TVS tracks down smarter, thinner Black Boxes

By : |May 16, 2014 0

CHENNAI, INDIA: The right material. At the right place, at a precise time and in the exact amount needed – Engineer Taiichi Ohno’s recipe for reducing waste and flab at a factory floor finally introduced the world to a box-breaking way of approaching manufacturing’s so-called basics.

The formula was not only staggeringly disruptive but it has worked well since the 1950s, across many genres of factory belts, reeling in big manufacturing giants among its list of worshippers.

But little could have Ohno guessed then, that his iconoclastic JIT (Just In Time) philosophy can also break many other boundaries far across the precincts of a shop floor.

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At the surface, it’s easy to shrug the idea. How can the idea of shipping only bare minimum materials (from dock to factory floor so that they do not clog space and budget) have anything to do with entities that do not touch any supply chain or assembly line estate!

Turns out, a lot. So much so that it can cascade over to those huge boxes we better prefer tucked away in corporate backyards. Believe it or not, the uber-futuristic Data Centre has in many ways, spoored the beauty and bees-knees of JIT.

If JIT is about making industrial furniture as modular and customized as possible, then data centres so fit the description today. If JIT sings paeans about smaller production batches or shrunk storage spaces for better inventory, then virtualization and server consolidation couldn’t have been timed better for slimmer DC footprints.

If JIT proponents stress on buying parts only as per requests originating from customer, then any current DCIM menu can eerily look like a Siamese twin.

As to the JIT emphasis on ergonomically designed workspaces for leaner production, well we hardly got started on today’s Data centres – yesteryear’s adipose-stacked bodies are flaunting some hard-to-miss ‘wash-board abs’ today.

When T G Dhandapani, Corporate CIO, TVS Motor Company Limited envisioned an ambitious array of fitter, leaner, sharper data centres to fuel the business RPM of a much more competitive and JIT-ready empire, it was metaphorically an idea ‘Just In Time’.

And not just because it was some fetish to make data centres support a few JIT building blocks, but for the intriguing idea of bringing some JIT flavor into this dockyard too. It’s not a moot point today. Data centres can now just not afford to trundle at the same pace as yesteryears’ parents, and there is just no room for any unwanted cholesterol that leaks over on critical veins like uptime, customer satisfaction, carbon footprint and power yardsticks.

Energy guzzlers of the yore have struggled enough with efficiency, latency, overload, mis-provisioning, network clogging and many other issues. An optimized, ballerina-toed and fitter data centre is soon going to be a norm rather an exception. Plus, this new breed serves an extra purpose – no conking off at the most critical moments.

Something that an organization of the size, scope and impact that TVS Motors wields, just can not afford to ignore. Something that Dhandapani and his crew has accomplished with his latest drive.

Feats like a deftly-trimmed planned downtime of 52 hours and an impressive 30 per cent performance improvement with DB compression and storage space saving of 8TB hint at the fascinating overhaul that has been happening at this company’s data centres.

Today, Dhandapani is not only elated that compute & storage capacity enhancement is done on-the-fly but also relieved that provisioning of new servers to the business is reduced to as low as four hours. Besides, IT services have been extended to two new business units from the same datacenter and as many as 17 new applications got added and hosted in the same datacenter.

His delight is not hard to decipher. If in a bleeding-edge competition-mapped terrain, his company can manage to reduce planned downtime (for patching, upgrades etc) from 70 hours to 52 hours, that contributes immensely to staying amongst the top in this industry.

Swing the door on the other side of his cabin, and the same progress is mirrored in many facets of IT shop floor as well. For instance, IT users to system administrator ratio has been improved from 540:1 to 642:1. That accompanies server and storage side AMC cost saving of some Rs 23.97 lakhs per annum. Look at another big needle and you can see Power & cooling costs squeezed from Rs. 55 lakhs to 41 lakhs per annum with a Datacenter PuE (a ratio that captures power usage efficiency) brought from 1.8 to 1.6 levels. So why and how did he do it?

Rolling up sleeves, and windows

The epicenter of this data centre metamorphosis wave started at a datacenter at Hosur which caters IT services to 10 companies, 22 manufacturing units, 40 marketing offices, and 1200 dealers.
Now since IT had penetrated almost all parts of the business from product development to customer relations, from the shop floor to the top floor, supply chain to human relations, and even from corporate social responsibilities to accounts and administration; the ambit it covered brought new roles and goals to be nailed. That made it critical to ensure uptime and availability of the datacenter as a key imperative for business.

