Toll's IT goes global with network refresh

Brett Winterford | Apr 7, 2011 11:06 AM
Alongside data centre consolidation project.

Logistics giant Toll Holdings is in the final throes of a global network rollout and data centre refresh, in an effort to improve information services to its geographically-diverse operations.

The ASX-listed company has acquired 88 logistics companies since 1989 - including brands such as Brambles, IPEC, Patrick Corporation, and the transport divisions of Wesfarmers, BHP and Virgin Blue - growing into a regional transport giant with $6.9 billion in annual revenues.

Toll’s expansion has gradually moved offshore in recent years due to regulatory concerns about its market strength at home. This explosion of new and geographically dispersed entities coming under the Toll umbrella has created many challenges from an IT perspective.

Entities in each territory tended to operate their own independent WANs (wide area networks) and data centres using different standards, making it difficult for the company to roll out enterprise applications on a global basis without risking traversal of the public internet.

Warwick Marcakis, group network manager at Toll Holdings was among the crack team the company has hired over the last two years to bind these IT resources together.

Toll CIO Wayne Gordon called for Toll Global Information Services (IS) to operate like a “commercial grade service provider” to business units, pulling together what was previously a "fractured" IT infrastructure, with "no governance or strategy behind it."

Marcakis, who had previously worked on similar projects for the ANZ Bank, France Telecom and BHP, told iTnews the IS operation has since embarked on three key projects: the roll-out of a global backbone network, a refresh of kit in its Australian data centres (with a data centre consolidation project in tow), and the signing of a new agreement with Optus and Alphawest to provide connectivity to its Australian sites.

A global network

About 15 months ago, Toll put to tender the job of connecting the wide area networks of its international operations to a single global backbone.

Some nine global suppliers responded, and Toll chose SingTel – a company it had previously worked with in Singapore and Australia (via Optus) under a three-year deal.

Marcakis said the project should deliver a single, company-wide email domain and active directory identity for every Toll employee to access a single ‘cloud’ of applications, effectively “[bringing] Toll together as one organisation.”

The company is now looking at WAN optimisation/acceleration technologies to boost the performance of applications operating on this network.

Read on to page 2 for Toll's data centre refresh and implementation of the Optus Evolve network.

Data centre refresh and consolidation

Alongside its global backbone network project, Toll has undergone a complete refresh of networking infrastructure within its Australian data centre.

It also is reviewing its data centre assets across its entire operations with a view to consolidating down to two key facilities – one in Australia and another in active-active configuration in a location yet to be determined.

Toll’s Australian data centre had for some years predominantly been a Nortel shop, but was coming to end-of-life on much of the core switching and routing used to connect its WANs.

Nortel entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2009 and has since been auctioning off its assets.

"The Chapter 11 was the straw that broke the camel's back," Marcakis said.

After taking on some advice from analyst group Gartner, the company chose Cisco for its depth of product range and proven R&D record.

Toll has since replaced its entire data centre with Cisco's Nexus 7000 and 5000 switches, and by attrition will also replace all routers with Cisco Nexus 2000's at the edge of its network over the next two to three years as this kit reaches end-of-life.

"We are 95 percent complete in terms of transferring from Nortel to Cisco in the data centre," Marcakis said.

"The big risk pieces of work are done. We'll do the edge routers spread around the network by attrition - as they come to require a refresh, this is the standard that will apply."

Already, the data centre refresh has resulted in reduced footprint and power consumption in Toll’s Australian facilities.

"We've saved about $100,000 a year in two data centres in power reductions alone," Marcakis said.

"We are also a scalable, inherently more expandable business now that we have set a foundation," he said.

In terms of compute and storage, Toll predominantly runs HP blade servers and NetApp storage and runs virtual servers based on VMware.

The data centre refresh will enable Toll’s IS division to offer services in a "cloud-like" fashion to Toll businesses - calculating the computing costs according to IP subnet, for example.

Whether that is explicitly "charged back" to these business units is less relevant, Marcakis said, than the transparency such a strategy provides management.

Marcakis is also confident the company will spend enough on Cisco kit for Toll to become a "global Cisco customer" and be eligible for commercial discounts.

Evolving with Optus

Marcakis’ third major project was to sign a new agreement with Optus to connect Toll’s 400+ Australian sites to the Evolve network.

The MPLS-based network offers a wide choice of connection speeds for different business units and a shared cost of network use across the domestic business.

Some 360 Toll sites are connected, he said, with another 40 to come on board.