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Saying Goodbye to 'Server Sprawl'

Through virtualization, Nissan has dramatically slashed the number of servers, cut support costs and reduced energy use by one-third at two of its U.S. manufacturing facilities.

Those who toured Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., auto assembly plant as part of IndustryWeek's 2009 Best Plants Conference witnessed an impressive display of continuous-improvement principles being put into action by technology, from robots welding vehicles bodies to automated guidance vehicles (AGVs) delivering parts on the assembly line.

But perhaps even more impressive was what was going on behind the scenes to keep that technology running.

Through an IT infrastructure refresh that Nissan launched in July 2008 at its Smyrna plant and at its Decherd, Tenn., powertrain assembly plant, the automaker has reduced its IT support costs, established a common disaster-recovery process and reduced energy use by one-third at the two facilities.

At the heart of the technology refresh was the implementation of Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 and the Hyper-V virtualization feature, which helped Nissan consolidate its Microsoft SQL servers, jettison some older servers and introduce some new Dell servers. As a result of the IT refresh, Nissan has reduced the combined number of servers for the two plants from 159 to 28, according to Nissan.

According to Phil D'Antonio, department manager of conveyors and controls for the Smyrna and Decherd facilities, the trigger for the IT refresh was "server sprawl," which became a concern within the last two or three years as Nissan implemented more than a dozen new technologies and manufacturing systems -- from the ubiquitous AGVs to the installation of PCs on tugs and forklifts -- at the two plants. While those systems were put in place to make the manufacturing operations more efficient, they had almost the opposite effect on IT: The number of servers ballooned, and the IT staff was spending less and less time on "value initiatives," D'Antonio explains.

"When you have 159 servers that are all different operating systems and all different application levels, that can lead to compatibility issues," D'Antonio says. "So the time spent on what I call your 'run-the-business' activities -- your maintenance-type activities -- went sky high with that number of servers."

Thanks to the IT refresh, fewer man-hours are needed to maintain the new IT infrastructure, freeing up D'Antonio's staff to spend more time on projects that add value. "One of our driving factors in this technology refresh is to manage that slice of the pie where our people are spending time adding value," he said.

For Nissan, which is an Energy Star partner, boosting energy efficiency is another driving factor for the initiative. The consolidation of servers has helped Nissan "dramatically" reduce its IT footprint at the two facilities (see photos above), resulting in a 34% drop in energy use, according to D'Antonio. The Smyrna plant, for example, has been able to reduce its number of computer rooms from three to two.

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