British Sugar faced numerous business and technical challenges while upgrading its network from its existing IBM OS/2 operating system to Windows 2003. To address these challenges, it brought in specialist Microsoft Windows consultancy 1E, to fast-track the project and overcome the inherent obstacles. Completed successfully, with no end-user or business down time, 1E helped British Sugar implement a leading-edge IT infrastructure that will ensure maximum up-time, flexibility and scalability for future growth.
British Sugar is the leading supplier of sugars to the UK, providing more than half the country's sugar requirements. Supplying the retail market under the Silver Spoon brand, British Sugar sells approximately four million packs of sugar every week, making Silver Spoon one of the leading UK food brands.
Based at its head office in Peterborough and at 12 sugar factory and packaging plants located throughout the UK, British Sugar employs over 1,000 full-time staff, rising to over 1,500 during the peak production period. Known as the campaign, the processing season usually lasts from September until the end of February. A wide range of sugar products are manufactured at the factories and packaging plants, which together produce nearly 1.4 million tonnes of white sugar each year making British Sugar the largest sugar beet manufacturing company in Europe.
The companys IT department, based at the Peterborough head office, is responsible for all remote production and the IT network for its parent company, Associated British Foods (ABF), headquartered in London.
In the early nineties, British Sugar implemented IBM OS/2 as its network operating system. However, this OS had not been updated for some time, and since the end of 2003 was no longer officially supported by IBM, having become obsolete from its product portfolio. This lack of support intensified the need to upgrade to a more modern operating system.
While this presented a number of problems and challenges, it also provided an ideal opportunity to completely overhaul the companys IT infrastructure, and to introduce greater performance, resilience and reliability. Additionally, it would enable standardisation, cutting the overall cost of systems management.
Robert Honnor, Server Development Team Leader at British Sugar said: British Sugar was used to running IBMs OS/2 and understood it. We had no experience of designing a secure windows infrastructure and couldnt justify the time or cost of training the IT department - whose skills are needed in the day to day running of our IT infrastructure - for a one-off project of this scale.
A second issue was the timing of the upgrade. Budget constraints dictated that the project would have to be completed by the end of the financial year. This meant the upgrade would have to take place during the annual sugar processing season and in parallel with a second major IT project being undertaken - a complex migration of its existing main-frame-based Enterprise Resource Planning system to PeopleSoft One World, running on IBM iSeries hardware.
If this were not complex enough, it was vital that there was no disruption to business operations or production processes during both system re-vamps. Therefore the Windows 2003 operating system would have to work in parallel with the current IBM OS/2 network environment for the period of the migration.
The solution was simple. It needed a partner who had real-world experience of implementing Windows 2003 and Microsoft Active Directory could provide best practice guidelines, and who, through close collaboration and knowledge transfer, could help their IT staff overcome the steep learning curve.
After extensive research British Sugar found 1E, a leading UK specialist software developer and Windows management consultancy, to be the most appropriate company to manage the network and IT infrastructure overhaul. 1E has a proven track record in delivering similar solutions, without user disruption, on time and on budget. One of 1Es senior consultants, Peter Murray, was brought on board to lead the project and to work closely with British Sugars internal IT department.
Paul Morley, Infrastructure Manager at British Sugar said: 1Es work with previous customers, clearly demonstrated its technical expertise and that it was completely capable of delivering exactly the network upgrade we required. We were also impressed by the ongoing access to key technical consultants and the fact that the project manager, Peter Murray remained dedicated to the project from design through to delivery and post-project audit.
He continues Having worked on previous migration projects for other similar size blue chip customers, 1E clearly understood the technical challenges British Sugar faced and the best path to approach a Windows 2003 migration that ensured minimum disruption and maximum return on investment.
The overall approach to the project fell into two main stages; design and planning and a carefully phased deployment and implementation.
The design and planning phase began in August 2003 and required 1E to review British Sugars current IT environment. This enabled it to set the standards for the new infrastructure, one that could best adapt to the changing needs of the business in the future.
As well as making the best possible use of the new technology features of Windows 2003, a key part of the design process was to develop a migration and co-existence plan that could be delivered in the shortest possible timeframe, and with zero impact on business operations or the end-user.
With the necessary planning and preparation in place, the deployment started with the implementation of new servers and services in parallel with the live environment. This was followed by the piece-meal migration of the end-users in logical blocks. Despite the whole migration project taking place during working hours, the majority of changes were completely transparent to British Sugars employees so that normal business processes and day-to-day operations continued uninterrupted.
Having walked the British Sugar IT staff through the core migration at the head office and selected pilot remote sites, 1E was able to hand over the automated processes and documentation so that British Sugar could complete the deployment at its remaining factory sites, unaided.
In addition to replacing British Sugars dependency on an out-of-date operating system, 1E has ensured that the new Windows 2003 and Active Directory platform will provide the best possible platform for potential business and organisational changes, for example coupling or decoupling companies according to ABFs business model.
As a result of the standard collaboration with 1Es consultants over the course of the project, British Sugars IT staff have gained significant new skill sets, allowing them to manage and maintain the Windows infrastructure for British Sugars future business requirements.
The final objectives of the design and implementation have increased the service level delivered to the business and reduced the overall total cost of ownership (TCO) of the IT infrastructure through increased scalability, high availability, improved security and pro-active systems management.
These objectives were achieved by implementing the new systems on the latest hardware, such as the IBM eServer Blade Center with the full suite of remote management plug-ins and IBM Director for hardware management. This was combined with Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003, for patch and hot-fix management and ongoing software distribution.
1E prides itself on employing only best of breed technical consultants, each of whom have the ideal combination of top-level technical knowledge and real-world implementation experience.
Paul Morley said: 1E works to a very refreshing business model. Its unique make up of technical consultants make the company very efficient and so easy to work with; its technical excellence and skills transfer have ensured that we have the in-house skills to maintain and manage the network once 1E completes its work. 1E has proven that it is the people that make a project happen, not just systems and processes.