Welcome to NetApp 360! Taylor Morrison was honored as a finalist at this year’s Innovation Awards in the category of Efficiency Innovation. Why don’t we start by telling our readers a bit about you and your company?
My name is John Lucas and I’m the director of IT for Taylor Morrison, a private homebuilder company in North America. With more than 130 communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, and Texas, we offer first-time midmarket and mid-to-upscale housing in both master-planned communities and urban infill neighborhoods. I am proud to say our commitment to customers goes beyond simply building great homes; it extends to building a house our homeowners can be proud of, a home tailored to the specific needs of the modern family.
Can you tell us a bit about why you decided to overhaul Taylor Morrison’s IT infrastructure and why technology is so important to the company?
The housing industry continues to be a dynamic environment with both challenges and opportunities for today’s homebuilders. Our decision to rejuvenate our IT infrastructure resulted from the merging of Taylor Woodrow and Morrison Homes in July 2007. Given the volatile nature of the homebuilding market, we felt particularly pressured to quickly reduce costs following the merger.
In thinking through innovative ways to improve business operations, we set out to develop a consolidated IT infrastructure that would deliver a new level of efficiency and manageability to the newly formed company. In addition to consolidating our storage infrastructure and extending our virtualization capabilities, we wanted to better protect the merged assets and business applications—including Microsoft® and custom homebuilding solutions—with enhanced disaster recovery practices.
Can you expand a bit on the IT choices that you made and how NetApp’s systems came into play?
The tape-based backup infrastructure we had in place was time consuming to manage and failed to provide the recovery-point and recovery-time objectives needed to ensure business continuity. I chose to work closely with NetApp corporate reseller Insight Direct USA, Inc. for its extensive technical expertise and relationships with leading storage providers. After comparing numerous storage solutions, we chose to virtualize and gain other efficiencies through NetApp® storage.
We then deployed a NetApp FAS3140 storage system in our production data center in Scottsdale, Arizona, backing up to a NetApp V3140HA open storage controller in our disaster recovery site in Irvine, California, using NetApp SnapMirror® technology. NetApp Professional Services provided the design, implementation, installation, and data migration services for a smooth transition to the new infrastructure. The new solution utilizes iSCSI protocol support, which is important to me because it provides cost and manageability benefits to the virtual server environment. The storage environment now supports 350 usable terabytes and 482 raw terabytes of data. I rely on NetApp storage to run our mission-critical applications including Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server®, Microsoft SharePoint Server®, and NEWSTAR Enterprise homebuilding software.
With the infrastructure overhaul we also decided to use NetApp solutions for the Taylor Morrison corporate Web site, which stores important customer, employee, and project information and helps provide an uninterrupted communication and collaboration environment for our employees and partners throughout day-to-day operations and revenue-generating building projects. We use a full suite of NetApp tools, including the Data ONTAP® operating system, Provisioning Manager, Operations Manager, Protection Manager, and others, offering the team advanced monitoring, management, analytics, provisioning, and reporting along with the ability to leverage existing storage assets. We also depend on the NetApp NOW® site and the My AutoSupport™ tool to support our management activities. Our virtualization activities are central to the company’s efforts to be as efficient as possible while maintaining quality.
What tangible business benefits has your company received?
While we do not compete with other homebuilders on IT, from a cost perspective our IT agility is directly related to how efficiently we produce and to our advantage with time to market.
Our server environment is now 99%+ virtualized, running 32 Microsoft Hyper-V™ blades on NetApp storage. With NetApp supporting the Microsoft hypervisor-based server virtualization technology, we can take advantage of the cost savings of virtualization through Windows Server® 2012 and reallocate those funds to further enhance our IT infrastructure. As a principal virtualization project for us, we presented a session-based desktop to all 750 users across the company. With growing construction project files, e-mails, databases, and application data, we were running out of storage space. By consolidating and virtualizing on NetApp storage through a remote desktop service, we can now execute applications remotely, delivering 100% of company data to all employees from one server location rather than three, and reducing our infrastructure and IT administration cost per user by 10%.
How has this impacted business?
We are achieving additional efficiencies through NetApp deduplication, seeing as much as 60% storage reduction and saving approximately $65,000 annually in storage costs. Previously we relied on host-based replication, only replicating tier 1 applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SQL Server. Recovery times typically exceeded 24 hours. NetApp SnapMirror has dramatically improved disaster recovery and replication practices, reducing daily backup management from 5 hours to 30 minutes. Using SnapMirror and NetApp SnapManager® technology, we efficiently replicate 99% of our production storage to the disaster recovery site, continually protecting data throughout activities such as the preconstruction, building, and warranty periods of construction projects.
Data restoration using NetApp Snapshot™ technology is easier and more reliable than before. IT now creates Snapshot copies hourly for backup purposes and retrieves 100% of the lost data in 10 minutes. NetApp SnapManager for Exchange, for Hyper-V, for SharePoint, and Microsoft SQL Server simplify management and increase productivity for backup, restore, and disaster recovery operations and help to improve backup and recovery times.
NetApp Single Mailbox Recovery reduced mailbox recovery times from up to 48 hours to less than 1 hour, enhancing productivity for our staff. We are taking advantage of the unified NetApp storage platform, managing the entire storage platform with the equivalent of one full-time IT staff person. With the time saved by managing NetApp storage instead of our previous solution, my IT group has been able to reassign those resources to convert to a 100%-virtual infrastructure, deliver end-to-end remote desktop services, and provide a whole new network infrastructure for the company.
In total, we eliminated 11 of 14 server rooms through NetApp and Hyper-V consolidation and virtualization, saving thousands in annual costs and reducing backups from five hours to minutes.
What advice would you offer other IT directors looking to leverage their infrastructures for a competitive advantage?
My advice to IT directors is to partner with a strong storage provider and use as much of their technology as possible. Just like surrounding yourself with the best people, surrounding yourself with the best technology ultimately guarantees your competitive advantage.
John Lucas is the director of IT for Taylor Morrison and has been in this position since 2008. Prior to working at Taylor Morrison, he was the senior technical trainer at Creative Business Concepts and IT manager of Technical Support Techserv Systems. You can connect with Taylor Morrison via Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/taylormorrison.