Success Story: Le Groupe La Poste

Going Virtual with VMware® and Axway OmniVision

  • Headquarters

    Paris, France
  • Industry

  • Challenge

    Manage a large virtualization project (1,200 x86 servers) and stay within the budget while continuing to provide service 24/7

  • Solution

  • Results

    • Complete adherence to budgets and schedules
    • Optimization of ESX servers – up to 20 VMs for development operations and up to 16 VMs for production, instead of the originally planned 12 VMs for each ESX server
    • Increased application performance
    • Simplification of administrative and operating tasks
    • Predictive outlook of up to three months on architecture usage

"We now have equivalencies for measuring CPU usage no matter what the operating system. Axway OmniVision complements our monitoring tools by tracking the general health of the system and by projecting current usage trends from one to three months."

A Busy Place and Getting Busier

Pushing the information system envelope

At Le Groupe La Poste in Paris, France, mail services generate more than 11 billion euros in revenue. As a result of ever increasing constraints, their information system—traditionally focused on management—is becoming a centralized production tool. Six days a week, the information system manages distribution of 100 million pieces of mail to 26 million mailboxes. For the company’s document management solution and service, which is growing by 10 percent each year, the information system can process more than 1.5 billion pages for 10,000 clients. With so many moving parts, and the need to scale to handle swelling ranks of users, the company decided to implement system virtualization to scale services and reduce costs.

The Capacity for Better Decision-Making

Tooling up for total IT infrastructure control

The Mail Services Division of Le Groupe La Poste recently wrapped up the virtualization of its 1,200 Windows servers on over 50 machines using Axway’s virtual machine solution, VMware®. The 12-month project was completed with no downtime or interruption in user service.

Capacity management was a primary concern heading into the project, and using Axway OmniVision’s capacity management software was vital to its successful implementation. “In early 2008, Axway made us aware of the importance of capacity management,” explains Robert Demory, Director of IT Operations at the Mail Services Division. “Their teams showed a real willingness to understand our needs and guide us. As a result, their initial mock-up matched our expectations perfectly.”

“A good tool is a tool that can be used to make better decisions,” continues Demory, who went on to state that the decision-making function made possible by effective capacity management is essential because it guides and reassures project leaders. “OmniVision helped define the appropriate configurations and determine the sizing of the targeted platforms. Once virtualization was complete, capacity management played a key role in infrastructure management and governance.” According to Demory, the company’s investment in OmniVision, which comprised about 2% to 5% of the project budget, enabled leaders to be in control – and stay in control – of their infrastructure.

With the new capacity management capability, the Mail Services Division has a nearly 3-month outlook on future activity. “The reports generated by OmniVision are used to run the infrastructure accurately and to share information with internal clients from other divisions in the group,” says Demory. “These reports are also used as a management tool, in particular to assess the quality of our SLA policies.”

“In early 2008, Axway made us aware of the importance of capacity management. Their teams showed a real willingness to understand our needs and guide us. As a result, their initial mock-up matched our expectations perfectly.”

– Robert Demory, Director of IT Operations, Mail Services Division, Le Groupe La Poste

An Organizational Project, not a Technical One

New business opportunities, virtually assured

For Le Groupe La Poste, virtualization was initially viewed as a technical operation, but one that promised unique economic advantages. Demory points out that it’s rare for an IT specialist to win support from the front office so easily. “Everyone quickly understands the benefits that virtualization brings to the whole company. Things can be done better, more quickly and more cheaply,” he says.

Looking at the virtualization project as an organizational endeavor as opposed to a technical effort was a big reason for its success. Because of this approach, the switchover to virtual environments went smoothly and only impacted the teams in charge of IT infrastructure, not the organization’s operations.

Overseeing capacity management is part of the ITIL approach the company initiated. “It shows that formalized resource management has been achieved,” says Demory, who, as winner of the 2008 itSMF France Award, knows what he’s talking about. “From the start, we wanted to curb costs. Virtualization made it possible for us to share technical resources, which reduced our floor space requirements, cut energy costs and minimized deployment times by a factor of four.”

Company leaders now realize that virtualization, coupled with effective capacity management, will only open up new business opportunities. “We are in the process of assessing the potential gains in terms of flexibility, reactivity and continuity of service,” Demory says, adding that he’s now entertaining the idea of introducing a new charge-back policy. “In the past, we applied the usual machine-based invoicing. Now we have the tools to draw up invoices based on the actual use of our resources.”

“We now have equivalencies for measuring CPU usage no matter what the operating system. OmniVision complements our monitoring tools by tracking the general health of the system and by projecting current usage trends from one to three months.”

-- Jean-Yves Hermann, Head of Architecture and Infrastructure Services, Le Groupe La Poste

Exchanging Server Quantity for Server Quality

560 servers consolidated to a VM environment

Implementing a virtualization strategy to ensure capacity, availability and performance well into the future entailed a complete revamp of the server infrastructure at Le Groupe La Poste four data centers located in two different sites. In 2008, Jean-Yves Hermann, Head of Architecture and Infrastructure Services – also part of the company’s Mail Services Division – supervised the consolidation and virtualization of 560 servers to a virtual machine (VM) environment using Axway VMware. “It’s all a matter of tactics and orchestrating the transition,” explains Hermann. “How day-to-day management will be handled must be addressed from the get-go.”

Axway OmniVision was used to identify virtualization candidates among the 1,200 active x86 servers. “We were able to eliminate servers under heavy demand – as well as those whose applications are solicited – in a highly variable manner,” Hermann says. “We also eliminated servers in the DMZ and servers with applications that, according to their developers, may not run properly under virtualization.” Hermann’s team then began to evaluate the capacities of the virtualized servers and to simulate the target architecture.

“Until now, twenty percent of our servers were running at less than 5 percent of their potential,” says Hermann, adding, “Today, all of our machines are at sixty percent.” With this level of CPU utilization in the virtualized environment, capacity management is critical. “If capacity is not monitored in the virtual world, all control would be lost in just a few months.”

Since OmniVision was already being used in the physical environment, the software was installed on all ESX servers to all access to performance metrics and trends. Hermann expressed confidence in the move. “We now have equivalencies for measuring CPU usage no matter what the operating system. OmniVision complements our monitoring tools – which primarily detect technical problems – by tracking the general health of the system and by projecting current usage trends from one to three months.”

Controlling and Optimizing VMs Saves Time and Money

Virtual machines – real ROI

As mentioned earlier, capacity management makes it possible to evaluate and carefully monitor resource requirements, including servers. Investment in ESX servers is right in line with the company’s initial and current budget forecasts. And OmniVision makes it possible to optimize the density of virtual machines. “We had planned to have an average density of 12 VMs per server,” reported Hermann, “but we realized we can go up to 20 VMs per server in development environments and 16 VMs on production ESX servers with no qualms whatsoever.” 

And there’s a positive side effect: Axway OmniVision facilitates communication among the various parties involved. “OmniVision is objective,” Hermann said, “and this is an essential contribution because creating VMs is simple, but not free.” Managed well, virtualization can mean significant savings. In fact, depending on the technical procedure involved, costs can be reduced by 30 to 50 percent.

Overall, Axway OmniVision has enabled the Mail Services Division of Le Groupe La Poste to efficiently manage the virtualization (with VMware) of nearly 600 servers and to optimize the number of virtual machines per server with complete confidence. 

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