IT as a 24×7 Utility: How OmniCenter Helps Twin Disc Maintain Enterprise System Uptime to Maximize Productivity

ORGANIZATION

  • Twin Disc, Inc. (NASDAQ: TWIN) 

INDUSTRY

  • Heavy-duty vehicle power transmission equipment

LOCATIONS 

  • Racine, WI; Europe, and Asia

APPLICATIONS 

  • Global Network Management Performance Monitoring
  • Flow Management
  • Availability Monitoring
  • Fault Alerting

NETREO PRODUCTS 

  • OmniCenter® Enterprise™
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PUTTING HORSEPOWER TO WORK

In 1918, the founders of Twin Disc invented a new form of power transmission technology – an advanced clutch for farm tractors and construction equipment. Since then, the company has been developing, engineering, manufacturing, and distributing power transmission products for tractors, cranes, commercial trucks, emergency vehicles, boats, pumps, turbines, and more.

“Our company is a $285 million operation with 1,000 employees. Manufacturing plants are located in North America, Europe, and Asia with 18 worldwide locations delivering parts and services to 100 distributors and thousands of customers. At our corporate headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, we maintain a lean IT operation – just eleven IT people to support our entire enterprise and extended ecosystem with an IT budget of around 1.5% of net sales,” explained Cory Mason, Director of Global Information Technology for Twin Disc.

Mason’s IT services group provides 24×7 user support for all of the company’s employees, operating systems, hardware systems, and network connectivity services, along with overall IT systems management and coordination.

“Our facilities in the Americas, Europe, and Asia Pacific depend on our IT team to deliver continuous, reliable enterprise systems performance. Information Technology is like an electric utility to them – they assume it’s always going to be there when they need it, and they depend on that assurance. So, we have to fully leverage every second of our available IT staff hours by having the right technology tools to maximize our effectiveness,” Mason said.

BUILDING OUT THE RIGHT SOLUTIONS

Several years ago, Mason created a strategic IT plan based on a hub-and-spoke model, with two U.S. sites linked via fiber and redundant network pathways serving as a private cloud for all worldwide IT operations and business processes. This included an email repository, fully redundant data warehouse, and network servers for manufacturing, engineering, administration, sales, and marketing.

“A key part of our strategic plan was a robust monitoring solution with the specific management functionality we needed, plus the ability to alert our staff if a problem developed at any of our locations anywhere in the world,” Mason noted.

“We looked around and found a number of options, including CiscoWorks, Cisco Prime Infrastructure, HP OpenView, Microsoft Operations Manager, and an IT operations solution from Hitachi Data Systems. After evaluating each of these, we found that they were very expensive and complex to implement – or were narrowly focused on a single type of network, server, or software. In short, they just didn’t meet our functional needs.”

At a CIO Forum event in 2012, Mason viewed a presentation about OmniCenter® from Netreo.

“As I watched and listened, I became more excited about the possibilities. OmniCenter had the functionality we needed at a price we could afford. It was built from the ground up with the specific deliverable set we wanted. We huddled with a couple of engineers from Netreo to ask some tough questions, and ultimately determined this was a perfect fit. For example, a key requirement is for our people to receive both email and text alerts when there was an outage, or when a critical threshold was crossed – it was all there. Everything I had described in our strategic plan was available out of the box from OmniCenter.”

“We now get real-time warnings about network problems before our business units even realize there’s an issue. OmniCenter increases the speed of our IT group’s reaction time. It’s all about repositioning IT to be continuously proactive in supporting the business.”
Cory Mason, Twin Disc, Inc.

SELF-SERVE IMPLEMENTATION

After selecting OmniCenter® Enterprise™, the Twin Disc team was able to connect about 70% of the company’s IT infrastructure into the OmniCenter system within two weeks. In less than three months, 100% of the company’s critical IT assets were being monitored by OmniCenter.

“Netreo was very accommodating during the implementation, both in cost and availability. At Netreo, it seems there’s always someone available when you need them. They let you do as little or as much of the implementation as you want to do, and we really appreciated that.”

Twin Disc’s system administrators install patches and updates to their applications and servers as they become available, and they have had their share of painful installation experiences in the past. While Twin Disc was implementing OmniCenter, Netreo released a software upgrade. Since implementation was underway, Mason’s people were reluctant to install the upgrade, but with Netreo’s encouragement they went ahead and the update was completed flawlessly in about 15 minutes.

“That was one of the best and fastest updates I’ve ever seen,” he said. “From a corporate perspective, our relationship with Netreo has been extraordinary since the beginning. And today, they’re still one of the best vendors we’ve worked with.”

PROACTIVE PREVENTION OF DOWNTIME

When they originally implemented OmniCenter, Twin Disc installed a large-screen monitor in the master data center with a map depicting all of their offices around the world and current system status.

“The top part of this huge screen shows granular information such as bandwidth, network latency, server CPU utilization, and disk space – and the lower portion has a graphical world map of our offices and the health of the links connecting them. Each location is marked in green, yellow, or red, depending on its state. If any system is experiencing problems, the location of that system is highlighted on the map. Anyone in our data center is able to view our global IT status at a glance.”

Over a weekend in early 2013, OmniCenter reported a failure in the network connection at Twin Disc’s offices in Tampa, Florida. The on-call IT staff member in Wisconsin was automatically notified, and determined that the problem was not within Twin Disc’s infrastructure, but with the network services provider in Tampa. The staff member contacted that vendor, who determined that they made an error when performing weekend maintenance on their own equipment.

