With more than 400 brands and products present in 98% of households across the UK, Unilever employs 169,000 people and achieved a €52.7 billion turnover in 2016. When this global consumer goods giant needed to increase the efficiency and resilience of its IT services at its Gloucester based production plant, virtualisation and disaster recovery experts - Circle IT - were called upon to transform the way it managed its critical information systems using a leading edge virtualised solution.
At its manufacturing site in Gloucester, Unilever employs over 500 people who all rely heavily on the company's computer systems to efficiently store manufacturing data and deliver production-critical applications such as production, planning and scheduling software.
With a total of thirty four servers being used to deliver these mission-critical IT services, its local IT infrastructure had become expensive to run and a challenge to maintain. As Geraint Hughes, Unilever Gloucester's IT Manager, explained "Maintaining operations is mission-critical in our factory. This is a highly automated site and IT is one of the ways that we can achieve the high production standards expected by our customers. Everyone at Gloucester Factory is passionate about the products we make and we are continually looking for ways to improve what we do, and how we do it. This is why the virtualisation of our manufacturing IT environment has been an important step in the right direction."
"Like many legacy data centres, our servers had proliferated over the years and we urgently needed to better utilise our IT resources. Four production servers within limited maintenance windows during production runs was no easy task, not to mention the cost and environmental impact of running them." He added.
Following a highly competitive tender process, this highly sought after contract was awarded to Circle IT..
"Against fierce competition in a stringent tender process, we awarded this contract to Circle IT for several reasons - their extensive experience in virtualisation and disaster recovery was immediately evident in their best practice advice and track record, and combined with their competitive pricing and exceptional quality of service - we made the best possible choice of partner for this project." Commented Hughes.
After a period of consultation with Unilever Gloucester, to fully understand its needs and objectives, Circle IT specified a virtualised infrastructure to run all of the Unilever Gloucester factories critical IT functions from just three central servers, to further enhance the factories already robust information systems.
Using market leading virtualisation technology - including VMWare's vCenter Site Recovery Manager Site and vSphere Hypervisor, along with EqualLogic severs from Dell EMC - Circle IT implemented two SANs at either end of the five acre site to fully control any failovers.
As Roger Harry, CEO at Circle IT explained, "Circle IT vehemently believes that virtualisation technology goes far beyond server consolidation, to enable organisations to do more with less and realise greater cost efficiencies, enhanced performance and advanced security with lower costs through energy efficiency, server sprawl and improved resource management."
By cutting its hardware requirements by 850% and delivering high availability and disaster recovery technology in a virtualised environment, Circle IT has not only enabled the Unilever Gloucester factory to realise cost savings through energy efficiencies and better resource management, it has also helped the global player to realise better system and application performance and protect against unnecessary production downtime.
Circle IT has also enabled the Gloucester factory to reduce the amount of spare units and equipment that it kept stored as a backup measure and cut down on these associated costs. In addition, the Unilever Gloucester factory now requires much less energy to power its newly consolidated system and server room cooling requirements have also decreased, helping to lower the factories energy bills and carbon emissions.
"By virtualising our server environment we have been able to minimise our hardware requirements, make valuable savings and safeguard our operations against possible disasters arising from computer failures. The new disaster recovery system protects our storage area network in two different locations and the high availability afforded by a virtualised environment enables us to retrieve data quickly, enabling systems to be restored rapidly with significantly less downtime than before," Commented Hughes.
Looking ahead, the Unilever Gloucester Factory is looking to virtualise the hardware and software environment responsible for pallet labelling within the Auto-Palletising department, which needs to be made fully redundant. By implementing another small virtualised SAN, the Unilever Gloucester Factory will continue to use the efficiencies of virtualisation to deliver a robust labelling environment as three labellers will have to be reduced to two to make way for a new conveyer layout connecting the factory to a new cold-store.
“We awarded this contract to Circle IT for several reasons - their extensive experience in virtualisation and disaster recovery, their best practice advice and track record, and combined with their competitive pricing and exceptional quality of service made them the best possible choice of partner for this project. ”
Geraint Hughes, IT Manager, Unilever UK LTD