Thread manufacturer spins its future in the cloud
Coats, the world’s leading industrial thread manufacturer, has made the Microsoft cloud the linchpin of its strategy to transform its business for a data-driven age. Coats is moving all its datacenter assets into Microsoft Azure, including its production SAP HANA systems, to gain elasticity, vastly improve performance, and lower costs. Its 7,000 employees with access to Microsoft Office 365 use it to share and make sense of information across different locations and time zones. The technology team supports anywhere, any device productivity by securing applications and data with the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security suite. By adopting Azure and Office 365, Coats can now explore new Microsoft cloud services such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to transform its products, optimize operations, empower employees, and interact with customers.
Being able to crunch massive amounts of data across dozens of variables requires monstrous processing power, and Azure gives us high-performance virtual machines customized for HANA.
Harold Groothedde: Technology Solutions Director
Pool ideas, help one another
The company’s first step into the Microsoft cloud was its deployment of Microsoft Office 365 for all 7,000 wired employees. Coats gave these employees cloud-based email (Microsoft Exchange Online) and Internet-based telephony, instant messaging, and video conferencing through Skype for Business Online.
It migrated its 400-plus Lotus Notes applications into Microsoft SharePoint Online, which also became the foundation of the company’s intranet. Employees save files in the cloud, in Microsoft OneDrive for Business, rather than on personal hard drives, and can get to them from any location and device.
“With Office 365, employees can communicate with one another instantly, in any way that suits the need,” Groothedde says. “We’ve been able to connect a workforce fragmented across many sites and time zones in a seamless way. It’s fundamentally changed the way our office workers do business.”
Employees can see from the presence icon whether a colleague is available for contact, send that person an instant message, escalate the conversation to a voice call or video call, and share spreadsheets or manufacturing processes by sharing screens. Having a common, rich communications fabric encourages employees to reach out, ask questions, share ideas, and help one another. Employees in one factory can help colleagues in another factory to set up equipment correctly using “show and tell” video calls. By eliminating waits and miscommunications throughout the day, the whole business speeds up.
Plus, “All these capabilities are standard stuff for millennials, who expect capabilities such as chat and video conferencing at work,” Groothedde adds. “Office 365 has opened up more flexible work options such as home working, which is a hiring and retention advantage.”
Create a skinny infrastructure
The next step was to move nearly its entire datacenter footprint out of third-party datacenters into Microsoft Azure. The company is after what Cammish calls “skinny infrastructure”—with as few moving parts on-site as possible.
“We don’t want to be in the datacenter business; we’re in the thread business,” Cammish says. “We plan to move 90 percent of our global datacenter infrastructure into Azure, and we’re at about 75 percent now. The only things we’ll leave on-site are a few domain controllers and file/print servers.”
Coats gets tremendous economies of scale in Azure, which means significantly lower capital and operating costs and unprecedented levels of agility. Software developers, marketing teams, and customer support teams can spin up compute and storage resources as needed. “With Azure, we get storage and processing capacity on demand, something we didn’t have access to previously, and which now gives us much more operational flexibility and responsiveness,” Cammish says.
The company is moving into the services business, advising customers on their manufacturing processes and helping them predict how much thread they’ll need to manufacture particular garments. Crunching massive amounts of data becomes very complex very fast, and the ability to scale Azure resources lets Coats meet more customer needs. “Azure lets us pour on performance for short periods of time, while we’re giving demos or setting up temporary training and test environments, and then release those resources when we’re done,” Groothedde says. “It’s a very efficient way to operate.”
Great performance, on-demand capacity, and security are all important in supporting the company’s global e-commerce engine, which runs in Azure. Coats can tune e-commerce performance selectively in different Azure datacenters around the world, which has been critical in global expansion, especially in China. “We get consistent levels of infrastructure security with Azure, because we can leverage a wealth of security technologies that Microsoft is constantly improving,” says Groothedde. “We also have fewer endpoints to manage. We use Azure Security Center to monitor our environment, and with it we can be much more responsive when threats are identified.”
SAP HANA on Azure: Speeding up the whole business
For years, Coats used the Oracle database with its SAP applications. However, to improve SAP performance, it decided to switch to the SAP HANA database. Coats consulted with Microsoft about running SAP HANA on Azure, because HANA requires a very specialized server. The company was pleased to find out that Microsoft was just putting the finishing touches on a solution called, appropriately enough, SAP HANA on Azure.
SAP HANA on Azure relies on robust (G-Series) Azure Virtual Machines, Azure Storage, Azure Network and, in Coats’s case, Azure ExpressRoute for even higher-performance connectivity between Coats and global Azure datacenters.
Working with two prime consulting partners—Axians, which helped configure SAP HANA, and Brillio, which configured Coats’s SAP HANA on Azure estate—Coats moved its complex Oracle environment to HANA on Azure. “Moving SAP anywhere is difficult,” says Groothedde. “It’s complex software, and we have more than 180 servers in our environment. But the Microsoft SAP Center of Excellence provided exceptional support, both strategically and tactically, as we worked through various hurdles.”
Microsoft took care of problem escalation with SAP, and Coats had peace of mind in knowing that all of Microsoft’s architectural decisions were vetted by SAP.
With its move of SAP HANA to Azure, Coats racked up another distinction: it was the first organization in the world to run its production SAP HANA software in Azure. That includes four separate instances of the SAP ECC for North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, and a consolidated instance of the enterprise resource planning suite.
The performance boosts from running SAP on HANA in Azure have been remarkable. Transactions times have been reduced considerably in many cases. Reports that previously took 6 hours to produce now take 6 minutes. “By moving SAP HANA to Azure, we have been able to speed up planning cycles and accelerate delivery of finished goods to our customers,” Cammish says. “We are now in a position to do same-day factory production planning versus having to run scheduling jobs overnight. We have the ability to insert rush orders into the production schedule the same day versus waiting 24 to 48 hours. Our whole production engine can now speed up and improve customer service and delivery performance.”
The potential for using data in smarter ways to operate more efficiently, save money, and satisfy customers is immense. Azure gives us integrated tools that let us fully integrate and exploit our data.
Harold Groothedde: Technology Solutions Director