Jul 31 2014

Smart Growth, Smart IT at Multi-Color Corp.

The label company’s newly consolidated server infrastructure takes on a string of global acquisitions — and delivers.

In February 2014, Multi-Color Corp. did it again: The premium label manufacturer acquired a U.S.-based company, adding to its global footprint and strengthening its leadership in the home and personal care, food and beverage, and wine and spirits markets.

Since 2011, Multi-Color has made eight major acquisitions, including its $365 million buyout of industry giant York Label Group. In the process, it has grown from 1,100 employees to 3,250 worldwide. Headquartered

in Batavia, Ohio, the company currently operates in 33 locations, including manufacturing plants around the world. Multi-Color considers acquisitions a key part of its growth strategy, relying on its IT infrastructure to speed integration and give it a competitive edge. Its recent installation of next-generation blade servers and storage, an Active Directory overhaul and carefully planned path to the cloud have allowed the company to make significant strides in a short time. If past is prologue, Multi-Color isn’t done yet.

“A flexible, easily expandable back-end architecture is essential to our success. It’s the foundation on which everything else is built. Without it, we would not be able to sustain the pace of acquisition integration activity, unless we added a considerable amount of risk,” says Vice President and CIO Greg Myers.

Acquisitions test Multi-Color’s IT staff, which must integrate the acquired company’s resources into its own data center operations and standardized hardware and software configurations. But as in many growing companies, Multi-Color’s IT operations have not experienced the same rate of expansion as the overall business. Today, 33 technologists worldwide support Multi-Color’s enterprise. To ensure that its back-end architecture and applications keep up with business needs, the company partners with CDW to consult on new projects, source technology, provide training and supplement in-house IT skills.

“CDW gives us the flexibility and speed to acquire a company and fold it right into the network,” says Larry Morgan, Multi-Color’s manager of technology services.

The two companies have enjoyed a long relationship, with CDW providing technology, consulting and training services to help Multi-Color minimize risk, says Brian Hamad, advanced technology account executive at CDW. But in the wake of the 2011 York Label Group purchase, the partnership grew stronger.

At a Glance

Organization: Multi-Color Corp.
Location: Batavia, Ohio
Employees: 3,250
IT Staff: 33 worldwide, including three network administrators in North America
Description: Multi-Color Corp. is a global leader in the home and personal care, food and beverage, and wine and spirit label markets. The industry giant has expanded over the years, largely through an aggressive acquisition strategy, including the $356 million purchase of York Label Group.

Goodbye, Legacy Servers

When the York Label Group deal closed, Multi-Color’s IT leaders were concerned that they suddenly had 50 physical servers to maintain, many of which were aging and in colocation facilities or manufacturing plants across the U.S. “Every physical site had a bit of network infrastructure,” says Morgan.

The size of the York acquisition, along with the pace of corporate deals, meant Multi-Color needed a blueprint for seamless but cost-effective server architecture integration. Retiring servers would save on power, cooling and rented rack space, but where would the applications on those servers go? And how would Multi-Color’s in-house staff manage them? The IT team asked CDW to assess the situation.

“Instead of a piecemeal approach, we wanted to help them consolidate their servers all at once,” says Jeff Dobson, senior corporate account manager at CDW.

“That way, when another acquisition came along, it wouldn’t be painful, and they would be ready with a set of best practices.”

CDW held an architecture design session to present the Multi-Color team with options for consolidation. They also established secure communication links between Multi-Color and York offices.

“Initially Multi-Color wanted a virtual private network, or VPN, so they could talk to York before their MPLS connections were installed,” says Jamie Lipp, CDW senior network engineer. “We focused on getting the VPN connection up quickly and working extensively to all sites.”

CDW also offered Multi-Color a chance to test-drive new technology, including the front-runner for its consolidated infrastructure, Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) blade servers.

At first, Morgan was apprehensive. “I didn’t know that Cisco made that technology,” he says. Yet, over time, it made a difference. “I got a comfort level with Cisco UCS by going to demos and seeing UCS in action,” Morgan acknowledges.


