Impeccable housekeeping and extraordinary customer service are the traditional marks of a four-star hotel. For many, internal IT operations receive that same level of attention.

So when hotels get the urge to merge, establishing and executing technology integration and consolidation plans to maintain the mounting data volumes and connectivity become critical.

Facing just such a situation was Interstate Hotels & Resorts Inc., which was established when three companies merged over a four-year period ending in 2003. At the heart of the consolidation was the need to integrate three data centers in Dallas, Pittsburgh and Washington.

Rather than merely link the data centers, the nation’s largest independent hotel management company set out to create a central operation center for the data centers and their 120 servers in an effort to drastically reduce its IT operations and spending.

Although the data centers featured some similarities—they all ran Microsoft Corp. software platforms, including Windows 2000 and Windows NT, with a bit of Novell Inc. products mixed in—the hardware installation was a different story. Each center used its own systems, resulting in a hodgepodge of Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Compaq and IBM systems and components.

“In the hospitality industry, you spend your money very frugally, and so whoever has the cheapest price we turn to,” said Rajiv Castellino, vice president of hospitality technology at Interstate Hotels & Resorts, in Arlington, Va. “Basically, each of these [three companies] had their own data center, their own rules and their own equipment, and dealing with that was a problem.

“It’s so much easier to manage by getting everyone under the same umbrella, so we decided to consolidate all into that one corporate office here in Arlington,” Castellino said.

Since the Washington data center belonging to Interstate Hotels & Resorts had standardized its IT framework onto IBM servers, laptops and desktops, the hotel management company asked IBM Global Services to help it acquire the right modular storage system.

IGS got the responsibility to facilitate the transaction, and after examining the playing field, Interstate Hotels & Resorts chose storage offerings from IBM partner Network Appliance Inc. for the project.

Click here to read about a company using Network Appliance’s gFiler to open data stores.

“We defined what our business functionality needed, what was important and what we would be able to achieve without losing any data along the way. That is how we determined the platform. Then it was a matter of migrating everything here and sitting it on one big box; that is the NetApp box,” said Castellino.

Next Page: Scale increases the challenge.

Sounds simple enough, but considering the extent of the company’s operations, it’s anything but. Interstate Hotels & Resorts oversees the marketing, sales, accounting, finances and payrolls of 350 hotels and resorts across the United States, as well as areas in Canada, Portugal, and Russia. The company manages the internal operations of properties owned by third-party flagship hotel brands, such as Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, Sheraton Four Points, Weston, Intercontinental, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, to name just a few. The “flag” employees actually work for Interstate Hotels & Resorts, stretching its employee base to 33,000.

“Because we run all these properties, we interface with [the] flags to maintain daily information for accounting and payroll systems. They are all individual but consolidated onto one single Microsoft platform. So they are different systems, but the storage resides over here,” said Castellino.

A major priority for Interstate Hotels & Resorts was wresting back control of e-mail storage operations. That’s where NetApp, of Sunnyvale, Calif., came in. It enabled the hotel management company to run NetApp SnapManager for Exchange and Single Mailbox Recovery.

The data management offering bolsters storage management while simplifying configuration, backup and restore functionality for Exchange platforms. SnapManager features rapid restores, near-instantaneous hot backups and policy-based data retention management.

Interstate Hotels & Resorts also chose to deploy NetApp’s FAS940 midrange product to run Exchange storage, the FAS250 as its Web platform and the entry-level FAS270 appliance.

Castellino said the FAS270 is not yet in production. The one-shelf-of-disk-storage box is being used to store ERP (enterprise resource planning) information from the Dallas data center and is the final component of the single data center migration.

Castellino said the consolidation’s storage efforts taught him a few lessons about the complexity of scattered data across an enterprise.

“It’s amazing how much you don’t know that resides in all these disparate data sites and data centers. Just the fact of having it all together and getting the access was huge for us. Slowly but surely, that became the most important part, and then backing it up,” Castellino said.

Rod Mathews, NetApp’s senior director, said numerous customers’ biggest challenge when facing consolidation is performing a minute inventory of all applications and employing the correct configurations under the covers.

“You want to see someone go home on a Friday and come to work on a Monday and don’t know that anything has changed,” said Mathews. “It’s changing the foundation of the house while you’re still living in the house. In order to do that, you need a plan on how you’re going to execute that, and that’s where IBM Global Services comes in.”

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