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“Hosting the Motor Trade” – How Bull Helped ADP DSI Revolutionise its Software Delivery Model

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Pierre Picard

ADP Dealer Services International (ADP DSI) is a market-leading supplier of advanced software solutions, computer services and business communications technology to the retail automotive industry.

Traditionally, the company sold its own developed software solution, Autoline, directly to end user organisations. The solutions were subsequently delivered and installed on servers at individual dealer sites. As Autoline is a full ERP System for the automotive vertical, it can be used in a multitude of ways. Typically, it acts as a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, logging all information on customers and their transactions, a back-end system for ordering from manufacturers and suppliers, and a database to store customer service history, accounting and vehicle information.

To be effective, Autoline has to be run on reliable, robust and high-quality hardware systems. To fulfil this function, ADP DSI turned to its existing IT supplier, Bull Information Systems.

Initially, ADP DSI had chosen Bull to supply and run its own internal IT systems. It had been looking for a supplier capable of providing reliable, scalable and innovative hardware systems backed up by excellent support structure and services.  Bull fitted the bill.

ADP DSI’s first purchase comprised a Bull Escala/AIX system and an EMC disk sub-system. The solution, and Bull’s role in implementing and supporting it, proved so successful that Bull was the obvious choice for ADP DSI when it came to addressing its customers’ needs. It decided to use Bull to provide the Escala Server and EMC Storage solutions at customer sites across the UK.

The Emergence of Hosting

Approximately ten years ago, ADP DSI began looking at alternative ways of delivering its applications to customers. It decided to consider the potential of hosting in this context, which amounted to a visionary approach for this industry at this time.

ADP DSI clearly saw the benefits in terms of building customer loyalty. Hosting offers many benefits to companies of all sizes, from one-person automotive workshops to global conglomerates. In particular, it can provide cost efficiencies, ease of scalability, growth and the advantages that come from having expert service, and support, on call at all times.

ADP DSI introduced an application as a service approach and started hosting customers’ IT systems in four highly resilient secure data centres, two located in Bristol and two in Hungerford, Berkshire. It effectively offered its existing customers a choice: either continue to purchase a traditional solution or move to a hosted solution.

Implementing the New Methodology

In the early days of the new approach, ADP DSI grew the application as a service business organically. As demand came in, it scaled accordingly.

Bull played a key role from the beginning of the process in helping ADP DSI transition to hosting with the first Bull cluster being deployed in an ADP Data Centre in March 2000. Bull configured the solution and, working alongside ADP DSI’s IT team, subsequently implemented the infrastructure across all its data centres. Bull was also instrumental in helping to size and scale the solution and incorporating resilience into the hardware.

The systems needed to address a number of issues. They needed to be flexible enough to allow ADP DSI to scale up and scale out to meet demand as and when it came along but also sufficiently robust to cope with issues without interrupting the service. ADP DSI did not only have to manage separate batches of users independently, it also had to deal with a number of different user groups and companies, sharing service and the underlying infrastructure.

ADP DSI decided to continue using the Bull-supplied Escala AIX computer hardware and the EMC storage system which had proven highly successful in traditional implementations.  As with ADP DSI’s transition to hosting, Bull also helped it to implement virtualisation across its data centres in more recent years.

Creating a Virtualised Environment

Specifically, Bull assisted ADP DSI in optimising the use of its data centre servers by ‘virtually’ dividing them into lots of smaller systems, each running independently but sharing the resources of the larger servers.

The use of virtualisation enables ADP DSI to host multiple customers on one server but make certain that each retains its own operating system, which in turn ensures that data is kept secure from every other customer using the centre.

Scoping the Benefits

ADP DSI’s move to IT hosting has brought with it an extensive range of benefits for its customers.

Not only do they gain the advantage of having remotely hosted systems that offer high availability and built-in disaster recovery, they also benefit from low capital investment together with known fixed monthly costs, which give them greater control over both their IT expenditure and overall cash flow.

Customers can also concentrate more attention on their core business and less on the need to manage IT systems. No longer needing to worry about backing up or patching applications, if issues do arise, they are often resolved without any end-user interaction.

In addition, the fact that the hosting is provided by ADP DSI helps cement the trust between supplier and customer. After all, who better to run your software system than the company that wrote it!

Over time, growing numbers of ADP DSI’s customers have seen the benefits and started moving over to hosting. The company now has over 50 per cent of its customers, around 30,000 users, housed within its data centres.

An Evolving Relationship

Bull’s role as an ADP DSI partner has evolved significantly since ADP DSI introduced hosting. Trust between the two companies has increased and the IT requirement has grown, not just for services – important though those are – but also for IT hardware implementation. With the expansion of the four data centres, ADP DSI now has a total of 29 Bull Escala systems and 5 EMC Celerra storage devices across the estate. The systems are robust and resilient, ensuring ADP DSI is now able to offer up to 99.5 per cent service availability.

One of the key benefits ADP DSI has achieved from the relationship with Bull is continuity. With Bull fulfilling a systems integrator role, ADP DSI has been able to grow and develop using the same hardware. As a result, it has had little need for training, no ‘throw it out and start again’ costs. It has just been a natural progression.

ADP DSI has benefited from Bull’s openness in giving it access to its customer centre in France where the Bull R&D team works alongside IBM in the development of the AIX operating system. Within this centre is a Storage Laboratory with engineers who are happy to share their expertise in EMC systems. Having access to this Centre of Excellence has helped ADP DSI to remain fully aware of all the latest product developments and upgrades. This highlights the trust between the two organisations and, once again, it is the customer of hosted services that benefits most from the resulting delivery of enhanced customer services.


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