To bring back the notion of JIT again, if this style of production strategy strives to improve return on investment by reducing in-process inventory and associated carrying costs, its implications arguably run wide and deep across many organisation’s facets. They stir tides of changes as they spontaneously expose any weakness in the entire supply chain and give room for corrective action. Veterans like Dhandapani are fast to notice such ripples.

So, the reason was multi-pronged. There were certain customers to whom materials need to be supplied 24×7 and on an hourly basis and because of the volume and capacity constraints, it meant a different manufacturing rhythm and scenario. That led to items being produced just-in-time and delivered to the customers in a tighter context and speed. That is why penalties could turn really heavy sometimes. In fact, if delivery time was not met, the value-part could flog the business much more than the cost of the product itself.

That brought this IT team to that realization that many CIOs covet and chase all their lives: Yes, The entire business IS dependent on IT.
Add factors like relentless competition or the race to maximise profit under low price environment, and you immediately grasp the rugged terrain that IT found itself navigating. Not to forget, the need to keep the cost of computing as low as is possible while dishing out highest business value to reduce costs in other areas.

Silent Noise

Now Datacenter cost as a part of total IT cost stood at 25 per cent (Rs. 4.5 Crore) in terms of single largest cost after application). The new figure that IT decided to chase? Chopping it down by a big chunk and bringing it to 19 per cent.

The task was overwhelming and every progress or every ebb could mean a lot to a business that was practically hinging on all the uptime, precision and efficiency that IT would whip up. So the team took almost everything under the radar – from server virtualization, network virtualisation to use of blades instead of racks and notably-discreet use of power.

Some 63 physical servers were migrated to virtual machines; energy efficient multicore, multithreaded CPUs were injected; virtual connect technology was plugged in to rationalise physical LAN and SAN network ports; and of course; blade technology was implemented to save the rack space with space saving of 113U (nearly three racks space). Well, this effort entailed many incidental gains like: number of Ethernet ports and cabling saved was 60 translating into a cost saving of Rs. six lakhs and on the other side, the number of SAN ports and cabling saved was 12 worth a saving of Rs. three lakhs.

Dhandapani illustrates how high density cool rack implementation helped in considerable Rack space utilization (from 60 per cent to 90 per cent).  The mission also took storage blubber under the knife. About eight independent storages were consolidated into one single shared storage and thin provisioning was introduced.

With use of desktop virtualization bringing in investment cost saving of 10 Lakhs; power cost saving of Rs. 0.6 Lakhs, and room made for thin client technology churning a power cost saving of Rs. 0.3 Lakhs; almost every related area that could help was covered knee deep.

The team came around to not only optimizing the hardware by virtualization and blade technologies but also optimized programs, expensive SQL queries and compressed the databases to reduce the load on the system which doesn’t require any investment. Temperature in DC was increased from 21 deg C to 24 deg C. With online temperature monitoring and alerting system installed cooling cost saving worth Rs. 1.5 lakhs per annum gushed in.

For a project that took almost eight months, the team charted its map well across many rocky lanes of change management, user readiness and the whole integration enchilada. Innovation through TVSM established TQM process and through Cross-Functional-Teams (CFTs), Dhandapani cites. “The biggest advantage in our approach is implementation through CFT where all the stakeholders were involved in design, implementation & testing. “

As it turned out, the fruits of labour were not too high-hanging ones. It finally happened.

The team did manage to shrink overall Datacenter operation cost to Rs. 3.45 Cr (19.1 per cent), as chalked out ahead. Alongside, server rack utilization had improved from 60 per cent to 90 per cent, and server CPU utilization improved from 40 per cent to 90 per cent. From savings reeled in at many levels to enormous space/storage cuts while delivering JIT DNA of uptime and availability, this is how it clearly turned to be an initiative that turned data centres from invisible trunks lying in a store-room into those orange suitcases that matter like life on some several-feet-high journeys.

For Dhandapani, the tough but worthwhile expedition of making an IT suffix swing like a business prefix must have felt as ‘what else but this’ as the wistful lines of this biker: 

I would rather be on a Bike thinking about God than in a Church thinking about my bike.

Sometimes placing IT caboose the other way round can be just that oil-change you need for new roads.

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