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'Ready for anything'

'Ready for anything'

The move to a private cloud helped the IT team at Mantra Group cope with new demands when the business quadrupled.

“I thought it was delusional,” said Garry Rich when the chief operations officer of Mantra Group told him not to be surprised if their company doubled its operations in 12 months. Rich is group general manager for IT at Mantra, which owns hotel, resort and retreat properties in Australia and New Zealand.

The prediction proved to be an understatement, for Mantra Group subsequently purchased nine hotel groups - quadrupling its operations in three years. With around 110 properties, Mantra Group is now the second largest accommodation operator on both sides of the Tasman.

With this rapid growth, IT “stepped back” to assess their current system and decided to “look forward” and re-architect what they were doing, says Rich, who spoke at VMware's vForum in Sydney last week.

The group needed a highly adaptable and scalable infrastructure stack that would allow it to integrate different technologies from its acquisitions, quickly virtualise key applications and make the services accessible to the rest of the organisation through a private cloud. And Mantra needed “to do it quickly”, says Rich.

As Rich puts it, in this type of situation, “you inherit a lot of legacy apps,” and getting the different apps to talk to each other was “pretty interesting”.

The company worked with integrator Alphawest to deploy the FlexPod private cloud with VMware, built with Cisco and NetApp systems.

Mantra IT had to consolidate, unify and virtualise more than 90 physical servers, 10 storage devices, and dozens of legacy systems with VMware vSphere across the FlexPod solution, with minimal disruption to operations.

Rich says the company has reduced its physical servers in production from 90 to 24 and expects to save 60 percent in carbon emission savings.

“We have been able to heavily reduce the IT foot print and have a level of scalability we didn't have before,” he says. “It allows IT to be ready for anything. If we purchase another hotel group

[for example], it is not a project every time something like this happens.”

Rich says a key strategy for Mantra was to take advantage of its virtualised pool of resources to quickly scale up and implement its online reservation system.

From an IT perspective, he says, the group had a good network that could aggregate any inventory of rooms across all of their properties, so anyone booking online can get a live inventory of their properties. Hotel operators also benefit through better access to information and promotion of available rooms to wholesale and retail channels.

It took the IT team less than five days to consolidate its central reservations system to the private cloud. Rich says this was achieved with zero-downtime, and allowed the business to operate throughout the migration.

“We put all eggs in one basket, you have to keep it running,” he says on the importance of this system.

The real time updates on room occupancy and availability, meanwhile, can be used to build on customer intimacy and loyalty programmes and refine marketing programmes.

While the datacentre infrastructure increased in scale and complexity through the acquisitions, the size of the IT department – with around 35 full-time staff – remained stable.

Rich says the IT staff now work on projects that build “competitive advantage” for the business and spend less time on maintenance and routine tasks.

He explains the company supports upskilling of the IT team. “We tend to hire generalists” and they do “crossover” work in a lot of areas,” says Rich. [This] opens opportunities for [staff] to work in a space they are interested in.”

Rich did not specify the exact cost for the project but he says he was upfront with the technology providers that they needed “100 percent transparency on costs” including server and storage. “We weren't trying to buy a Rolls Royce, we wanted a low cost model.”

The new workplace

Resisting the tidal wave of change is not an option, says Liam Fraser, general manager, cloud services, Optus.

Fraser, who also spoke at the vForum in Sydney, says enterprises have to adapt to a new way of working and do away with monolithic structures that can not cope with change.

Many organisations are still coming to grips with the ‘new normal’ where Fraser says the consumer world continues to set the pace of technology innovation.

The workforce is becoming more mobile and businesses are struggling with managing ‘big data’ – businesses have to store and analyse massive data sets while having to make decisions in real time.

The cloud, he says, plays a big part in allowing business to meet these demands. The cloud allows enterprises to consume data from any location and device, a need that is fuelled by an increasingly mobile workforce.

He shares two key issues businesses need to think through as they move to the cloud.

First, it is not just about technology, it involves people and processes, he says. The CIO has to educate the rest of the business in areas like SLAs, and the move will require a new way of contracting with your service providers. The CIO has to make sure legal and financial people are aware of ramifications of accessing services through the cloud.

Second, the cloud will require a new security model. Fraser says enterprises need to adopt security models based on information and people. He cites the importance of auditing the security provisions of the cloud services provider, and to ensure security applies irrespective of device and operating systems.

Divina Paredes attended the vForum 2011 in Sydney as a guest of VMware.

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Tags CloudVMwarevirtualisationFlexPodgarry rich

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