CXO

Stobart Group on the road from small business tech to enterprise IT

Freight company accelerates with centralised datacentre and network optimisation

Freight and logistics company Stobart Group - best known for its Eddie Stobart haulage business - has grown rapidly during the past few years, with its revenue rising from £170m in fiscal 2007 to £450m in 2009.

Its growth has, in part, been fuelled by a flurry of acquisitions, including the purchases of James Irlam, O'Connor Group, and Innovate Logistics - the latter of which added 300 users to Stobart's increasingly sprawling IT infrastructure.

The company now has around 1,500 computer users working in 60 locations ranging from offices and traditional warehouses to container ports and non-airside airport freight operations at Southend and Carlisle airports.

IT director Vince Sparks joined the company early in 2008 and was charged with making sense of the various technology elements underpinning the expanding organisation.

"What you had was a lot of disparate pieces of IT infrastructure and my view was that the business required one set of infrastructure and, where relevant, one set of core applications," Sparks told silicon.com.

Eddie Stobart lorry

Eddie Stobart lorries are a familiar sight on the UK's roads
(Photo credit: Stobart Group)

The company embarked on a plan to centralise its IT infrastructure. The project, however, wasn't only about dealing with the increasing complexity of the infrastructure itself but also changing the company's whole approach to IT.

"For us it's moving from the smaller business IT into enterprise class IT where you have standards and a model and approach and preferred suppliers and your preferred technologies and your strategy.

"We're building a foundation layer of IT which is common for Stobart Group and dispensing with all the localised IT which existed with the legacy companies," Sparks said.

From August to October 2009, Stobart Group's tech team migrated much of its business information to a central datacentre in Birmingham, operated by IT services company SCC.

As a result of the migration, the whole company is now running on one email system - Microsoft Exchange 2007, upgraded from Exchange 2003 - and is in the process of switching off its legacy email systems.

Stobart Group is also making increased use of de-duplication tech. It has added Symantec Enterprise Vault for storage and data de-duplication to its email set-up, while its datacentre runs NetApp filer technology, which uses de-duplication to reduce the company's overall storage requirements.

As well as cutting storage, the datacentre project will also have an impact on the running costs and environmental impact of the company's IT. Once the move to the central datacentre has been completed in around three months' time, the company will have halved the number of physical servers in its infrastructure to around 50.

The use of VMWare virtualisation technology in the centralised datacentre has been a major factor in the reduction: although the datacentre will include 17 new physical servers, there will be more than 40 virtual machines running in the facility.

In addition, the company will avoid installing servers at smaller regional sites in the future unless there is a specific need to - such as where applications have performance issues when working over a WAN or if they are unable to be virtualised using VMWare within the datacentre.

Alongside the datacentre project, the company decided to boost the efficiency of its WAN, which was coming under increasing pressure when transmitting data between the Stobart Group's numerous locations.

Microsoft Office applications in particular were not really tuned to operate across the WAN, taking far too much time to complete tasks, according to Sparks.

Initially the IT department considered throwing additional bandwidth at the WAN but...

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