Pacific Brands taps cloud for business sell-offs, growth

 

Eyes flexibility in challenging retail environment.

Clothing company Pacific Brands has shifted its focus from IT infrastructure to vendor management in a bid to adapt to a challenging retail environment.

The company has shed some 1500 staff in the past two years through manufacturing and distribution job cuts and sales of its bedding, leisure and fitness businesses.

Pacific Brands’ technical services lead Brent England credited its two-year-old private cloud deployment for the IT team’s ability to flexibly cater to changing business requirements.

“We’ve had a lot of change in the way our business is set up,” England said. “A lot of our finances is derived around headcount and we need to be flexible in how we adjust for that.

“If we sell off a business … we’ve still got our commitment for any hardware that we’ve purchased but our sales have come down.”

England said the business had been running on virtualised hardware since 2007 but was “not getting very good consolidation ratios” due to stability issues with VMWare’s ESX 3 hypervisors.

He said it addressed most issues in February 2011, when it worked with managed services provider HP to replace ESX on 140 virtual machines with Microsoft’s private cloud technology.

HP told customers last May that Pacific Brands had achieved “cost savings and [a] simplified management stack” by adopting Hyper V and System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) (pdf).

England said the more integrated stack allowed Pacific Brands to cut the time it needed to deploy new applications from six weeks to one.

The Hyper V environment supported JD Edwards, Hyperion, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Sharepoint and Exchange software, as well as various demand planning and payroll applications.

“Especially as we’ve consolidated businesses – in work wear, we had four entities that are now consolidated into a single entity – we’ve been able to stand up a new environment and consolidate applications really quickly,” he said.

“We’d probably stand up four to five virtual machines a month for different applications.

“We outsource to HP … so we pay per operating service. We try not to stand up too many [applications] and we get rid of the ones we don’t need.”

England said Pacific Brands reduced its hardware footprint by 24 percent despite growing its application environment by 160 percent and supporting 140 new point-of-sales terminals on top of an existing 60.

But it still relied on IT administrators to spin up applications, despite cloud computing’s promise of self-service capabilities for users.

“I think the issue that we do have is some of the process maturity in when we go and get applications installed,” England noted.

“We seem to build up the infrastructure and hand it over to someone to install [software] and then we’d need to get them to build a test environment and get them to do the whole process again.

“I think we need to change our processes to be able to make this private cloud thing work for us.”

England said the business would work on improving its vendor engagement strategies, calling for better instructions from vendors about any new products or services they delivered.

“We’re refocusing what we’re doing and now it’s really in regards to managing our relationship with HP rather than doing a lot of the work ourselves,” he noted.

“A lot of the people that we have now are dedicated retail people, whereas before they were project people.”

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