Albany International Corp. is a leading producer of custom-designed fabrics and process belts called paper machine clothing (PMC). PMC fabrics and belts are used to remove water throughout the papermaking process. The company has also used its PMC technologies to diversify into areas as varied as aerospace composites, building products, and synthetic insulation. Founded in 1895, Albany International Corp. employs 4,700 people worldwide.
In 2007, the company decided to modernize its IT infrastructure and standardize on Microsoft and SAP software wherever possible. It replaced Lotus Notes with Microsoft Exchange Server, a UNIX-based enterprise resource planning application with SAP, and UNIX-based databases with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 data management software. It also deployed Microsoft communication and collaboration applications such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and Microsoft Office Communications Server. Gradually, as it refreshed server hardware, Albany International Corp. began upgrading all servers from the Windows Server 2003 operating system to Windows Server 2008 R2. At the same time, it consolidated dozens of servers around the world into one data center in Atlanta, Georgia, using VMware vSphere.
Once it had centralized all enterprise applications in one location that provided service to all global sites, there was no longer a time during the day when downtime was acceptable. The company needed to monitor all its systems around the clock without increasing the number of IT staff.
So, in 2007, the company acquired Microsoft System Center data center solutions to gain automated efficiencies in monitoring and managing its data center. It immediately put Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 to work monitoring its Exchange Server environment and quickly added a management pack for SAP from Tidal Software (now part of Cisco). Management packs contain specialized monitoring instructions (programmable rules, thresholds, and alerts) for specific applications, such as Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, and third-party products. Soon, the company was using System Center Operations Manager to monitor nearly all its Windows-based servers and applications, and even many of its non-Microsoft applications and network devices, such as Cisco switches and F5 load-balancing appliances.
However, there was one big gap in the monitoring picture and that was its virtual infrastructure. ―We were not monitoring our VMware hosts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and had a laborious task of getting a complete performance view of the environment," says Adam Domion, Manager of Enterprise Data Services at Albany International Corp. ―We could not monitor performance adequately at the virtual machine or host level."
Data center staff compensated for this gap by building in application redundancy or waiting for employees to report performance or availability problems. ―We’re a global company with fairly robust IT procedures, so we managed to avoid major problems by having safety nets in other places," Domion says. ―However, not having direct insight into our VMware environment was nonetheless a hole, and we needed to close it before we did have problems."
In 2009, Albany International Corp. upgraded to Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, which provided cross-platform monitoring, service-level tracking, usability enhancements, and improved scalability. At the same time, the company deployed the Veeam Management Pack (MP) for VMware from Veeam Software. Built for Microsoft System Center Operations Manager, the Veeam nworks MP presents a complete picture of the health of the entire VMware landscape through the System Center Operations Manager console, eliminating the need to deploy and maintain a separate monitoring framework for those servers and virtual machines.
The company now has a consistent view across its virtual and physical server environments and across all applications and devices comprising its data center. ―It’s great to be able to see alerts for SAP batch jobs, our SAP performance history, Cisco switches, email servers and applications, and all our major applications, all in one spot," says Domion.
He adds that his team has been able to quickly set up alerts for specific services that various business groups want monitored. For example, the company’s web development group requested status monitoring of custom website services. These alerts go directly to that team as well as to the IT team. The company has also created service monitors for the backup service for its production SAP systems and for key manufacturing systems. To date, Albany International Corp. has deployed System Center Operations Manager agents to about 400 servers, applications, and services. It monitors another 250 devices such as routers and switches.
The company runs its System Center Operations Manager infrastructure on six virtualized servers that run both the Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2003 operating systems. The physical servers run on Intel processor–based HP ProLiant DL580 and BL4x0 servers.
By monitoring its entire infrastructure with System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, Albany International Corp. has gained more thorough monitoring of the virtualized part of its infrastructure, which enables the IT staff to deliver better service to employees. The company has also increased the efficiency of its IT staff. They can now do more with less—and at less cost. The company is also saving money by getting maximum use of its hardware and upgrading only when needed.
More Thorough Monitoring
By adding the Veeam nworks MP to System Center Operations Manager, the company has gained the ability to monitor its critical virtual environment from within the enterprise management console used to monitor everything else. Thanks to the alerts the IT team now gets from System Center Operations Manager, IT staff can be proactive rather than reactive regarding performance-related issues. ―System Center Operations Manager lets us tie infrastructure health to virtual machine health," Domion says. ―We’re monitoring our virtual workloads more thoroughly than ever before."
Improved Service to Users
Improved monitoring of applications and servers has a direct impact on employee experience and productivity. ―Although I can’t quantify an availability improvement, I can say that we are frequently working on issues that System Center Operations Manager has brought to our attention before our end users notice anything," Domion says. ―At a time when everyone is doing more with less, the better our systems are running, the less stress we put on our end-user community and our IT organization."
Increased IT Efficiency, Reduced Costs Best of all, Albany International Corp. is delivering better monitoring and making users happier with no increase in staff. ―We are a very lean organization," Domion says. ―We need to do everything we can to automate processes and perform routine work as efficiently as possible so that we have time to work on strategic objectives such as lowering costs in our storage and backup environments and working to make the infrastructure more fault-tolerant. System Center Operations Manager gives us that time."
For example, the IT staff is customizing System Center Operations Manager thresholds and alerts to solve problems in an automated fashion. One application in particular used to stop frequently for no apparent reason. The IT staff set System Center Operations Manager to restart the application when it stops, and to send an email message to the application owner to let him know it was restarted. ―This little solution saves us over 30 hours a year in consulting charges, because we previously had to engage a third-party firm to restart the application," Domion says.
In general, having a ―single pane of glass" through which to monitor the entire infrastructure delivers efficiencies across the board. ―Rather than having a VMware monitor on one server, Cisco switches on another, SharePoint Server on another, and so forth, we’re able to use System Center Operations Manager and just keep expanding," Domion says. ―The reports produced by the Veeam and other management packs are so detailed that we can use them as is, without spending a lot of time creating custom reports or values for performance metrics."
Also, the operations staff can now perform routine VMware monitoring in System Center Operations Manager without specialized virtualization expertise or additional training, thanks to the VMware expertise built in to the Veeam nworks MP. Typically, when the company deploys a new product, it trains at least two people by sending them to two courses. At U.S.$3,000 a course, the company saved $6,000 in training costs alone by using System Center Operations Manager for virtual-server monitoring.
Better Hardware Utilization The company is also saving money by using System Center Operations Manager to achieve greater hardware utilization. ―With the information we get from System Center Operations Manager, we can size our Windows-based servers appropriately," Domion says. ―We know when to purchase new hardware or pare down. Hardware purchases can sometimes be delayed or eliminated, which saves money."
Conversely, the IT staff also has the data needed to justify upgrades. The company recently migrated its SAP application to new hardware. From the System Center Operations Manager reports, the IT team was able to actually see the performance increase that the hardware manufacturer promised for the new servers. ―It’s important to be able to document infrastructure behavior, such as performance, because this helps justify capital expenditures such as server upgrades," Domion says. ―We were able to reinforce the need to buy new hardware