Situation Overview:

Manufacturing company Signicast relies upon SMASH, a core custom manufacturing application. Although Signicast already had a virtualized infrastructure to test upgrades of this application, their system could not accurately and confidently replicate production for staging purposes, which led to a crisis.

Problem(s):

After conducting a test upgrade on their former staging solution, Signicast upgraded SMASH in their production environment—only to experience an error that had gone unseen during staging. This small error then cascaded into the real world:

  • Plant production halted for two hours.
  • That downtime led to breaking a production commitment.
  • The broken commitment resulted in lost revenue.

Two more outages occurred within the same month. To prevent these kinds of preventable problems, Signicast needed a solution that would allow them to make necessary changes to their production environment without disrupting their day-to-day business.

Specifically, the company needed to address these business challenges to:

  • Scale operations without interrupting manufacturing processes
  • Deploy software changes on custom manufacturing applications such as SMASH while preventing production downtime.
  • Overcome configuration drift between test/staging areas and production

Solution:

Signicast used the Kubisys Platform to replicate their application servers with all current patches, eventually enabling Signicast to expand their manufacturing capabilities without halting business operations. The test environment infrastructure included Microsoft Windows, VMware vSphere and Oracle Databases. The tested applications included Customer Application and SMASH (C#, .NET).

Benefits:

Increased Productivity

  • Development productivity increased by more than 200%.
  • Signicast estimates that it realized its ROI within six months.
  • Developers can react more quickly by solving issues prior to deployment in production.

No Downtime

  • Signicast created a duplicate but isolated and firewalled production environment for testing so they could test with real, live data with minimal effort.
  • No network configuration changes are required, so production is never affected.

Accelerated Deployment Cycles

  • Unlike standard virtualization cloning, Kubisys does not require users to divert IT teams from their other responsibilities to triage software.
  • Operations are less hesitant to deploy upgrades, patches and new apps. Consequently, Signicast can release applications at a faster rate.
  • The company no longer requires additional external storage for test environments or to add additional support staff.
  • Resources can be appropriately allocated, with personnel no longer required to perform tasks such as snapshots and rollbacks.
  • Signicast continues to grow with new clients and new plant openings, all while driving down costs and increasing efficiency.

Kubisys Helps Signicast Innovate in Real Time

Founded in 1959, Sign-I-Cast’s original name defined its purpose: to manufacture investment cast metal signs. Their deep expertise and investment in new production facilities spurred rapid growth. Today, Signicast ranks among the world leaders in its field, offering exceptional production quality, an on-time delivery rate that nears 100% and just-in-time delivery capabilities that let Signicast swiftly respond to any change in their clients’ engineering challenges.

One key to Signicast’s success is SMASH, a core custom manufacturing application that enables Continuous Flow Manufacturing. CFM transforms manufacturing into a de facto symphony, with every production element operating in-time and on-time. Signicast relies on a custom SMASH application written in C# on .NET, which uses an Oracle DB back end. SMASH lets Signicast maintain a rich client base, but CFM also poses a steep innovation challenge: if a company relies on peak efficiency, with each plant working at 100% capacity, how can it continue to grow without disruption?

Opening new plants and managing existing ones require real-time software solutions. The production environment depends on such reliable solutions, yet application development, testing and deployment is time-intensive. Developers and quality assurance engineers need to identify problems in testing and staging, and the oftentimes unknown number of variables at play requires teams to take more time to mitigate risk. Additionally, test and staging areas are difficult to consistently keep synchronized with production, resulting in configuration drift.

Many organizations find that integrations and patch installations succeed in staging but fail in production. When they do fail, they lead to significant downtime, lost revenue, missed deadlines, high costs for additional support staff or overtime, redirected resources and a furious (or lost) client.

With more than 50 years of experience, Signicast knew these risks. At the time, the company had a highly virtualized infrastructure to manage end-of-life hardware and software (HP Alpha Servers running OpenVMS). Even in that virtualized world, the company found it extremely difficult to replicate production for staging purposes, and that led to a crisis.

Signicast deployed a tested upgrade of SMASH into their production environment and experienced an error causing a two-hour plant delay, which led to breaking a production commitment, which led to lost revenue. Two more outages occurred within 30 days. In the aftermath of so much frustration, Signicast turned to Kubisys.

The Signicast IT team evaluated the Kubisys Platform, a hardware and software solution that creates on-demand test environments for Windows applications. With the Kubisys Platform, Signicast could replicate application servers with all current patches, as well as infrastructure components such as Active Directory and DNS. And unlike standard virtualization cloning, our automated Platform does not require users to divert IT teams from their existing responsibilities. With the Kubisys Platform, resources can be directed where they belong rather than reallocated to software triage.

Signicast deployed SMASH within the Kubisys appliance. During the proof-of-concept process, Signicast also uncovered ways to leverage their replicated environment to test and assess alternative systems to their legacy HP environment. The company effectively entrusted our Platform to help them build and run their business in real time.

Signicast’s Bill Jahn said, “The appliance gave us the ability to create a duplicate but isolated production environment for testing … We can now test with real and live data, with minimal effort.” The Kubisys Platform enables this without requiring the IT team to patch servers after installation of the Golden Image. No network configuration changes are required. Perhaps most importantly, production isn’t disrupted.

Jahn added, “When we deploy in the Kubisys appliance first, we can ensure that we will not break anything in production … And we get the added benefit of testing against production data, which uses all elements of our production environment. We had the ability beforehand to set up a staging environment that replicates production, but it was time-intensive and suffered from configuration drift. With Kubisys we don’t have these problems. The solution is really quite amazing.”

Because Signicast’s apps are tested and perfected within a production-accurate virtual replica of its production environment using real, live data, Signicast is now realizing a developer productivity improvement conservatively estimated between 10 and 20% per year. Operations are also now less leery of deploying upgrades, patches and new apps, and developers can react more quickly by solving issues before deployment in production.

Because of these productivity gains, Signicast can also release applications at a faster rate.  The company now has a thin-staging area and require minimal overhead in networking and DBA resources. They no longer require additional external storage for various test environments. And neither does the company need additional support staff or resources just for testing purposes.

Ultimately, the company estimates that it realized its return on investment in the Kubisys Platform within six months. Signicast continues to grow, take on new clients and open new plants, all while decreasing their operational costs and heightening their efficiency. More and more customers are coming to rely on Signicast’s just-in-time capabilities and commitment to quality. To protect that competitive advantage, Signicast deployed Kubisys—just in time.

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