The Unix server strategy that powers Honda Motor India

Here's a look at how Honda Motor India banks on a mix of Unix and Windows servers to gain a competitive edge in the Indian market.

By Jasmine Desai, Principal Correspondent,

Technology has had a vital role to play in Honda's global success, and its India operations are no exception. Honda Motor India Pvt Ltd. (initially known as Honda Siel Cars India Ltd.) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tokyo-based Honda Motor Co. It started its India operations in 1995 with an objective to create synergy among different Honda subsidiaries in India.

Hilal Khan
Hilal Khan

Driven by Honda's global technology mandates, Honda Motor India began its Unix journey in 2000. Unix was chosen as the platform at that point, since Honda Motor India's mission-critical application strategy is based on those followed by Honda.

Honda's mission-critical applications in its Japanese headquarters were designed considering Honda's very large user base across the world. Since major deployments of this nature are primarily based on Unix infrastructure, the choice of Unix was inevitable. In fact, according to Hilal Khan, the CIO of Honda Motor India, his organization has been among the early adopters of IBM pSeries and iSeries servers.

The UNIX server journey

Honda Motor India has come a long way since its initial server setup in 1997, which was based on a sole AS/400 server. In 2000, the call was taken to migrate to Unix with five Unix servers. Today, Honda Motor India's server infrastructure consists primarily of IBM pSeries servers.

According to Honda Motor India, server sizing and deployment weren't issues. The servers were sized based on end-user and application considerations (see box for sizing parameters). Factors such as the number of transactions per day and expected growth pattern over a period of time were also considered.

Factors that influenced server sizing and selection
• End-users' requirements.
• Kind of application.
• Application requirements.
• Number of transactions per day.
• Expected growth patterns over an extended period of time.
• Future scalability.
• Affordable downtime.
• Recovery time in case of failure.

At present, Honda Motor India has 80 servers, out of which 55 servers run Unix. Mission-critical applications such as production, sales, distribution, supplier collaboration and supply chain integration are powered by Unix. High-availability clusters have been deployed for solutions like supplier collaboration, production and distribution using IBM's High-Availability Cluster Multiprocessing solution. Apart from these, critical engineering and design applications are also on Unix servers.

The server racks are cooled from the bottom using a specially designed floor. This is supplemented by cooling from Emerson Precision ACs. On the storage front, Honda Motor India uses four storage area network (SAN) boxes from IBM. Three of these SAN boxes are dedicated for the Unix servers and one is for Windows servers. Network-attached storage is used for applications such as research and development. On the backup front, since IBM pSeries count for the majority of Honda Motor India's data center setup, the organization uses Tivoli to provide backup for Lotus Notes, DB2 and Oracle.

While the server rollouts were seamless in nature, Khan says that Honda Motor India faced several challenges on the support front. Foremost among these was the availability of skilled support partners post-implementation. "OEMs like HP and IBM are good implementation partners. However, their front-end partners are neither organized nor have the required manpower resources to provide support for mission-critical solutions," Khan says.

Harvesting the best of both worlds

In recent years, Honda Motor India has had to deal with the high total cost of ownership of servers running proprietary Unix. This was dealt with by taking a mixed platform strategy for servers. Hence, the company has deployed Windows-based servers for certain applications during the past four years. Today, several applications related to planning, forecasting and supplier collaboration are on Windows servers.

When it to comes to reaping benefits from the present server approach, Khan says, "There are both tangible and intangible benefits, which are difficult to point out. However, we have experienced benefits in terms of security, reduction in overall inventory cost, minimum downtime, stability, ruggedness with the current server and application setup."

Road ahead

Honda Motor India had not deployed Windows-based virtualization earlier, since it already used Unix's local partitioning capability. Hence, the remaining Windows-based servers did not need virtualization at that time, as applications were deployed over time considering their optimum utilization.

With an increase in application requirements, Honda Motor India is now looking at implementing virtualization using VMware for its Windows servers in the coming year.

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