BMW gears up IT resilience with private cloud infrastructure

After testing and validating its own private cloud services, BMW's IT team is ready to use it in production

After two years of implementing, testing and validating, German car maker BMW's private cloud infrastructure will go live in November 2013.

Cloud computing started gaining momentum in 2011, at the same time as BMW’s IT team was looking to refresh its infrastructure to make it more resilient and highly available. This triggered its journey to the cloud, BMW's vice-president of IT infrastructure Mario Mueller tells Computer Weekly.

“We wanted zero downtime in our infrastructure of the future,” says Mueller. 

BMW's existing traditional infrastructure was robust enough to provide 99.96% high availability, as of 2012, but that is not good enough for an IT team that seeks to provide 100% high availability and zero downtime to its engineers and staff.

“We have to do a lot of maintenance work and patches, which means there is a lot more planned downtime in the current infrastructure,” says Mueller, who also chairs the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA). Cloud’s features, such as automation and agility, can minimise downtime.

Private cloud infrastructure under construction

BMW’s IT team is designing and building its own private cloud infrastructure in its main enterprise datacentre in Munich based on the best practice guidelines developed by the ODCA.

“When we planned our private cloud strategy, we were not able to find any solutions in the market that fulfilled all our requirements,” says Mueller.

We wanted zero downtime in our infrastructure of the future

Mario Mueller, BMW

But that was not the only reason it chose to develop its own cloud computing infrastructure

“We did not want any vendor lock-in and we wanted interoperability as we would like to move our applications and workloads back and forth,” says Mueller. Currently, many cloud platforms from IT suppliers do not offer easy interoperability, “hence, our private cloud is mostly an implementation of our own”. 

The car maker’s private cloud is based on open source technologies, as 50% of its datacentre infrastructure is based on open source platform Suse Linux and open source virtualisation platform XenServer. It also uses VMware and Microsoft virtualisation platforms.

BMW’s IT infrastructure supports approximately 1,000 web applications, with 4,700 application server instances and 8,400 web server instances. It also supports 90,000 desktop and laptop computers, 9,300 smartphones and 48,000 mobile phones. About 1,900 database instances, as well as 300 SAP systems in test, development and production, also depend on its IT.

BMW cloud services ready to roll

Having tested and validated its cloud services for about two years, the IT team is ready to push it live in production by November 2013.

“We wanted to be absolutely sure about how it works and familiarise ourselves with the cloud before using it in actual production. You don’t want to run into problems once in production, as that will affect the business,” says Mueller.

Initially, the company will use its private cloud for web applications, processor workloads, a few setup applications and some SAP applications.

Eventually, it wants to run mission-critical applications in the cloud and make use of cloud’s high-availability and resilient infrastructure. “We are starting small, but want to move more critical apps to the cloud to see more IT benefits,” says Mueller.

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BMW's cloud strategy includes the implementation of infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), PaaS database, PaaS web, and PaaS SAP, as well as corporate software as a service (CSaaS).

Long-term cloud vision

After making its private cloud live, Mueller and his team will develop all of BMW’s IT applications to make them ready for the cloud. “It will be a slow process and will be another three years before we have a majority of our IT running on the cloud.”

Making its SAP applications ready for cloud is one of the big challenges for the IT team, as SAP services are not typical candidates for cloud computing. But because BMW has extensive installations of business-critical applications based on SAP, the IT team wants to avail cloud’s agility, automation and zero-downtime for SAP applications.

“Using the cloud for as many applications as possible will yield us real returns,” he says.

The private cloud, along with the other infrastructure in its Munich datacentre facility and its colocation facility in Iceland, will form the major part of BMW’s infrastructure.

We want a scalable, agile, resilient and highly available infrastructure with no downtime

Mario Mueller, BMW

The Iceland colocation facility is used for high-performance computing. “It is CO2-free and 100% green, which is important for our brand,” Mueller says.

BMW will have a few smaller IT operations and server rooms with file servers and local network connections across its plants including those in the UK, but a majority of its IT will be centralised in Munich.

Mueller’s cloud strategy is to evolve BMW’s IT into a hybrid cloud setup, which will include colocation and datacentre facilities, its private cloud and some public cloud services.

“Currently, we are not using public cloud because of issues around security and outages. But when it matures further, we will use public cloud services to develop a hybrid IT infrastructure," he says.

With the cloud computing strategy, Mueller hopes to reduce BMW's IT costs. “We will save money, but that is not our main objective. We want a scalable, agile, resilient and highly available infrastructure with no downtime.”

And from its testing period, the team has already found the cloud to be faster, efficient and agile where the IT is able to provision and de-provision quickly and also able to manage the underlying hardware without affecting the applications that engineers use. “The infrastructure is more automated too,” he adds.

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