The jump in Multi-Color Cop. personnel due to acquisitions, since 2011

SOURCE: Multi-Color Corp.

Ultimately, Multi-Color opted for a FlexPod converged infrastructure solution, comprising a powerful combination of UCS blades and NetApp storage area network (SAN) appliances. CDW also recommended Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization platform to simplify virtual machine management and enterprise licensing.

“The biggest benefits for us have been the smaller physical footprint, reduction in power consumption and cooling demands and the number of servers we were able to consolidate onto the blades,” Morgan says.

Multi-Color migrated its vast pool of legacy servers onto six Cisco UCS blade servers, hosting more than 100 virtual servers. Morgan has been impressed by the ease and speed with which the team can now build a new host server from a blade simply by creating templates in the UCS management console.

“Blades offer so much more computing power in a smaller footprint. You use far less hardware to do the same amount of work,” Dobson says. “Also, you don’t need data centers in each location where you have a physical entity. You can run all your computing from one or two sites.”

The company’s SAN has grown exponentially, increasing from 2 terabytes across its legacy SAN to 30TB with the NetApp solution. The SAN itself has increased from one shelf to three to meet demand.

Meanwhile, Multi-Color has reduced its colocation space from two sites to one and eliminated many physical servers at manufacturing plants and remote offices. Its Microsoft SharePoint and enterprise resource planning (ERP) servers now are virtualized on blade host servers.

“I’ve come to realize what a good platform Cisco UCS and NetApp provide. The migration process was very smooth,” Morgan says.

Myers admits that he’s come around to the consolidated infrastructure design. “I was skeptical that server consolidation in a virtual environment would be capable of handling our transaction load and provide for the 24/7 availability we need,” he says. “Not only has it easily handled the transaction load, it has improved availability and recoverability.”

In fact, Myers says, the blade servers have given Multi-Color “the flexibility needed for adding capacity on the fly to better support our aggressive growth requirements.”

Organizing the Domain

Prior to the York acquisition, Multi-Color had moved to Microsoft’s Office 365 Software as a Service platform. Now the company wants to do more in the cloud, including migrating its SharePoint system. To do so effectively, however, CDW encouraged the company to clean up an important part of a successful cloud migration: its Active Directory domain.

As Multi-Color expands, it has needed to move certain resources, including email, files and documents, into the cloud, according to Multi-Color Network Administrator David Stautberg. The cloud provides faster access without requiring much internal support, he says.

The company also wanted a more streamlined way of integrating users from acquired businesses into the corporate domain. The faster users can be added to Multi- Color’s domain, the greater the chance of a successful transition.

“The day an acquisition is announced, the executives and managers should be able to send and receive email from their new domain,” says another of the company’s network administrators, John Halbert.

Starting with the York acquisition, the Multi-Color team collaborated with CDW to create domain migration guidelines, including setting up a trust between the two domains so that they could see each other and share rights.

Also, they agreed that plants with the largest numbers of employees should have a domain controller onsite to speed up the Active Directory authentication process.

Perhaps the most important aspect of CDW’s cooperation on the Multi-Color Active Directory systems has been “to just get the system healthy,” Halbert says.

Both York and Multi-Color had a mix of Active Directory 2003 and 2008. To ensure Active Directory functioned properly and didn’t expose the company to vulnerabilities, CDW recommended moving all systems onto Active Directory 2008 and reviewed existing user privileges. Multi-Color now enjoys an IT foundation to support its acquisition-friendly global architecture.

“They are ready for their next projects, and that couldn’t have happened without these critical pieces in place,” CDW’s Hamad says of the server, storage and Active Directory efforts.

“The ability to add server capacity on the fly and integrate new businesses into the infrastructure, including Active Directory, with the security necessary to manage risk, are critical first steps,” Myers says. “Now we can leverage SharePoint as our communication platform and introduce other business services, including ERP. This is essential to our acquisition-integration strategy for bringing businesses into the Multi-Color family as quickly as possible.”

Multi-Color Corp

Jonathan Robert Willis

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