Feb 23 2015
Data Center

Columbia Sportswear Stakes Out Software-Defined Data Center Ground Early

Some companies take the plunge early to reduce costs and boost network reliability.

Columbia Sportswear’s evolution to a software-defined data center (SDCC) began about five years ago when the company needed to build a redundant data center to more effectively manage growth.

The Portland, Ore., outdoor apparel maker began virtualizing its servers so it could move virtual machines from the main data center to one in the Midwest. Today, Columbia Sportswear has virtualized nearly 99 percent of its servers with VMware and aims to have all the pieces for an SDDC within 12 to 18 months.

Developing an SDCC required a partnership between the storage and network teams led by Jason Moreland, global IS storage engineering manager, and John Spiegel, global IS communications manager.


The percentage of capital expenditure savings an organization would realize by creating a greenfield software-defined data center; existing virtualized environments would see 32% savings

SOURCE: Taneja Group, “Technology Brief: For Lowest Cost and Greatest Agility, Choose Software-Defined Data Center Architectures Over Traditional Hardware-Dependent Designs,” August 2014

On the storage front, Columbia Sportswear uses EMC FAST technologies on EMC VMAX and VNX arrays. Moving forward, the IT team plans to deploy a virtual controller such as EMC’s ViPR. “This will bring a software-defined approach for storage,” says Moreland. “ViPR can abstract our storage arrays and create a single pool of virtual storage.”

He notes that the company won’t be dependent on a single storage technology or vendor, which will be useful when it needs to buy additional storage.

As for the network, Columbia Sportswear conducted a proof-of-concept last year with VMware NSX. “In the past, any time we wanted to change the network settings, we had to go into the switch and make manual changes,” Spiegel says. “It was a process that could take days. Now we can do it in less than 30 minutes, all in software.”

The company layered in Palo Alto’s virtual firewall for added security. “The ability to insert security inside the data center without compromises is a key reason why we are making the move to the SDDC concept,” explains Spiegel. He adds that a software-based approach enables the company to automate its security policies, standardize configurations and remove firewall rules for retired servers.

Richard Villars, vice president of data center and cloud at IDC, says while Columbia Sportswear jumped out in front compared with many other organizations, it may take a few more years before most companies achieve an SDDC.

“Organizations have had great success with server and storage virtualization, and network virtualization holds great promise,” Villars says. “As they approach their refresh cycles, many organizations will look for ways to make them interdependent.”

HP Puts SDDC to Work

Ralph Loura, CIO of the enterprise group at HP, says SDDC will bring speed and agility to the way the company deploys IT resources.

“Refreshing aging hardware with converged, scalable infrastructure gives us the ability to modernize, Loura says, noting that a smaller footprint and reduced energy costs drive savings. “Combining this with the SDDC will enable us to use ‘extreme’ automation to harness our people and infrastructure resources in the most efficient way possible.”

Over the past three years, HP developed a private cloud of 25,000 nodes to deliver self-service IT resources. The virtual environment runs on HP ProLiant Blades, HP 3PAR StoreServ storage, F5 load balancers and VMware virtualization.

The company looks to take a software-defined approach to infrastructure management through HP OneView, and is on a path to network virtualization by deploying HP’s Distributed Cloud Networking Solution.

“The key for us is to move workloads to the most viable platform for the intended purpose,” says Loura. “Abstracting the applications from the infrastructure is at the heart of this, and software-defined processes make this possible.”

Columbia Sportswear

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