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Virgin Mobile Gets Automated

Posted by inet - 2006-03-06

U.K. wireless giant Virgin Mobile dodged a licensing bullet and slashed server configuration times with new automation software that it plans to extend to the firm's back-end storage.

Virgin Mobile, which serves around 5 million U.K. customers, deployed BladeLogic's Operations Manager at the start of last year. It was prompted by an urgent need to roll Tibco middleware across 50 of its 70 Unix servers.

Tibco, which links applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) and online credit reporting, is critical to Virgin Mobile's IT infrastructure, according to Julian Bowles, the company's technical projects program manager. But deploying the middleware was easier said than done.

"It was a manual process," explains Bowles, who had already gone through the laborious task of deploying Tibco on 15 Unix servers. "Each of the deployment configurations was specific to each server."

To make matters worse, the wireless firm's existing license agreement with Tibco was soon to expire. If Virgin Mobile found itself unable to deploy Tibco in time, it would accrue additional re-licensing costs.

Virgin Mobile tested Operations Manager in January and February last year, and then automated deployment of the middleware on the remaining 35 Unix servers, easily beating the licensing deadline. "We took this process down from three months to five days," crowed Bowles.

Bowles was unwilling to reveal how much he spent with BladeLogic, although the list price for Operations Manager is $1,500 per server. He did, however, confirm that Virgin Mobile has already seen a return on its investment.

Virgin Mobile has now extended Operations Manager to another 20 Unix servers, and plans to add it to 70 Microsoft Windows-based Dell machines. This will be used for software updates and providing "snapshots" of applications running on the servers, something which is key to the firm's compliance efforts. "Before BladeLogic," said Bowles, "we didn’t have any capability to do compliance checks, system audits, and go through an automated process."

On average, Virgin Mobile has reduced the amount of time spent deploying an application on a single server from 6 hours to 30 minutes. "We have noticed deployment and preparation time come down from days to hours for things like deploying Web code to make changes to our Website."

Operations Manager is also being used to deploy a software package called Albacs, which updates bank sort-code information. Previously, this process would have taken two weeks to complete manually, but can now be completed within two days.

Bowles is also looking to extend Operations Manager into his storage infrastructure. "We're planning to get some applications hosted centrally on SANs," he explains. "Potentially, we will be looking to use this to manage that as well."

Specifically, the exec wants to use Operations Manager with a Network Appliance filer to support CRM disaster recovery. This, he says, should be in place by the end of the year.



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