decreased power and cooling requirements, and more available floor space, FarmWorks has eliminated unnecessary hardware and operating costs.


“By reducing our physical server count from six to two, we can expect considerable cost reductions,” says Mr Muirhead. “We have also saved the company money by not having to upgrade the PCs in our retail outlets.
“We are aiming to achieve a return on investment within 12 to 18 months of installation; so far we’re on track to meet this target.”

 

Reduced complexity


Consolidating the company’s data and virtualising its servers has simplified FarmWorks’ IT environment, allowing the company to spend less time on administration and more on new IT projects, according to Mr Muirhead. “Having an easy-to-use, virtualised infrastructure will allow us to add resources, install new servers and upgrade software efficiently as the business grows. We can also perform system maintenance easily and cost-effectively, without disrupting the business.”

 

Increased responsiveness and stability

 

IBM’s System x servers and storage have enabled FarmWorks to respond more quickly to risk and opportunity, and to maintain continuous business operations.


“We can now identify hardware problems earlier and fix them quicker, which helps keep our systems up and running,” says Mr Muirhead. “Less unplanned system downtime and the more responsive thin-client system have improved employee productivity. We also have peace of mind knowing Silverfern IT is on hand to provide expert advice and maintenance.”

Note

 

This customer story is based on information provided by FarmWorks Australia and illustrates how one organisation uses IBM products. Many factors have contributed to the results and benefits described. IBM does not guarantee comparable results elsewhere.IBM, ibm.com, the IBM logo, IBM System Storage and IBM System x are trademarks or registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation in many jurisdictions worldwide. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the Web at “Copyright and trademarks information” at www.ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtm. Other company, product and services marks may be trademarks or services marks of others.

 
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Respond to Requests Promptly

 

“We were in a position where we needed urgent assistance on our network and Silverfern IT gave us a same day response – they were here within a couple of hours of my call,” Ms Cooney says.


“That’s a wonderful response at anytime, but considering that we were not a current client, it was fantastic.


“They have continued to provide consistent prompt responses and quality service.”


“Being a 24 Hospital we require after hours support for IT emergencies. We have had to access this after hours support from time to time and have found on call staff easy to access and just as helpful as they are during normal business hours.

 

Understand our Business Needs

 

“We are a 24-hour hospital and emergency centre providing specialist and referral service, with 150 staff and 140 work stations connecting to our network.


“As a result of growth in our business and increased use of technology, we have outgrown our current infrastructure, and are in the process of a major infrastructure upgrade. Silverfern IT were extremely diligent in making sure that the solution they designed meets our operational needs now, and also provides room for continued growth.


“We recognised that for us to continue current operations we needed a short term solution to cover us while our new infrastructure is being implemented.  Silverfern IT hired us with loan equipment to cover us during this implementation period. This was a perfect short term solution; cost effective and efficient. “


“Silverfern IT have gone out of their way to understand our organisation and our operational needs, as a hospital. They are focused on what we need in our business, how we plan to expand our business, what we will need operationally.”

 

Committed to Providing High Quality Service

 

“Communication has been excellent; both at a management level and also between our staff. Liong Eng (Silverfern CEO) contacts me regularly to make sure things are going smoothly and I would be very comfortable to contact him if there was a problem. It is very reassuring to know that management are concerned to check on us personally and keep the communication lines open. I’ve had a lot of experience with various IT companies and communication and accessibility is a major point of difference with Silverfern.


“We have a consistent team of system engineers who help us and Silverfern IT have ensured help is always accessible. Silverfern IT have ensured their staff have received an induction to our network and infrastructure. They support us both with onsite visits and remote assistance and we have found their staff to all be very easy to work with.


“We had one situation where incorrect hardware was delivered to our hospital. Liong Eng contacted me directly to update me about what had happened and already had a solution planned and in progress. Liong’s attention to this matter was so prompt that I received his update before our staff even had a chance to update me. This is the only situation of this nature that we have had with Silverfern in the 10 months they have been working with us, however their approach in resolving this matter demonstrates again their commitment to quality service and excellent communication.


“They are creative and thoughtful about finding solutions to our needs.”

 

Committed to a Long Term Relationship with Our Hospital

 

“From our first meeting with Silverfern they have demonstrated their commitment to a long term relationship with our Hospital. Their excellent communications, consistent delivery of quality service and investment in learning about our operation have all reinforced this commitment.”

 

 
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Disaster recovery planning for peace of mind

 

Silverfern IT runs a disaster recovery site for TCC, located at Silverfern IT’s Data Centre. TCC’s data system at the Kwinana head office is replicated and constantly updated at the disaster recovery site.


“If we had any kind of disaster event that impacted on our computer system, we would simply switch to the disaster recovery facility,” Mr Whiting says. “It would be business as usual, with no data loss. The switch over to the disaster recovery site would be seamless. Most users, especially those in remote locations, would not know that anything had happened.


“This facility means that our business would be safe. We could continue operating with minimum disruption to our operations.


“One particularly critical area for us is the weekly payroll. We have 500-600 people who must be paid weekly. We simply cannot afford for anything to go wrong with that system. If anything did go wrong and we didn’t have our disaster recovery plan in place, we would have to do a manual payroll process, which is extremely time consuming and expensive, and there would certainly be unacceptable delays.


“While payroll would be the most immediate need in the event of a server room failure, there are other longer term business-critical issues, such as accounting records and internal management records and documentation of operating procedures, the loss of which could be life threatening to any business.


“These are all covered by our disaster recovery plan. It gives us peace of mind.”

 

Good service at a reasonable price

 

“Silverfern IT has gone out of its way to understand our requirements,” Mr Whiting says.


“They work with us to come up with realistic, economic, workable solutions. They have acted on our behalf with Telstra, and organised all equipment and communications set up to provide a total IT solution that fits our budget.”

 

Rapid response

 

“There will always be problems with IT and Silverfern IT’s response is very good. We get rapid response. They understand time is critical in our operation. They are set up so they can log in from anywhere and fix most problems. They don’t have to be on site. This is a critical issue, especially for our remote locations.”

 

Excellent IT engineers

 

“We have an excellent relationship with Silverfern IT. The Managing Director attracts good IT engineers who are easy to work with. They are willing to understand and sort out problems.


“The Managing Director is always available on the end of the phone if we have an issue.”

 

 


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