The pace of digital transformation has only quickened in recent months. Although each organization will take a unique path, cloud-ready infrastructure has emerged as a common denominator. And while they might not yet leverage multiple cloud platforms, for most organizations, a hybrid cloud approach is the best way to support this likely future state.
SGB-SMIT Group has doubled in size over the past five years, thanks both to acquisition and organic growth. At heart it remains a family-run, German engineering business, but it is increasingly international in outlook. It operates on three continents through 13 international locations. This requires the business to be agile and dynamic. The adoption of VMware Cloud of AWS™ and Google Cloud VMware Engine (GCVE) provides the ability to cope with spikes in demand and to smoothly integrate new acquisitions.
After a tough 2020, the market for energy is expected to increase 4.6 percent through 2021, boosted by an economic recovery of six percent. Worldwide, demand for energy in emerging or developing markets is expected to be 3.4 percent ahead of 2019 levels.
For SGB-SMIT Group, Europe’s largest independent manufacturer of power transformers, and with production facilities in China, India, and Malaysia, this presents a huge growth opportunity. More businesses and more consumers want access to more reliable energy supplies. More governments recognize the need to invest in renewable energy infrastructure projects.
The challenge for SGB-SMIT Group and its rivals is to meet this demand quickly and efficiently. In a competitive, global market, SGB-SMIT aims to differentiate itself through its proximity to customers in core markets, a strong focus on cost, and its ability to provide customized solutions on short lead times. These qualities have never been more critical.
“Collaboration across the group is crucial,” says Salvatore Cassara, CIO, SGB-SMIT Group. “We need to be able to share our knowledge and expertise throughout the business.”
Cassara’s job is to ensure the infrastructure capacity to grow quickly, the common toolsets to ensure consistency, and a commercial model that reflects usage.
Creating a virtual IT infrastructure
The adoption of cloud solutions is central to this strategy. Cassara wants to create a virtual IT infrastructure, with the ability to scale rapidly, deploy remotely, and work from common data. This will enable SGB-SMIT to involve local experts in global projects, and to be faster in the support of customers. He wants SGB-SMIT to lean heavily on Amazon and Google Cloud services, and to be open to other providers.
“A multi-cloud environment is the basis of our virtual company,” Cassara explains. “It will give us the scale we need without restricting us to one vendor. We can create a commercial advantage, and the flexibility to move workloads between cloud providers.”
SGB-SMIT’s multi-cloud ambitions are made possible through the use of VMware Cloud on AWS and Google Cloud VMware Engine (GCVE). Together, these enable SGB-SMIT to lift, shift, and scale its VMware applications in the cloud of its choice, wherever in the world.
Cassara describes VMware Cloud on AWS and GCVE as “the glue that holds our multi-cloud strategy together”. They give SGB-SMIT the ability to share resources, tools, and data between Amazon, Google, and its own private cloud environments.
Aligning with the world’s biggest hyperscalers
The deployments of both VMware Cloud on AWS and GCVE were managed alongside Bechtle, a long-term IT service provider to SGB-SMIT. Today, SGB-SMIT uses VMware Cloud on AWS to host its ERP system. It also delivers a consistent, virtualized desktop environment using VMware Horizon®, hosted in Google and Amazon.
“We have the choice of the best two hyperscalers,” says Josef Schmid, Head of IT, SGB-SMIT. “When needed, we can quickly find the necessary scale.”
Aligning the business with two of the world’s biggest hyperscalers also creates a skills advantage. “In terms of a cloud roadmap, we can learn a lot from Google and Amazon,” says Cassara. “And without VMware we couldn’t get where we wanted to be.”
Flexing between clouds to strengthen business continuity
At a macro level, multi-cloud delivers the scale and flexibility to support continued business growth. It moves SGB-SMIT towards a preferred OPEX commercial model, strengthens business continuity, and delivers global oversight.
“VMware helps bring our different cloud elements together. It allows us to confine the data that is more sensitive within our private cloud and then distribute the rest through the other cloud providers. That reach makes the data available for the parts of the business that need it, when they need it,” says Cassara.
Upgrades are easier to manage. For instance, SGB-SMIT can flex between two cloud environments, making corrections in one while the other runs smoothly. “We had an issue with a VMware upgrade and SAP. We were quickly able to make the patch in Google, then Amazon, with no downtime,” Cassara explains.
The new approach is more sustainable. The central, virtualized infrastructure reduces physical footprint, travel, and energy consumption which reduces the company’s emissions and helps it meet its sustainability objectives.
On a personnel level, VMware Cloud on AWS and GCVE help reduce the IT management burden. With the IT team already familiar with VMware technologies thanks to its previous Horizon and Cloud Foundation deployments, there was already a common understanding of how the new solutions could be managed. Cloud enables SGB-SMIT to move from being a buyer and maintainer of IT hardware to a more visionary, architectural role. “Our aim is to introduce more cloud-based applications, to disconnect from the old way of working, and reinvent how we collaborate, and ultimately enable innovation throughout the company,” says Cassara.
The ability to move quickly, with global scale
Perhaps the greatest impact is speed. The business is now able to move at pace, globally. This was evident during the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re a traditional business and we had never embraced the concept of working from home before the pandemic. The fact that we moved to the cloud allowed us to very quickly and very smoothly pivot from purely office-based working into home working with a 200 percent increase in VDI users in just days,” says Cassara. “There was no panic. We knew exactly what needed to happen. The infrastructure was in place. We just had to flip the switch.”
In terms of latency, connections between head office and cloud data center are less than four milliseconds. Fewer delays allow SGB-SMIT to speed time to market of new solutions and support new locations remotely, allowing them to keep pace with international rivals. For example, the company was able to open a new site in China mid-way through the pandemic thanks, in part, to the virtual server it deployed through VMware Cloud on AWS.
“Those speeds mean any user, anywhere, is closer to the data center,” Cassara adds. “We were able to set up in China with none of us needing to visit the site.”
Strengthening data security
The journey continues. As the global market for energy, particularly renewable energy, grows, demand for SGB-SMIT transformers grows. The business anticipates further acquisitions and new international operations.
Google Cloud VMware Engine is being evaluated for use with other workloads. The goal, says Cassara, is to integrate customers and suppliers into cloud-based systems, further strengthening collaboration.
Cybersecurity is a concern. SGB-SMIT is now looking at VMware Carbon Black Cloud™ to consolidate multiple endpoint security capabilities using one endpoint solution, reducing management stress.
“We need to be more cloud-based in our way of working, but there is no one way of getting there. We must find our own path,” he says. “The challenge is to then roll-out globally in a way that is safe and secure.”
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