With roots stretching back more than a century, SGB-SMIT today is a leading independent European producer of transformers used for power generation, industrial manufacturing, transportation and infrastructure. Since the merger of SGB and SMIT in 2008, the company has added new technologies to its portfolio and expanded into new global locations, including North America, Africa and Asia. Establishing new manufacturing plants enables the company to better serve the distinct requirements of customers around the world.
But for the company’s IT group, worldwide expansion generates new challenges. Siloed technology environments complicate IT management, restrict business agility and prevent global teams from easily accessing up-to-date engineering design tools.
SGB-SMIT is addressing these challenges by building a global multi-cloud strategy with VMware solutions. The company has integrated disparate IT environments, reduced management complexity and streamlined business expansion. At the same time, the VMware Horizon virtual desktop solution has enabled seamless collaboration among global teams while protecting proprietary information.
Geographic expansion and corporate acquisitions were making it increasingly difficult for the IT team at SGB-SMIT to manage its technology environments efficiently. “We had a very localized IT approach. Everyone had their own IT infrastructure and systems,” says Salvatore Cassara, CIO at SGB-SMIT. “But the company has dramatic growth plans. We had already doubled our corporate footprint in less than four years. We needed to start working together, align our processes and grow as a single company. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to cope with all this IT complexity.”
As the company expands, the IT group also needs to distribute the company’s proprietary engineering design platform efficiently and securely; engineers worldwide use it to customize most of the transformers that SGB-SMIT produces. “It’s all engineering to order. We collaborate with each customer to define all aspects of the transformer,” says Cassara. “We need to distribute our engineering platform to all of our global units. But because our knowhow is embedded in the platform, we need to ensure its security. We don’t want this platform to get into the hands of a competitor.”
To bring together disparate data centers, SGB-SMIT turned to VMware. “We have always used VMware for server virtualization. But our partnership deepened when we started our cloud migration,” says Cassara.
With help from IT service provider and VMware Principal Partner Bechtle, the SGB-SMIT IT group implemented VMware Cloud Foundation in its German data centers to create a hybrid cloud. Initially the company ran its 3D CAD software on a public cloud while connecting to on-premises servers equipped with specialized graphics cards. Subsequently, the IT group moved the app into its private cloud to retain greater control.
VMware Cloud Foundation enabled the company to connect its three primary data centers across Germany without excessive costs. “We thought it would have been astronomically expensive, but we were able to connect the data centers with a double 10G line reasonably inexpensively,” says Cassara. “Overall, the cloud technology has exceeded our expectations.”
SGB-SMIT uses VMware Cloud Foundation in conjunction with the SaaS-based VMware Cloud on AWS and Google Cloud VMware Engine, both offered as VMware Cross-Cloud services. By combining VMware Cloud Foundation with these SaaS offerings, SGB-SMIT has the flexibility to shift software into a public cloud again in the future. “With VMware, we have the choice of hyperscalers,” says Josef Schmid, head of IT. “We can create a seamless virtual data center.”
While planning the company’s multi-cloud strategy with VMware, the SGB-SMIT team learned about the VMware Horizon virtual desktop solution. “Instead of deploying servers close to clients, VMware Horizon enables us to provide simple access to apps and resources remotely,” says Cassara. “Users can open files, design transformers or oversee manufacturing processes with the same performance whether they are at home or in the office.”
The IT group began rolling out VMware Horizon in 2018, long before the pandemic drove the need for a remote-work solution. “When the pandemic hit, we were able to roll out hundreds of home offices in just days,” says Schmid.
Any potential resistance to using a virtual desktop platform melted away during the pandemic. “Our engineers are used to a very traditional way of working, so we thought there might be issues with user acceptance,” says Cassara. “But the pandemic forced people to change how they work. Once engineers recognized that they could have a consistent experience no matter where they were working, they adapted quickly.”
With VMware Cloud Foundation and VMware Horizon in place, the SGB-SMIT IT group was able to keep the company’s expansion progressing even as the pandemic disrupted typical processes. “We were just about to start a greenfield implementation of a factory in China when the pandemic began,” says Cassara. “With VMware Horizon, we were able to roll out all the systems remotely. We did not have to install anything in person in China.”
SGB-SMIT engineers working in China can now use VMware Horizon to access software running in the company’s central data center in Frankfurt, Germany. “Every user in China can open their laptop, open VMware Horizon and start working,” says Cassara. “The ERP system and design tools are all running securely in Frankfurt.”
The SGB-SMIT team now has a more efficient way to provide all engineers with essential design tools while also protecting the company’s intellectual property. “With VMware Horizon, the problems with distributing and securing our engineering design platform were solved,” says Cassara. “We no longer distribute the engineering platform anywhere. We install the platform centrally in Frankfurt—only the screen is distributed. We can make sure that competitors won’t get a hold of our proprietary software.”
VMware Horizon also helps ensure that all teams are using the most recent version of software. “In the past, we were distributing design tools by CD, and we never knew for sure whether the local IT group updated the platform,” says Cassara. “Now, whenever we fix bugs and create a new version, we can distribute that version to all teams through VMware Horizon. We can be sure that everyone is accessing the same tools. That is extremely useful to us.”
As SGB-SMIT opens additional data centers, the IT group continues to employ VMware Horizon instead of standing up new servers. “We replicated this approach with VMware Horizon when we opened a factory in the Czech Republic and when we acquired a factory in India. It’s the same for Malaysia and most of the United States. We also migrated everything out of a data center in Romania—they don’t have a data center there anymore.”
By eliminating the need for large infrastructure deployments, the SGB-SMIT IT group can get new locations up and running fast while avoiding capital costs. As a result, the business can more rapidly—and cost-effectively—expand into new global markets.
Bringing together data centers in a cloud environment built on VMware helps improve the reliability of systems for this connected enterprise. “We clearly have a higher level of stability,” says Schmid. “Our systems are running in a totally different kind of environment, and we can set them up to maximize availability.”
Eliminating siloed environments and outsourcing management to Bechtle have also helped refocus internal personnel. “We have a compact team—and we couldn’t grow that team indefinitely,” says Schmid. “Combining data centers has helped us dramatically reduce complexity. And with Bechtle doing the normal daily management, we can focus on more important projects.”
Using VMware to connect the company’s data centers and provide a cloud foundation gives SGB-SMIT greater flexibility for change. “We have new IT options. For example, we can use Google Drive to store our documents instead of deploying data storage on premises. We can also redesign our app to run on a cloud instead of a server,” says Cassara. “With VMware, we have new opportunities for capitalizing on the cloud.”
Those options will be critical in enabling the company to accommodate change, whatever the future brings. “We are growing rapidly, but nothing is guaranteed,” says Cassara. “We might need to shut down a factory in the future and quickly transfer data to another location—now we can do that. By building our multi-cloud strategy on VMware, we can expand the company quickly or pull back as needed. We can respond to a changing industry—adapting our IT infrastructure to the shifting footprint of the company. ▪