Global manufacturer opts for a unifying platform rather than a ‘Frankenstein’ approach to its digital transformation.
With subsidiaries and operations across more than 80 countries, SMC, a maker of pneumatic and electric automation components with its global headquarters in Tokyo, tried a few different options before choosing hybrid cloud as its digital transformation strategy.
Combining private cloud with hyperscaler resources, SMC chose Dell Technologies Cloud, with its VMware assets, to bring elements from its global operations together in a common platform. That standardization process has made its way to SMC’s US-based operations.
“One of the big pushes we have is we’re trying to consolidate and unify IT across all the different SMC subsidiaries,” says Michael Loggins, global vice president of IT for SMC Corporation of America in Noblesville, Ind. The hybrid strategy SMC adopted with Dell Technologies Cloud makes use of VMware Cloud software and Dell EMC VxRail hardware.
SMC has some 68 subsidiaries that operate individually and autonomously from each other and he says the shift in strategy will see them integrate as one organization. “We’re starting a lot of that within IT and we’re starting at the foundation in infrastructure,” Loggins says.
The scope of the task meant SMC could not just assess all its resources and then decide on how to proceed, he says. “We had to have the ability to incrementally grow our environment in a way that allows us to do it quickly and allows us to do it in a way that’s standards-based,” Loggins says. “We didn’t want to Frankenstein a bunch of systems together and try to make it work.”
The rise of the Internet of Things and edge computing raised some new considerations for SMC, he says. “Our components are part of large industrial automation applications. We’re also bringing in IoT sensors, additional smart applications into our factory.” Loggins says decisions had to be made on how much compute to push out to the cloud and how much to bring back to the edge to take advantage of new technology.
SMC has operations across six continents and most time zones, he says, which compounded the complexity of its hybrid strategy. The organization also had to take backup and recovery into consideration as part of the process. SMC weighed traditional server storage models, Loggins says, as well as hyperconverged infrastructure, private cloud environments, public hyperscale environments, and hybrid cloud environments. The company debated technology, costs, and size of the effort when making its determination, he says, while keeping growth in mind. “The standard server storage model is no longer sustainable with that kind of curve.”
SMC initially invested in private clouds, Loggins says, for its global operations, then leveraged a platform from Dell’s VMware, hyperconverged environments, and tools for automation, configuration, and orchestration. “The idea is to build that elastic and hypergrowth environment that we need to allow us to consolidate all these IT platforms.”
That let SMC make quick decisions, he says, on what it migrated and how and where the migrations would be conducted. This also led to an understanding of the need for a hybrid environment, Loggins says, that includes a hyperscale public environment. This allows SMC to make determinations on where resources run, for example through a facility on the east coast, whether that is on private or public cloud.
“The operational tools we’ve put in place to support our private cloud are the same type of tools we would use in our hybrid and public cloud environments,” Loggins says. “It becomes much more of an evolutionary change. We’re not just ripping and replacing into public cloud.”
He says SMC explored different managed services models earlier on as it sought to grow while controlling costs, but there was a tradeoff. “We realized we didn’t have enough control over the environment,” Loggins says. The service provider effectively became a bottleneck that constricted resource response speed. “A lot of times we were much slower than we were before,” he says. “There was greater stability in certain processes but the ability to change was hampered.”
SMC tried other infrastructure and service offerings in the US and Europe, Loggins says, with comparable results in slow response time and constraints on reshaping infrastructure. “The services they provided on top of their infrastructure just didn’t align with our ability to be aggressive and change,” he says. “They couldn’t move fast enough. We had quality issues.”
Some of the issues, Loggins says, could be attributed to service providers not realizing ideas that sounded great from an IT perspective did not mesh with the business. “There’s a tradeoff and if you don’t understand what you’re trading off, you run into a lot of issues.”
Loggins says it was much easier for SMC to spend capital on its infrastructure than enter contracts for high dollar, operational expenses with such managed services providers. That made private cloud an easier option, yet he says SMC did not want to build massive container or serverless environments when all the major hyperscale cloud providers already offer such resources.
As SMC advances its hybrid strategy, Loggins says it also doubled down on its private cloud resources. The company is in the process of building new data facilities as well as refreshing some existing facilities with the new hybrid infrastructure. “We are taking an aggressive approach to figuring out how to change our operations to focus around automation,” he says. “We’re building different operating models as we’re building these data centers out.”
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth has spent his career immersed in business and technology journalism first covering local industries in New Jersey, later as the New York editor for Xconomy delving into the city’s tech startup community, and then as a freelancer for such outlets as … View Full Bio
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