Customer Story Agents of Change

Drax Group Accelerates its Carbon-Negative Future

Drax Group operates across three principal areas including renewable electricity generation, electricity sales to business customers, and compressed wood pellet production and supply to third parties.

The company owns and operates a portfolio of renewable electricity generation assets in England and Scotland, including Drax Power Station near Selby in North Yorkshire which— since converting to use sustainable biomass instead of coal—has become the UK’s biggest renewable power generator and Europe’s largest decarbonization project.

The company has 17 operational pellet plants and developments in the US and Canada, producing compressed wood pellets for its own use and for customers in Europe and Asia.

Drax’s Morehouse BioEnergy compressed wood pellet plant in northern Louisiana

In 2019, Drax announced an ambitious goal to be carbon negative by 2030, using Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology to support a zero-carbon, lower-cost energy future.

New business strategy, new approach to IT

As Drax adapted its strategy and operations to pursue its zero-carbon vision, it needed a more flexible IT infrastructure that could respond faster to changing business needs. Drax also wanted to consolidate and harness disparate and growing data sources so the company could make better informed and prompt decisions.

“The core functionality provided by our existing systems wasn’t something we needed to change. However, it became clear that we needed IT to move much faster for the business to realize its ambitions,” says Mark Leonard, director of global business development at Drax Group.

“It became clear that we needed IT to move much faster for the business to realize its ambitions.”

Mark Leonard, Director of Global Business Development at Drax Group

Experience taught Drax that whole system replacements are costly, consume significant business attention and carry a high risk of failure. Considering the high costs of change, including affordability, risk management and need for a fast transition, Drax chose a different approach, one aligned with its sustainability goals. Drax decided to update and extract more functionality from its existing systems, eliminating the need to rip and replace its entire IT estate.

Drax Target Architecture

Led by Leonard, the IT team developed Drax Target Architecture, a modernization initiative designed to liberate the business from the limitations of existing systems, streamline access to data sources, and enable the IT team to develop new functionality and capabilities quickly, with less risk.

The Drax Target Architecture includes three interlinked technology pillars, enabling the business to gain valuable insights from data in its Integration Hub, Data Hub and Microservices Hub.

The Integration Hub connects dozens of on-premises and cloud applications, funneling data from multiple sources to the Data Hub. The Microservices Hub, underpinned by VMware® solutions, enables the IT team to develop new applications using a microservices-based architecture built on Kubernetes technology.

Liberating developers with VMware Tanzu

Drax partnered with VMware to create its Microservices Hub, an orchestration application built on VMware Tanzu® Mission Control™. Incorporating a unified policy engine, the solution centralizes and simplifies Kubernetes cluster management, ensuring the operations team can apply consistent security and governance guardrails while at the same time giving developers self-service and quick access to clusters.

The VMware Tanzu product and services portfolio met the company’s requirements for a simple, out-of-the-box solution that could get up-and-running fast. “There’s a huge benefit in having technology that’s ready to go and easy to use,” Leonard said. “We didn’t want to become Kubernetes experts; we wanted something that operations could manage and deliver services that our developers could easily consume. VMware Tanzu enables our developers to focus on building great apps whilst our operations team can better manage demand and supply.”

With VMware Tanzu solutions, the Drax team has transformed its approach to application development. Now Drax can deliver discrete, reusable blocks of capabilities that can be refreshed easily and built out to deliver scalable, future-proof applications. “Microservices requires a different mindset about the design of the best components that allow maximum reusability and independence. We’re taking a ‘learn by doing’ approach where our skills, capabilities and ways of working adapt over time,” says Leonard. 

An example of the new approach is the Drax team’s adoption of “t-shirt sizing practices.” This technique creates small, medium and large container package templates with correct architectural, security and network patterns. On a project-by-project basis, the team simply selects the t-shirt size needed and can deploy all services with a single click. “This agile approach is straightforward to use and implement and saves us a lot of effort,” says Leonard.

Crucially, VMware Tanzu Mission Control enabled Drax to deliver the Drax Target Architecture within tight deadlines that would have been impossible without significant added time and financial investments.

IT aligned with business needs

While its forward-looking name is unchanged, the Drax Target Architecture has evolved from target to reality, and Leonard says it delivered ROI in just nine months.

Drax can quickly develop new applications and adapt old ones while multiple data sources are now leveraged effectively for improved decision-making across the business. Thanks to the Drax Target Architecture, the company’s IT systems and capabilities are faster, more agile and cost-effective as well as better aligned with evolving business needs.

“We’re increasing productivity, enhancing our skills and doing a lot more with less effort, to higher quality, and we have the inherent benefit of reuse”

Mark Leonard, Director of Global Business Development at Drax Group

The Drax Target Architecture has supported the delivery of new, strategically important and growth-enabling services. For example, its solution built on VMware Tanzu technology has enabled the company to launch an industry-leading digital service that provides business customers with greater visibility into—and management of—energy consumption of their electric vehicle fleets. In addition, Drax now has complete visibility into the end-to-end transportation of biomass wood pellets from the US to the UK, using a machine learning layer to reveal vital insights to improve its supply chain and KPI management. 

“VMware Tanzu has helped change how we work with the business and within IT. We’re increasing productivity, enhancing our skills and doing a lot more with less effort, to higher quality, and we have the inherent benefit of reuse,” says Leonard. 

With faster application development, better use of business-critical data, and improved decisions, Drax is moving closer to achieving its carbon-negative ambitions.

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