Mining company goes from desk-side to virtual data centre

Share your roadmap with vendors to get them on board projects

Perth-based mining and construction company Macmahon Holdings Limited has transformed its IT infrastructure from a few computers under an office desk to a virtualized application and data centre over the past five years despite revenues just shy of $1 billion.

Speaking at a Computerworld virtualization event in Sydney, Macmahon Holdings Limited CIO Jason Cowie said back in 2003 the company was turning over $500 million in revenue but still had poor quality 56Kbps data links and every remote site was an island to itself making support very difficult.

"Hardware failures were a major issue and upgrading software was nearly impossible and would have taken two to three months," Cowie said.

So in 2003 the company started a strategic plan called Global One to virtualize its infrastructure over five years.

Global One had the goal of centralizing and virtualizing all infrastructure so applications could be accessible on any desktop or mobile device, and integrating all applications into a single sign-on architecture.

"In IT no one cares what we do in the data centre so long as people can log on," Cowie said. "Global One affects 1600 users and is across 50 sites and all Macmahon's subsidiaries."

Macmahon's user experience is now totally virtualized with Citrix thin client technology, which Cowie described as a "quick win" and the attention is mow focused on the data centre.

Stage one will involve testing virtualization with the non-critical servers, stage two in 2009 will cover the data centre and DR operations which do not yet load balance, and stage three in 2010 will be to attack the head office.

"We are growing at 40 percent a year so we would quickly outgrow the new data centre," Cowie said. "If everything is virtualized it will work and reducing hardware failures and rack space are seen as major issues."

Macmahon also intends to reduce power consumption, cooling, and water consumption, which Cowie believes are buzzwords, "but at least we can say we have contributed", which is important for a mining company.

With "virtualized" desktops, Macmahon employees can connect to the network via any terminal or their home computer and most no longer require a notebook.

"Instead of spending $3000 a year on a desktop you can buy terminals," Cowie said. "In the remote sites it would be lucky if the laptop lasts a year. Now you can work from any terminal, and if [staff] want it, i'll get them a 22-inch screen. With the whole thin terminal technology, it just works and if it doesn't just toss it out and get another one."

Cowie said thin clients have also cut down on the use of music and game software in the workplace, which is not part of the SOE.

Other projects at Macmahon include putting QoS onto its Telstra network and moving to a "pay for what you use" software licensing model.

Cowie also advised organizations to be more open about their technology requirement roadmap with the vendors.

"Don't be afraid to go to the vendors and say this is our roadmap," he said. "Then they will get excited and get on board. If you are not sharing your roadmaps with the vendors you are making your life harder."

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