- Sector: Mining
- Solution: Virtualised infrastructure
- Key vendors: Citrix, NetApp, VMware
International mining group Rio Tinto appointed Centralis to help design, deliver and support a dedicated virtualisation infrastructure for its power station IT environment in the UK, as part of a strategic divestment project.
Rio Tinto Alcan is the global leader in the aluminium business and one of five product groups operated by international mining group Rio Tinto. Headquartered in the UK, the Group combines Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. The Group’s activities span the world, with operations in Australia, North America, South America, Asia, Europe and southern Africa.
Rio Tinto is transforming Rio Tinto Alcan into a determinably low-cost producer, via a programme of widespread business-improvement, modernisation and cost-saving initiatives. As part of this, a number of assets in Australia, Europe and the US that are no longer aligned with strategy are being divested.
This called for the creation of a dedicated IT environment for the Power Station in order to facilitate its transfer to new ownership.
Rio Tinto Alcan already had experience with virtualisation technologies such as Citrix, VMware and NetApp, having previously virtualised its desktops, several line-of-business applications and a number of servers. However, the divestment project had a much more complex design requirement, which called for networked storage optimised for virtualisation, as well as a robust disaster recovery (DR) capability. Working within an extremely tight project timeframe, Rio Tinto needed a specialist technology partner with a proven track record in delivering on time and to budget.
"It was very clear from the start that we knew which direction we were going to go and finding a trusted consultancy partner was a major part of that process,” states Dean Huddleston, IT Infrastructure Analyst at Rio Tinto Alcan. “Although we’d been using Citrix, VMware and NetApp for a number of years, we’d not really managed to find a partner who was experienced in supporting all three. However, time was of the essence because the smelter was being closed down and the power station was in the process of being sold. We required a standalone IT infrastructure capable of supporting what in effect, would be a new business.”
Prior to engaging Centralis, Rio Tinto Alcan had been looking to award separate support contracts for its instances of Citrix, VMware and NetApp technology. But with the Group’s divestment project underway, the requirement evolved into two separate projects – one for server virtualisation at Rio Tinto Alcan’s Lochaber site to consolidate hardware and centralise management, and delivery of a dedicated virtualisation infrastructure at the Lynemouth power station.
As an independent specialist in virtualisation technologies, Centralis was initially contracted by Rio Tinto to deliver the server consolidation project in Lochaber. However, the knowledge and technical expertise demonstrated by the Centralis team and the fact the consultancy is a Citrix Platinum, NetApp Silver and VMware Enterprise level partner made it the standout choice for the Lynemouth divestment project.
“Centralis provided the perfect fit because they had specialists able to help us with all three of these technology areas,” Dean Huddleston confirms. “Moving into the second project was more complex and Centralis helped from the start, assisting with the solution design and then recommending the right ways to go. I often find with other companies that their knowledge isn’t that much greater than mine, whereas with the Centralis team I felt that the experience was much, much bigger.”
Following a thorough assessment of Rio Tinto Alcan’s existing application delivery and server environment, Centralis created a detailed solution design that would replicate this environment at the power station but provide additional high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR) capabilities.
Having successfully delivered proof of concept, Centralis deployed a virtualised desktop and server infrastructure with storage and backup.
Centralis designed and implemented a complete virtual infrastructure based on Citrix, NetApp and VMware technologies.
A small server farm running Citrix XenDesktop manages applications in the data centre and delivers them on-demand to 150 IT users. As part of the transition Centralis replicated application data from legacy servers over to the new Citrix environment.
This was underpinned by a virtualised server infrastructure based on VMware hypervisors with a single cluster across a main computer room and back-up computer room (for DR) at another site. This was configured and managed to enable Rio Tinto to use server, network and storage resources dynamically as a single ‘internal cloud’.
Storage was provided by a NetApp FAS storage array in each data centre using SnapMirror to mirror data and VMware LUNs between the two. While, Veeam Backup & Replication provides integrated backup, recovery and failover capability.
Connectivity between the two data centres is provided by a 1Gbps fibre connection giving N+1 availability.
Successful and rapid delivery of the dedicated virtualisation infrastructure at the Lynemouth power station kept Rio Tinto’s divestment project on track. As well as providing a standalone IT environment easily transferrable to new ownership, the power plant has a solution combining high availability, workload balancing and robust DR capability. In the event of the production data centre experiencing a disaster scenario, the NetApp snapmirrored volumes can be mounted on the remaining virtual host in the DR data centre, ensuring critical servers can be brought up within minutes.
“The DR element was a key requirement for us, but thanks to the strength of consultancy provided by Centralis, we were also able to realise additional capabilities,” says Dean Huddleston. “For example, we were thinking about using two NetApp Filers and having two virtualised servers – one connected to each NetApp box in a simple design. However, that wouldn’t have given us any VMware functions. Centralis recommended that we only connect to one live NetApp Filer, with the other one used for DR, which meant we could connect three virtualised servers to one NetApp Filer to realise full V-Motion capabilities. This helps with patching servers and the VMware hosts, as well as addressing any issues that might arise on the physical hosts.”
Another recommendation by Centralis that expedited delivery was the use of a dedicated tool for transfer of data from legacy servers at the smelter to the new Citrix farm at the power station. “We were thinking about using an in-built replication solution to copy the data to the new NetApp Filers. However, Centralis advised of a much simpler way with which we could easily copy the permissions and that had been one of our concerns. It worked really well and we had very few problems.”
Centralis’ strategy first, technology second approach ensured that Rio Tinto Alcan was presented with several different options as an investment profile, enabling it to select the best fit for its requirements. In addition, Centralis’ robust delivery methodology incorporated a detailed project plan comprised of key stages, milestones and reporting. This provided regular progress updates, highlighted new risks and ensured that the delivery met Rio Tinto’s expectations.
“The Centralis team was easy to work with, thorough and adaptable to our changing needs. They took the rather tight project timescales we had in their stride and ensured we kept the divestment project on track. We are now exploring opportunities to realise further improvements moving forward,” concludes Dean Huddleston.