Server Snapshots: HP in the Real World

by Drew Robb

When it came time for Nigeria-based Oando to upgrade from a distributed Windows environment to a full-fledged data center, the oil and gas company opted for a combination of HP Integrity and 9000 servers along with HP StorageWorks storage arrays.

Oando, PLC is a Nigerian oil and gas company with a heavy dependence on its computer systems. At the end of last year, the company realized it needed to upgrade from a distributed Windows environment to a full-fledged data center.

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It chose a combination of HP Integrity servers, HP 9000 servers and HP StorageWorks storage arrays. On the software side, Oando opted for the HP-UX operating system (OS), the Oracle E-Business Suite Release 11i and an Oracle 10g Database.

"The move to HP Integrity and HP 9000 servers provides reliability, high performance, rapid data access, and data management round the clock," said Abiola Lawal, group chief strategy officer. "We are anticipating 50 to 70 percent faster completion of month-end closes and financial reports."

Lagos-based Oando Group is Nigeria's third-largest publicly traded company. It operates several business units: petroleum retail marketing, international supply and trading, natural gas distribution, energy services, exploration/production, petroleum refining and power supply. Oando is one of the fastest-growing energy companies in Africa.

Before remodeling its IT environment, the server environment was predominantly Windows 2003 Server edition OSes running on Intel boxes. According to Lawal, most of the servers were midrange models used for domain controllers, e-mail systems, intranet and Web services, file services, accounting applications, and VPN connections.

The lack of a proper data center resulted in a series of problems running the old IT environment. As the number of servers had grown rapidly and without proper planning, cabling proved to be a nightmare.

"Cables could not be channeled through proper ducts and often resulted in accidental disconnection," says Lawal.

Power and cooling, too, experienced significant issues. Lawal reports the air-conditioning system was inadequate. Failure of a single unit, for example, often resulted in the room heating up rapidly. Similarly, a redundant uninterruptible power supply (UPS) was unavailable. Hence, a failure of the UPS meant systems had to shut down. In addition, space constraints made expansion and accessibility for support very difficult.

The selection process centered on Oando's most pressing needs — the implementation of an IT infrastructure on which to run an Oracle ERP system effectively. Three further criteria were an important part of the process: enough performance to provide 24x7 reliability; the presence of a reliable local support team; and the best value from a cost perspective.

"We narrowed it down to IBM, Sun Microsystems and HP," says Lawal. "HP eventually won, and the differential was the ability to demonstrate commitment to support as well as value for our investment."

In November 2006, the company accepted delivery of a series of HP Integrity servers, HP 9000 servers and some disk arrays. They purchased: two HP Integrity rx8640 servers with dual-core Intel Itanium 2 processors to support Oracle Financials, HR, Supply Chain and Database Applications; an HP Integrity rx7640 Server (dual-core Itanium processors and running Oracle applications; four HP 9000 rp3440, rp4440 and rp7420 servers (supporting Oracle and non-Oracle applications); and two HP StorageWorks 8000 Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) systems with a production environment of 8.2 TB and a disaster recovery environment of 6.2 TB.

All systems operate on the HP-UX 11i v2 OS.

The benefits of the new architecture soon became apparent at Oando. As well as greater reliability, performance, manageability and data access, Lawal was pleased with the additional support the HP servers supplied in terms of real-time data analytics for the company's various business units. This is an essential function for any modern oil/gas player.

The new platform also supports the consolidation of systems acquired through mergers, a key feature for this aggressively growing corporation.

"Our HP servers and Oracle applications make it easier to integrate the data and systems resulting from acquisitions," says Lawal. "This infrastructure has also lessened our need for staff support."

Lawal drilled down to specifics and laid out the various business benefits. As a result of the robust ERP infrastructure, for example, Oando is automating critical processes, such as finance, distribution, oil inventory management, product costing, order management and customer service.

"We have gone live on Oracle HR self service on HP servers and are currently enjoying the benefits," says Lawal. "Finance, supply chain distribution, oil inventory and payroll are all expected to go live in the third or fourth quarter of 2007."

This self-service feature allows users, for example, to update their own personnel data. Along with other aspects of the platform, this helps streamline costs and company operations, as well as promote higher margins across the energy value chain. While the roll-out is still ongoing, Oando is already reaping the benefits in terms of better business information being provided to managers. This, in turn, facilitates smarter decision making.

While the complete range of software benefits have yet to be experienced, it's a different story on the hardware side. By implementing greater processing power within a dedicated data center, transaction processing, scientific analysis and database access all get a speed bump.

"The primary benefit to date is that we have better access to the system and improved processing times," says Lawal. "The reduction in month-end closes is an expectation that we hope to realize when we go live by Q4 this year."

As a result of the favorable experience with HP Integrity gear, he intends to add more. With the company growing rapidly and aiming at a wider global market, Oando intends to add more large HP Integrity and HP 9000 boxes. Its strategy is to scale up using a few high-powered servers rather than scaling out vertically using commodity x86 servers.

"As our data requirements increase, we will scale up," says Lawal. "One of the big advantages of the HP system is the scalability factor."

This article was originally published on Friday Jun 29th 2007
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