The UK’s largest Ford retailer, TrustFord – formerly Ford Retail – has deployed virtual load balancers from Kemp Technologies to deliver high availability and performance across its virtualised IT environment.
TrustFord was formed in 2014 out of more than 60 Ford car and van dealership brands, including Brunel Ford, Dagenham Motors, Heartlands Ford, Lindsay Ford and Polar Ford, all of them owned by the Ford Motor Company itself.
All of these brands were well-known in their local markets but Ford had found there was no one particular brand that its customers were familiar with, hence the decision to consolidate its various brands under one marque.
Ford IT services manager Keith Taylor, who oversaw the transition, says that alongside the rebranding of its retail operations, Ford saw an opportunity to completely overhaul its IT.
“What we had was glued together. As we started to take on more dealerships, they were plugged into what we had," he says. "It was not a complete mess, but it was unstructured and to bring a new dealership on board was fraught with issues.”
The upgrade was eventually completed on a site-by-site basis over a three-month period in the summer of 2014, and included the deployment of Windows 2012, Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013.
The IT estate now covers 80 different sites, serving around 3,000 users.
Virtualisation on the cards
To this end, Taylor says Ford Retail had already started to look at virtualisation as a platform of choice and, prior to the debut of TrustFord, had dabbled around the edges, deploying some virtualised Dell EqualLogic storage-area networking (SAN) assets.
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The firm took the decision to move to a VMware 5.1-based environment, with 80 virtual servers spread across two datacentre sites, one in London’s Docklands and another in Hayes, west London.
“As we started to virtualise our physical infrastructure, it became apparent that cost-saving and ability to be quicker on our feet made the decision a no-brainer. We consolidated around 20 to 25 servers and purchased another EqualLogic SAN to provide more compute power,” says Taylor.
However, the revitalised estate needed to be made far more resilient, he says, which is where Kemp came in.
“We realised from the start of the project that third-party load balancing would play an important role in delivering high resilience and performance across our large virtualised environment, while also supporting better patch management, server maintenance and upgrades,” says Taylor.
Having evaluated a number of options, TrustFord landed on Kemp based on price/performance, ease of implementation and management, and its volume licensing model, he says. Ford Retail had also previously bought physical load balancers from Kemp to manage its internet gateway.
We realised from the start of the project that third-party load balancing would play an important role in delivering high resilience and performance across our large virtualised environment
Keith Taylor, Ford
Taylor installed four Kemp Virtual LoadMaster 200 (VLM-200) virtual load balancers in two high-availability pairs across both datacentre sites. Each VLM-200 can offer throughput at speeds of up to 200Mbps to manage client connections to enterprise and web-based applications.
Client access requests are directed to the current best-performing virtual server based on concurrent connections, CPU loading and memory utilisation to eliminate bottlenecks on the network, and the system also automatically re-routes should a server or application fall over.
Besides its Windows, Exchange and Lync installations, the VLMs also support TrustFord’s e-commerce and order processing, and SSL encryption provided by Voltage Security, meaning that 350 managers, who are equipped with their own laptops for remote access, no longer have to tunnel into the network on a virtual private network.
Taylor says the implementation had been particularly easy because Kemp’s own technology teams had already set up all the templates that TrustFord needed to run its various business software applications.
The firm is now planning to expand its services and intends to roll out Lync – now Skype for Business – unified communications to the outside world, to enhance its customer service capabilities.
Taylor adds that he was also using to utilise Kemp internally to beef up his security capabilities and provide access-from-anywhere services within the retail sites.