“We were able to immediately detect that broken connection, find the cause, and get it resolved before it impacted our operations in any serious way,” Mason related. “When our business staff arrived at the Tampa office on Monday morning, they never even knew there had been an outage.”

Prior to implementing OmniCenter, Twin Disc’s IT people probably wouldn’t have noticed the network failure in Tampa until employees arrived at work on Monday morning. Someone in Tampa would have had to call the IT department in Wisconsin, which would then start the process of fault resolution. Until the issue was resolved, the Tampa site would have been down and productivity would have suffered.

“When you amplify this example by our need to support distributed facilities in North America, Europe, Singapore, India, and Australia, the benefits that we get from OmniCenter become even more apparent,” he added.

One late night in India, the Twin Disc facility had an issue with a generator and AC power quality, and the data center in Wisconsin received a notification from OmniCenter, Mason reported.

“Our IT day shift in the USA was able to remotely shut down the servers in India to prevent any data loss, and contact the local operations manager at home so he could check into the power situation.”

Another case in point is the company’s European operations center.

“When our Belgium offices start their morning, it’s only 1:00 am in Wisconsin. If they discover a problem with an email server or a VPN line, someone here is going to have to wake up and get that resolved. With OmniCenter, we’ll receive an alert when that problem is first detectable, not just when a live person arrives in the office. This allows us to sleep a little better at night,” Mason joked.

“Everything I had described in our strategic plan was available out of the box from OmniCenter.”
Cory Mason, Twin Disc, Inc.

Twin Disc’s infrastructure consists of more than 300 hardware and software components, including:

• Windows servers – Windows 2003, 2008, and 2008R2

• Cisco routers, switches, and wireless access points

• Microsoft Exchange/Lync/SQL

• VMware servers – 200 virtual machines and 18 VMware hosts

• IBM AS400 with Power Systems 7

• Oracle / JD Edwards EnterpriseOne for ERP

• SolidWorks 3-D modeling system

• Dassault Systems SmartTeam Design Express

• QlickTech QlikView Business Intelligence system

• Citrix Farms

• Momentum Pro/ACCPac business systems

ADDITIONAL USE CASES

Custom threshold monitoring is one of the OmniCenter features that Mason values most.

“OmniCenter informs us if CPU utilization exceeds 70% for a specific period of time. It also tells us when storage is getting tight, by monitoring disk capacity. We can then address that issue before a system runs out of disk space,” Mason noted.

OmniCenter’s automated escalation feature is also useful to Twin Disc.

“We really like the way that OmniCenter sends automated email and text messages, so that our first responders receive both. If they don’t react within a certain period, then it re-alerts the initial staff member and notifies other people on a priority call list. If no one responds to that, the system notifies the operations manager, and shortly after that, it notifies everyone again. It’s a fail-safe automated mechanism that I think every enterprise should have.”

In a typical network-monitoring scenario, OmniCenter delivers deep visibility.

“We had a situation where a connection started maxing out on bandwidth. We were able to go in and look at the NetFlow traffic. One large stream was a videoconference, which we allow, but we also found someone using a rebuilt PC with an overstuffed email box. The pipe was becoming saturated as Outlook continuously pulled down copies of their older email messages. Once we knew what was happening, it was an easy fix.”

In another situation, OmniCenter discovered an infraction of a corporate IT policy.

“Bandwidth utilization at one location suddenly surged, so we went in and looked at the NetFlow. We quickly identified one particular device as the culprit. We notified operations people at that site, and it turned out to be a personal wireless device that someone had connected into the Wi-Fi environment – and they’re not supposed to do that.”

FINANCIAL DIVIDENDS

During a financial controllers’ conference at Twin Disc headquarters, Mason invited visiting finance executives to tour the IT management offices.

“When they saw the OmniCenter world map on our 60-inch monitor, they were very impressed,” Mason recounted. “Our finance managers hadn’t realized what we were doing to monitor and protect the critical equipment and data in their shops. This demonstrated to these all-important stakeholders that our IT organization was on top of the situation, leveraging state-of-the-art solutions to help our company operate as efficiently and effectively as technologically possible. For me, as a part of the management team, that was priceless.”

Has Twin Disc’s investment in OmniCenter produced an acceptable ROI?

“There are several ways you could measure the ROI we’ve received from OmniCenter,” Mason answered. “We could calculate operational cost savings by location, and that would vary from place to place. Or we could examine this subjectively and ask, ‘What’s it worth to have IT responding to issues four hours faster than before?’ It would be difficult to attach a hard ROI number to either of those analyses.”

For Mason, the critical ROI question is this: Is his team accomplishing its role in the enterprise and functioning as a good partner to the business units who rely on them to deliver continuous uptime, so that the company can perform as productively as possible?

“When you invest in a sophisticated tool like OmniCenter, you’re defining the philosophy on how you want the IT organization positioned within the enterprise. Do you want a reactive IT organization, or do you want to be proactive? We can’t redesign circuits to perform better than what our systems suppliers deliver to us. But when something goes down unexpectedly, we can be aware of it sooner and take action faster. That’s the difference that OmniCenter makes for us, and in my book, that’s a terrific result.”

OMNICENTER BENEFITS TO THE ENTERPRISE

  • Enables continuous, 24×7, worldwide monitoring and proactive response to emerging problems.
  • Single pane of glass visibility into global IT infrastructure health and performance, with easy to interpret green, yellow and red status indicators.
  • Customizable escalation of issue / problem notifications.
  • Conditional alerting to minimize false alarms.
  • Shorter reaction time between failure notification and resumption of normal operations.
  • Rapid, self-serve implementation, without the need for expensive outside consultants.