IT as a Service leader Shoppers Stop shares its success story

Shoppers Stop moves to the IT as a Service model and enjoys cost savings, rapid deployment capabilities and super efficiency with server virtualization.

Shoppers Stop, one of the leading retail store chains in India, was recently awarded The Best of vForum award for IT as a Service Leadership, at vForum 2011. This award, instituted by in partnership with VMware, recognizes the efforts of Shopper Stop in employing server virtualization technology to revolutionize IT as a Service delivery within the company. Through this initiative, Shoppers Stop is capable of providing computing resources on demand to its multiple business units thus enabling better application performance.

Three years ago Shoppers Stop faced a surge in server requirements as the company was continuously deploying a number of applications for various users. It was cumbersome to repeatedly procure and deploy hardware in a piecemeal manner whenever new requirements sprung up. Hence, Shoppers Stop decided to instead deliver IT as a Service by creating a modular platform that could be used for provisioning projects quickly.

At that point Shoppers Stop had three data centers at Mindspace in Malad, Mumbai. The company decided to consolidate these data centers and outsource to a third-party hosting service, to create a shared service platform for its three business units - Shoppers Stop, HyperCITY and Crossword. According to Gopakumar Panicker, deputy general manager for IT at Shoppers Stop, IT as a Service has helped the IT team quickly provide shared services to users whenever required.

Server virtualization technology

For its IT as a Service venture, Shoppers Stop invested in virtualization technologies such as IBM pSeries,  PowerVM, VMware vSphere 4.1, VCOP and vCenter. An in-house panel evaluated the technology for server virtualization deployment and tested the applications. Finally, the company settled for VMware and IBM server virtualization technologies. “The product maturity and support were the two key areas of importance for us. VMware is the most mature product and IBM is a pioneer in server virtualization technology, hence we opted for these products,” says Panicker.

On the IT as a Service journey Shoppers Stop followed a phased approach, beginning with virtualization of non-critical, test and development application servers. Later mid-range, moderately critical applications were taken up. Finally, the company virtualized the applications on the production platform as well.

The company has a highly virtualized shared infrastructure environment for addressing the needs of all business units. Shoppers Stop has deployed two different virtualization technologies:

  • IBM pSeries and PowerVM based virtualization for critical servers.
  • VMware based virtualization for servers with medium to low levels of criticality.

The company has employed three administrators to handle most of its infrastructure deployments. They are not dedicated to IT as a Service deployment alone, as Shoppers Stop has found that the solution is quite simple. “We haven’t faced any problems or issues with this platform, hence we do not have dedicated administrators for our IT as a Service platform,” says Panicker.

Finding solutions

When deploying server virtualization technology the company had to consider several factors such as server, storage, computing and OS. “These are basic considerations, however If you face problems in any of these areas, the whole project will be impacted. Our biggest challenge was to implement best practices when deploying each of these units as we had to evaluate multiple vendors,” explains Panicker.

Compatibility of the applications is a significant challenge. Some applications do not openly support the virtualization platforms and behave differently on different platforms. “We either place such applications on physical serves or move them to the VMware or IBM platform based on their compatibility level with each of these,” says Panicker.

When the company consolidated its data center three years ago for its IT as a Service project, it had expected the racks to grow in the future, however the number of racks decreased due to virtualization despite the increase in the number of servers in the environment. “We have deployed three times the amount of servers today compared to three years ago but haven’t invested much in the power or cooling of these systems,” says Panicker. “We have also saved on licensing costs and have achieved approximately 60% saving per server.”

The benefits of server virtualization technology and the IT as a Service model far outweighed the challenges faced by Shopper Stop. The benefits include:

  • Improved CPU utilization of 70% in virtualization cluster.
  • 30:1 server consolidation ratio.
  • 100:2 servers to administrator ratio.
  • Reduced development times for new applications by 70%.
  • Reduced power and cooling costs by 50%.
  • Reduced rack space by 50%.
  • Provisioning of new server requests in 30 minutes.
  • Reduced hardware cost in malls, with VMware ESXi.
  • Backup of store server images to EMC iOMEGA in stores.
  • Easy health monitoring.
  • Easy snapshots and cloning on EMC SAN.
  • VCB backup and integration to Veritas NetBackup.

As of now, Shoppers Stop has deployed virtualization in all of its stores and the IT as a Service model is firmly in place. “We are testing EMC Avamar for backup and de-duplication, and in the future, we plan to venture into disaster recovery for the applications hosted on the virtual platform,” says Panicker.

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