“Innovating for life” is more than a tagline at Medtronic Inc., a global provider of medical technology and services. It’s a strong commitment to deliver the world’s most advanced solutions for treating chronic diseases, whether that means pioneering technologies like deep brain simulation or revolutionizing the pacemaker.
Yet, in a world where innovation equates to developing leading-edge technologies, Medtronic’s Senior IT Director of Global Infrastructure and Operations Steve Arsenault is taking a slightly different view. For Arsenault, innovation is all about leverage.
“IT innovation doesn’t always mean developing new products, technologies, or processes,” says Arsenault, whose infrastructure team supports 45,000 employees in six different business units spread across 120 countries. “It’s about providing operational efficiency, and that means leveraging technology so we can deliver value to our stakeholders.”
The way Arsenault sees it, IT savings translate to economic value, which enables deeper market penetration and, in the case of Medtronic, better clinical outcomes.
One way the infrastructure group delivers on that proposition is by provisioning IT platforms as cloud-like services. When internal customers request IT resources, the aim is to get the platform up and running as quickly and economically as possible.
Improving time to market
With 80 percent of its workload already virtualized, the infrastructure team is constantly on the lookout for ways to decrease its “time to market” even further. In May 2012, Medtronic transitioned to the Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®), moving more than 1,200 virtual machines from an existing virtual environment to the x86 world. Cisco UCS® was installed in three regional Medtronic data centers and is currently supporting virtual workloads across the global organization.
“The team expected a significant increase in performance and capacity, but we did not expect it to the level that we’re actually seeing,” notes Arsenault.
- Medtronic was able to move its existing virtual workload from 92 physical servers onto just seven server nodes, decreasing from 60 rack units to 28.
- The new environment is averaging 200 virtual machines per node, compared to a ratio of 15 to one in the old environment.
“Those are world-class, leading statistics, but what they don’t tell you is the cost savings and that’s a very large number,” says Arsenault. “IT is taking a lead to provide leverage to the business so the business can be more effective. In this case, it allows us to meet the growing demands of our business with a very similar investment level year over year. Our return to the business is significant.”
Beyond the cost efficiency, IT is also benefitting:
- Cisco UCS is extending the lives of the three data centers by reducing the need for space, power, and cooling. Without this ability to consolidate, Medtronic would have been facing a new data center build.
- The transition gives IT the agility it needs to deliver Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Rather than taking days to provision a business platform, Arsenault’s group now delivers within hours.
“This was an IT decision that enables the business to be more stable and cost effective,” he says. “They’re not saying, ‘We can’t believe you’re on Cisco UCS.’ They are saying, ‘Thank you for keeping our servers up and running.’”
Creating an innovation arm
As Medtronic continues to expand its business, it is expecting to see high growth in emerging markets like China and India where healthcare systems are still maturing. The transition to Cisco UCS is playing a key role by giving IT the flexibility to expand quickly as growth occurs as opposed to “over-buying” compute power and waiting for the business to evolve.
“Because of the regulatory nature of our business and our scale, it may be some time before we see a cost competitive advantage for infrastructure in the cloud but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t adopt those techniques internally,” explains Arsenault.
“Of course there’s technology innovation in IT; Cisco UCS is an example, and we consider Cisco part of our infrastructure innovation arm,” he adds. “But we didn’t build Cisco UCS, we purchased it. Our very talented employees on the infrastructure team figure out how to make it work for Medtronic and that’s the innovation in this instance: leveraging technology to provide operational efficiency and value.”