As CTO of logistics services provider Transplace, CTO Vincent Biddlecombe tackles the usual projects such as implementing disaster recovery plans and selecting vendors for tools such as business intelligence. But his particular talent is thinking about how to use internal IT to serve customers. Part of that is being a logistics services provider -- much of the product is in fact driven by IT, which is why nearly a fifth of the 500-plus employees at Transplace work for Biddlecombe. But part is seeing infrastructure as more than just infrastructure.
Case in point: Like many companies, Transplace is applying virtualization technologies to its datacenter infrastructure to improve server utilization and facilitate disaster recovery and resource flexibility. And as in some other companies, Biddlecombe is exploring providing Transplace's services to customers over the Web as a SaaS (software as a service) offering. But Biddlecombe recognized that both initiatives are related.
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"The two are hand-in-glove," he says. "If we're refreshing the hardware, let's do a world-class infrastructure," he says, that can handle both internal IT needs as well as provision customers via SaaS.
Begun a year ago, this effort required Biddlecombe to stretch himself and his team. For example, "historically, Transplace is a Sun shop -- all Java-based -- with an Oracle database and Solaris servers," he says. But after exploring his options, Biddlecombe came to realize he needed a different platform, despite Sun's great fit in the past.
The initial issue was performance: To provision via SaaS, Transplace needed speedier, more capable systems. In the Sun world, that would have meant more servers, and thus more Oracle licenses -- increasing both management complexity and cost. By shifting to servers running IBM's Power6 CPUs, which run twice as fast as Sun's, Biddlecombe could gain that extra capacity without requiring more licenses or filling his datacenter with servers. So he switched to an IBM 570 and AIX for his database, 64-bit Windows XP on EMC VMware virtual machines for the middle tier, and NetApp for storage. "The easy path would have been to keep all Sun. But we had an opportunity for a major change, so we need to think outside that comfort level," he says.
Not only did Biddlecombe take the risky step of switching out a platform with which his team was very familiar, he also pushed the use of virtualization. It quickly became clear that virtualization is not a simple technology to adopt. "There is no holistic, prescriptive architecture for virtualizing," he notes.