5 Secrets To Revlon's Virtualization Success

Revlon IT leaders says goal of virtualization project was not just saving money but also making Revlon better.

Robert Mullins, Contributor

March 26, 2012

5 Min Read

Retail's Big Show 2012

Retail's Big Show 2012

Retail's Big Show 2012(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Cosmetics maker Revlon's IT budget amounts to only about 2% of the company's revenue, so it's not like it was a huge cost center draining financial resources. But Revlon senior VP and CIO David Giambruno said the goal of its virtualization project was not just saving money, but "making Revlon better."

"How do I spend my money effectively to affect change that's good for the business?" Giambruno asked in an interview following a panel discussion led by Steve Herrod, chief technology officer (CTO) at VMware, Revlon's virtualization vendor.

A review of Revlon's transition to virtualization reveals five secrets to making it work in any organization:

1. "We make lipstick."

Revlon reported revenue of about $1.38 billion in 2011 selling lipstick, hair color, and other beauty products and advertising them with actresses like Halle Berry and Emma Stone. When Giambruno says "we make lipstick," he means that Revlon is not an IT company in the way Google, Facebook, Amazon, or IBM are IT companies. "We make lipstick" means "Keep IT simple."

"Simplicity beats complexity, so a Casio is sometimes better than a Rolex," he said. Revlon IT also lives by one simple rule: Copy everything. Every file, be it a document, a database, or a virtual machine, is copied for disaster recovery (DR) purposes. Saving everything is simple.

[ Read about Microsoft's competing System Center 2012 approach at Microsoft Makes Cloud Management Move On VMWare. ]

2. It's not about the money.

Giambruno said he wasn't pressured by the CFO or CEO to virtualize because IT is a cost center rather than a profit center. Instead, IT enables larger corporate goals to increase globalization of its operations and to foster collaboration. His job involves asking other departments, "How can we help you?"

Virtualization allowed Revlon to consolidate servers, of course, and the savings was spent on acquiring VMware licenses--the company uses vSphere 5.0--and investing in other IT innovations. He knew virtualization would save the company money but didn't concern himself with how much. "I wasn't counting the money; my finance department started counting the money," Giambruno said. Instead, he was noticing that system uptime had improved and end users were impressed with IT performance.

3. "Trust but verify."

Borrowing a phrase President Ronald Reagan used to characterize U.S. arms control negotiations with the Soviets, Giambruno uses the idea of "trust but verify" to ensure that his claims about how virtualization will work are accurate and that his promises to end users are kept. "I have to make sure people have trust and confidence that what I'm saying is [going to] happen, that I'm auditable, and [that] I don't believe my own BS," he said.

A consumer who uses an Apple iPad doesn't necessarily know exactly how the technology works, Giambruno pointed out, but they know how the user experience feels. Likewise, the worker at Revlon only wants to make sure that the virtualized app they use works as well as it did before virtualization.

4. Crawl, walk, run.

During the panel discussion, VMware's Herrod asked the customers how they managed the process of going through the various transitions in a virtualization project. Giambruno said Revlon began by virtualizing file servers, then virtualizing lower-end applications. All along, IT adjusted to changes that came up before moving to the next step.

One of the surprises Giambruno discovered was that the "rate of change ... is way more stunning than I ever thought it would be." "Rate of change" refers to the number of times files or databases are modified with new information and then backed up for DR. Revlon makes from 17 terabytes (TB) to 30 TB of changes in its cloud environment per week.

Another measure of progress is time. As virtualization development progresses, Giambruno has noticed how much time is saved, say, spinning up a virtual server or performing other tasks. Currently, Revlon is working on globalizing applications across all its operations.

5. Disaster recovery is not just a plan put on paper.

Revlon's disaster recovery plan was put to the test in May 2011 when one of its factories in Venezuela burned to the ground. "The data center phoned home to say, ‘I'm getting hot,'" Giambruno said of the automated warning he received. Within two hours, the data center workloads from Venezuela were electronically moved to another Revlon facility in Edison, N.J., and most of that time was spent trying to track down a critical IT manager who was "on a beach" somewhere.

Using technology from F5 Networks, he explained, Revlon made the connection from Venezuela to New Jersey and directed another vendor, Infoblox, which manages Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, to move the server IP addresses in the burning building to the new location.

"We spun up the servers, made sure all the replication of the data was right, and then literally told Infoblox ... ‘All that connectivity, move it,'" Giambruno said. The last step was to e-mail all the employees who had been accessing the Venezuelan data center a link to a Riverbed Mobile Client from Riverbed Technology so they could access a virtual desktop image of their application from Edison and resume their work.

As a result of virtualization, Revlon reduced document printing output from 750,000 pages a year to zero, reduced energy consumption by 72 percent, and reduced the number of switch ports--Giambruno's measure of server consolidation--by 3,600 ports, to 400-500. It also maintains an average virtual server to physical server ratio of 35:1, and in one instance, will be able to collapse 21 enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications to one.

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About the Author(s)

Robert Mullins


Robert Mullins has covered the technology industry in Silicon Valley for more than a decade for various publications. He has written about enterprise computing including stories about servers, storage, data center management, network security, virtualization, and cloud computing.

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