A jolly storage strategy

Simplifying IT storage management at fast food giant Jollibee Foods Corp

Simplifying IT storage management at fast food giant Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC) is something that can be considered a "jolly strategy," with all the millions of cash saved yearly on maintenance alone.

Today, JFC has a total of 673 branches. The company also owns other restaurants such as Chowking, Greenwich, Red Ribbon, Delifrance, Yonghe King, Hong Zhuang Yuan, and Manong Pepe. All food stores total to more than 1,700. And by end of 2010, JFC is targeting to reach around 2000 stores. All stores have presence in the US, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Dubai, Brunei, Guam, and Qatar.

Besides food store brands, JFC also owns one business process outsourcing (BPO) company called Jollibee Worldwide Service ( JWS), which delivers shared services for human resources, training, staffing, as well as finance and accounting, to name a few.

So many would expect JFC's IT approach to be very hi-tech, since it is a 50-billion-peso multinational food company capable of purchasing leadingedge technologies. But in reality, the company has avoided massive purchasing sprees, and held on to its legacy systems.

So how has the company managed to address its growing storage requirements? In an interview with Computerworld Philippines, Glenn Ganuelas, head of corporate services, information management at JFC, reveals the strategy involved storage and server virtualizations and thin provisioning.

Ganuelas relates that the applications such as email, operational databases, enterprise resource planning (ERP), supplier relationship management, and the Oracle E-Business Suite R12 have grown in size but the storage capacities assigned to them are no longer sufficient.

Ac cording to Ganueles, a virtual storage array has replaced the traditional archiving method.

"Before, there were individual storage systems. We had internal storage, then we had an array--but they were not really shared by multiple applications. And in certain cases, we put the fastest storage arrays together with the mission-critical applications, such as order management. Also, at the lower end, we have storage arrays which we assembled ourselves. It's a lot cheaper. What's really expensive is the software agents that manage the storage," Ganuelas shares.

"Our use of technology related to thin provisioning works like even if you have zero storage, just add a disk or several disks, and immediately, all storage is already recognized," explains Ganuelas.

Ganuelas reveals that other storage technologies such as switching and solid state drives are being considered--but at the moment, virtualization is the primary solution for the company's storage requirements.

"Eventually, we would like to utilize the cloud and put storage all over the place; but we'd rather do it internally than outsource," says Ganuelas.

Ideal storage

"What we're really looking for is technology that can help us save on cash and make full use of what we have and extend that life as much as possible," Ganuelas says, referring to JFC's ideal storage management.

The IT executive shares that JFC's historical data and the data marts which allows the company to get a view on how the business is performing are accessed on a "daily basis" for better decision-making.

"We have a tendency to support ourselves internally, build up the competence of the skills. It's better to know it internally. In some other companies, like those that I worked with preferred open source technology. Here, we preferred to do it on our own," he says, noting a lot of virtualization is going on in the company -- that from a high of 180 servers in late 2007, they went down to only 56 this year, since it embarked on a virtualization initiative in 2009.

Ganuelas says despite using only "ancient technology," the company is surviving even without any maintenance agreement with certain companies. He reveals JFC uses a lot of storage solutions from China, at least on the hardware side, and complement them with less expensive storage management software.

"We're not really hi-tech here. We just buy spares out of the country. We know what a controller is, as well as battery backup--so we don't have to buy the entire battery pack which could cost us something like Php250,000 [US5,370]. You can buy the battery online for something like US$28, a brand new one directly from the supplier," quips Ganuelas.

For business continuity, Ganuelas shares that JFC is only beginning to set up a disaster recovery infrastructure which will mirror whatever storage it has, with zero downtime as the main goal. Currently, the firm only does back up and restore.

"Our target is 99.6% availability. Today, we're at 97% or 98% but not that frequent because we have spares. The concern really is on the server environment," Ganuelas notes.

On the security front, access control and allocation are the main methods for securing storage hardware. "We're not using encryption yet but we plan to especially when it comes to file sharing and file storage services across the organization."

Branded vs Non-Branded IT

Ganuelas claims JFC achieved savings of more than US$100,000 or Php4.5 million last year on its storage management strategy, referring to maintenance alone. For instance, the company only spent US$1,600 for a four-terabytes storage with controllers.

"This is the advantage of still having the old storage systems, and then buying spares outside and just maintaining it. As long as it is maintained and it still supports the business requirement, speed of access, availability, timeliness and cost, if something breaks down, just swap it out," explains Ganuelas. "And if controllers break down, we'll just buy extra controllers, extra batteries, disks, switches for the storage switch, and extra ports, for only Php1.5 million a year in maintenance."

Yet Ganuelas says the company is still studying the feasibility of acquiring branded storage, which is exponentially more expensive than those they can get from China.

Demand for Open IT

In seeking to improve its storage management better, JFC hopes to find a technology vendor that will cater to its demands and needs, a supplier that will understand the company's requirements and not over-sell products they don't need.

"We are looking for a vendor that really understands what we want and need. We don't need to buy an entire storage array again and spend excess amount and get tied down to this particular vendor," explains Ganuelas, who believes a storage infrastructure must be an open system and should be easy to use.

"If you look at our revenue, it's not that we don't have the capacity to pay, but we would just like to pay for what we believe is correct and needed by the business," he says.

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