Unisys tames virtualisation for more innovation

Company-wide virtualisation strategy brought new management challenges

Brian Ott, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Unisys internal IT organization.

Brian Ott, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Unisys internal IT organization.

Embracing virtualisation through an eight-year transformation journey at Unisys is paying off with 700 fewer servers and innovation up from 8 to 30 per cent of IT spending, according to one of the chief architects of the change, vice president of global services for systems and technology, Brian Ott.

Ott says the journey has been long, but has accelerated in recent years with virtualisation being the primary driver.

“We’ve spent multiple years doing traditional IT optimisation and consolidation to reduce costs, including reducing data centres, application consolidation and offshoring headcount,” Ott said.

“We got to the point were we were best in class for efficient IT, but 92 per cent of our budget was still spent keeping the lights on and only 8 per cent was spent on innovation, which is not a good ratio.”

When Ott came on as CTO he wanted to get that ratio to 70-30 per cent and keep operations at a lower cost level.

“Virtualisation was new at the time, and an obvious way to get new value,” he said.

Ott is an eight year veteran of the global IT services and systems company and oversees operations in some 100 countries.

Although Unisys started deploying virtualisation in 2006, and done “a great job for years”, Ott was convinced more value could be generated out of the technology as he continued to align IT to the business.

“We had already consolidated 52 data centres into one production data centre, with separate DR and research facilities, and reduced applications from 2000 to 900 by standardising globally for the whole organisation,” he said, adding each company had its own infrastructure.

“After an assessment of our server environment we had all the typical issues. Our goal was 25 to 1 server consolidation and to get utilisation up to 55 per cent. Two other key goals were that everything we do was to be treated like working for an external customer and everything we did was captured as a reproducible tool.”

After it performed a virtualisation analysis, Unisys chose VMware as its standard hypervisor because it was “the de facto virtualisation software at the time”, but soon discovered its application partners either could or would not support the company.

Futhermore, since part of its IT services operation was outsourced “to ourselves with SLAs, and lack thereof” and part of it was performed by internal IT, Unisys defined a series of goals for virtualisation as it was running out of physical space in its data centres and running out of power.

Unisys estimated it would take between 18 and 24 months to migrate its production servers from physical to virtual machines. The project ended up taking 14 months.

“We realised a lot more things come into play with virtualisation, like IT policies and standards,” Ott said. “We [had] to deal with broader issues than just the technology."

Ott said hus job became a question how to institutionalise the virtual infratructure.

"We standardised on ITIL for ongoing support and as we were automating with virtualisation we wanted a better way to manage processes,” he said. "We didn't really know how to manage a virtualised world. The third piece was risk management and compliance: keeping track of the data as it’s moving though the system is more difficult with virtualisation.”

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