John Laing Homes lays groundwork

Home builders develop a common IT architecture to accommodate growth

Housing developer John Laing Homes saw its size increase as home building took off in the western United States and the company completed the integration of what had been three separate firms. That meant developing a common IT architecture that would accommodate growth. The company also found itself falling behind other builders when it came to IT systems, says IT Vice President Steven Scardina.

So Scardina began a multiyear effort to rework the IT strategy. This past year, he focused on upgrading the network and e-mail servers from Windows NT 4 to Active Directory 2003 and from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2003. But Scardina was able to keep his existing firewall. A bigger shift was adopting a Caymas remote access server to have real security for its remote offices in California and Colorado.

This year, Scardina is focused on his front-office applications. He has implemented a TSC Solutions TrueLine financial package designed for the construction industry as well as some SAP mySAP components for sales, even though SAP has little experience with deployments specific to home building. Although he considered JD Edwards, which does have experience in the home-building industry, the company’s uncertain future after its acquisition by Oracle persuaded Scardina to choose SAP, now that it has the mySAP modules for smaller enterprises.

Scardina continues to rely on SQL Server as the database engine, and expects it to support continued growth. But he expects a significant increase in storage costs as the company continues down the SAP ERP path. He has already implemented a SAN to speed backup and expects next to focus on using it to ease disaster recovery.

During the rearchitecting of the IT environment, John Laing Homes has gone from two servers to 16, using mainly IBM blade centers. Initially, the blade center was overkill, because Scardina deployed just four blades, even though the break-even point is six blades compared with using standard rack servers.

However, because he knew his growth would require more servers later, Scardina was fine with that. Today, he has 11 blades in place.

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