How do you simplify and better manage the IT infrastructure of a company with 30 million sq. ft. of manufacturing space, 90 sites on four continents and 180,000 dedicated employees? That’s the challenge Gary Cantrell faced when he joined Jabil as its senior vice president and chief technology officer.
Gary knew from the outset that consolidating Jabil’s footprint and transitioning to a simpler, more nimble IT infrastructure would not be an easy task; nor would it happen overnight. “It’s a journey,” Gary said, much like the one the company itself embarked on over its 50 year history.
It was during that time that Jabil transitioned from a manufacturer of printed circuits boards to a global provider of design, engineering, manufacturing, and supply chain solutions fiercely dedicated to helping its customers turn their ideas into products. The company grew rapidly, both organically and through acquisition.
Eventually, the impact of that growth on the company’s IT infrastructure became clear. As Gary explained, “We had a number of different legacy systems we had to work with and a big sprawling footprint.”
Gary wanted to move the companies’ IT infrastructure forward by leveraging new technology, but first he had to patch together what Jabil already had. “We had to stitch together some fairly mature legacy systems,” he said. Many of the systems were being used in very diverse technology arenas and in over fifteen distinct vertical markets.
Gary also had to address Jabil’s global datacenters. Some were in regions with limited internet access and faced other obstacles that could potentially complicate data transfer between Jabil’s sites.
To ensure a solid IT Infrastructure in these datacenters, remote desktop environments were installed that leveraged lightweight client-to-server protocols on a dedicated "site" network. This allowed very large files and drawings to be quickly and efficiently transferred between employees at the different sites, while conserving precious bandwidth.
As Gary explains, “The genesis of a site infrastructure configuration includes all core infrastructure and services. It does not require a permanent computer room environment and is packaged so that it can function in harsh environmental conditions and with poor network connectivity. Since all of the core infrastructure and services are scaled down to what is required by the site, the quality of the network connection is no longer a concern.” And that meant network connectivity from one site to the rest of Jabil could be easily facilitated by whichever carrier was locally available—even consumer broadband services.
During this time, Gary also began migration to a hyper-converged infrastructure and leveraging the efficiencies of the public cloud wherever possible.
Throughout the process, Jabil’s strong commitment to its customers has remained first and foremost in Gary’s mind. That’s a key reason why the transition is moving slowly, to ensure the infrastructure conversion is done in a way that meets customers’ requirements and security standards, as well as their performance expectations. And Gary has to be prepared to adapt to changing customer requirements and expectations.
“As we go down this journey, I suspect that customer requirements for speed and their thirst for data will continue to get bigger, as will our internal quest for data. Our customers are continually asking for more data; more analytics. They want faster access to information and better information. They want to know: What can I do with it? What can I learn from it? How do I feed it back into my system?” said Gary.
One thing Jabil has a lot of is data—50 years’ worth to be exact. And, it continues to generate a lot more on a daily basis. While managing all of that data in some sort of actionable way can be daunting, Gary says Jabil captures it in a systematic way at the site level, cleans it up, and then integrates it, as needed, at the enterprise level.
“The key part for us is just being selective about what data we pull in and ensuring its integrity. We don’t want to pull in everything. We're also focused on helping our customers make faster, better decisions with that data,” said Gary.
It was that customer need for better data analytics that drove Jabil to create its own digital supply chain platform. Powered by a unified IT backbone, the intelligent InControl platform provides highly accurate, real-time visibility of all supply chain activities and suppliers down to the component level across Jabil’s 90-plus global plants. Leveraging it allows customers to shorten their time-to-market by up to 20 percent.
So how far along in this transition is Jabil? “We’ve started building out a fair amount of internal capabilities on converged infrastructure, but it won’t happen overnight because we don’t want to risk impacting our customers. It’s a slow journey,” says Gary. That’s why the company is still leveraging some of its stable legacy tools along with the newer infrastructure, even though those tools might not be the most optimal solution.
And the company is utilizing some of that newer infrastructure in its new 100,000-square-foot state of the art Blue Sky Center that just opened in San Jose, California. The center showcases Jabil’s most innovative solutions to the world’s most complex problems, including InControl, factory-of-the-future technologies, state-of-the-art Internet of Things (IoT) and rapid prototyping labs, as well as access to advanced capabilities for increasing customer collaboration and product innovation.
Gary predicts that it may take another three years to get the entire portfolio to where Jabil wants it to be. “The good news is that technology is at a point right now, especially on the infrastructure side, where we can make some big headway very quickly. It’s just a matter of us executing,” said Gary. And that means that the road ahead for Jabil is looking just as bright as its last 50 years.
Cheryl J. Ajluni is a freelance writer and editor based in California. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Wireless Systems Design and served as the EDA/Advanced Technology editor for Electronic Design for over 10 years. She is also a published book author and patented engineer. Her work regularly appears in print and online publications. Contact her at [email protected] with your comments or story ideas.
The IT Innovators series of articles is underwritten by Microsoft, and is editorially independent.