M'sian hypermart feeds off virtualization

While some organizations continue to debate the benefits of virtualization, one company's journey in this space began almost 10 years when it virtualized part of its IT infrastructure. And its efforts are paying off.
Source: Edwin Yapp, ZDNet Asia

Mydin Mohamed (Mydin), one of Malaysia's leading hypermarkets and fast-moving retail goods stores, began deploying application virtualization almost a decade ago and has since moved into server virtualization two years back.

Malik Murad, IT director for the retailer, noted that Mydin in 2001 had seven different stores and its IT systems operated individually without the ability to communicate with each other. "We had no enterprise resource planning (ERP), only a basic finance software and point-of-sales, and all systems weren't talking to each other. As a result, our IT infrastructure wasn't efficient and the data between each element was too disparate for us to harvest any intelligence from our stores," Murad said in an interview with ZDNet Asia.

Virtualization vendor Citrix Systems then approached the hypermart, he said, adding that his task as the company's IT head was to ensure all of Mydin's IT systems were connected to each other. "ERP systems then were client-server based and not Web-based. That's when I learnt about application virtualization and Citrix came in with the right solution, the XenApp, as the application delivery platform," he noted.

The infrastructure allows applications to run on servers at the data center while allowing end-users to access the apps via their desktop, he said, adding that it was the only tool available in the market at that time that could support load balancing at the application layer. Murad explained: "This meant that if I had more people needing to use the application, I could easily allocate more resources to the system and the load will be balanced automatically." The company's foray into virtualization further expanded as the IT head looked at how he could better utilize his IT resources as Mydin began to grow in size and revenue.

In 2007, Mydin operated one hypermarket with 4,000 employees and revenues totaling 700 million ringgit (US$231.9 million). Today, the company owns five hypermarkets, has 6,500 employees and revenues for its financial year 2010 more than doubled to 1.5 billion ringgit (US$497 million).

Benefiting from flexibility, cost savings

Mydin began looking at virtualizing its server farm in preparation for an expansion of its IT systems. To do this efficiently, Murad said he would need to implement virtualized servers in both test and production environments. "We began looking at virtualization for our lab-only situation but as we virtualized more, we found that many benefits could also be applied to our production environment.

In 2009, it began working with Dell and Citrix to move mission-critical applications onto a virtualized platform. Today, about 90 percent of Mydin's systems have been virtualized. "Our number of physical servers have maintained or grown very little but our virtualized servers have increased," Murad said. "With virtualization in place, we can also provision new servers within 15 minutes. For example, at the end of the month when the payroll department needs more processing power, we can dynamically allocate more resources and after that, they can be de-provisioned." Asked how much savings Mydin has gained from its efforts, Murad said it was hard to quantify in terms of cost and productivity. "However, I can tell you how much we've saved on hardware alone.

"We would have deployed 50 servers if we had not virtualized and at an average of 30,000 ringgit (US$9,939) per mid-range server, we would have saved 1.5 million (US$496,980) ringgit just from [not having to buy new] hardware." Murad advised companies considering virtualization to start by looking at user experience. "It's important to look at the usability factor because if you do so, you can get buyin quickly from those using the application," he said. "Positive feedback from these users can then help convince others, and ultimately even the management, of the need and usefulness of virtualization," he added.

Murad also noted the importance of having a direct relationship with the principle vendors involved in the implementation. "Partners are important as they can tend to your first-level support needs but beyond that, enterprises need to have direct access to the vendors themselves to get complex challenges sorted out."

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.