Kombiverkehr Deutsche Gesellschaft für kombinierten Güterverkehr mbH & Co. KG connects the whole of Europe with transport services for combined road and rail freight traffic. The logistics service provider, whose services have been aimed at freight forwarders and transport companies since 1969, has set itself the goal of making roads safer and helping to reduce global CO2 emissions by providing Europe-wide connections between the transport modes of truck, rail and ship. For the chemical industry, for example, Kombiverkehr is a preferred partner because, according to the German Federal Statistical Office, hazardous goods are 40 times safer on the railways than on the roads. But the customer base also includes other major industries, from automotive and mechanical engineering to manufacturers of household appliances and consumer electronics to textiles and food. In 2017, more than 960,000 shipments, each equivalent to the volume of a truckload, were transported via Kombiverkehr connections.
The logistics company, whose partners include Deutsche Bahn Cargo and 230 national and international freight forwarders, also continues its high security standards in the design of its IT processes. When Kombiverkehr planned to outsource its infrastructure operated at the Frankfurt location to professional data centers, it found a partner at eye level in the IT service provider DATAGROUP.
“There was already a plan to outsource to an external data center many years ago when the company moved to its current location. This could not be implemented economically due to high data communication costs, and the company procured its own hardware and infrastructure. The recent need for replacement was the current trigger for outsourcing to an external data center,” says Gerhard Dittrich, former IT manager and project officer at Kombiverkehr, describing the start of the project. “The need to replace the emergency power generators installed on Kombiverkehr’s roof was then particularly decisive. The cost of replacing them and thus also of operational reliability would have been disproportionately high.”
In the IT working group with IT managers from Kombiverkehr and its partners, the move to a professional data center was advocated, also in order to prevent possible future personnel bottlenecks via 24×7 operation. Thus, Kombiverkehr initially tendered a managed service project, which was finalized in 2019 due to content changes and additions. “At Kombiverkehr, we have been using SER Group’s Doxis document management solution for several years,” explains Gerhard Dittrich. “Through SER, the connection to DATAGROUP in Frankfurt came about as part of the tender, as SER has had its software solution hosted in their data center for quite some time.”
The managed services concept of DATAGROUP convinced Kombiverkehr and so they were commissioned with a 4-week proof of concept in 2019. “Decisive for our decision for DATAGROUP as a managed service provider were, in addition to the technical concept, our experiences with the hosting of the document management system Doxis and the cooperation in the bidding phase,” recalls Mr. Dittrich. “From the very beginning, we had our personal contact persons and a very pleasant and constructive interaction at eye level. These aspects then paid off especially in the spring of 2020, when Corona delayed the planned start of the project. Although important appointments with the building authority and our building owner to coordinate new line connections could not take place, DATAGROUP reacted very accommodatingly, handled everything remotely for us and flexibly adapted contracts to the situation.”
The overall concept, with which DATAGROUP was commissioned, provided for the takeover and 24×7 operation of the redundant infrastructure distributed over two data centers with 99.8% availability and likewise redundant, edge- and node-disjoint lines via new dark fiber connections. This required a complete rebuild of a higher-performance, high-availability hardware environment based on the latest technology. This environment was to meet the growth and performance requirements over the next few years. Another important step was to move the hypervisor from XEN to VMware, achieve faster response times through flash storage, and backup via Veeam and TSM. Operations continued to include Microsoft Active Directory, nearly 200 Microsoft Exchange mailboxes, the entire VMware environment and Citrix Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
For a clear regulation of the transitions of responsibility, the migration was divided into three ramp-up phases:
The division into three phases not only ensured more reliable project management, it also helped Kombiverkehr, particularly in terms of the ability to plan monthly costs. “By introducing the trades step by step in three major project phases, we only ever incurred costs for operation once another subsection had been successfully completed,” says Gregor Lotz, Team Leader IT System Administration and Project Coordinator at Kombiverkehr, citing the advantages. At the same time, the phased migration ensured that there were no outages that affected day-to-day business. “At the heart of our business is our in-house developed logistics software for planning freight and routes,” explains Gerhard Dittrich. “Our logistics customers rent freight trains from us, and their customers in turn rent partial freight from them. If delays in IT mean that rail slots are gone and freight trains therefore have to stop at night, we have a problem. Therefore, everything had to be done to make the migration as quiet as possible.”
In order not to take on old burdens such as old drivers or old data that would have to be cleaned up again afterwards, only the current data was migrated and loaded directly onto the new version of the new hardware. The initial skepticism about the added value of the managed services quickly evaporated. “We were supported by DATAGROUP at any time at short notice and even outside the agreed framework,” says Gregor Lotz, praising the commitment of his new managed service provider. “With a very good understanding of our business and our requirements, we have found a reliable partner in DATAGROUP that optimally complements our team and is available to us at all times. We could never manage this with our own team, especially with regard to future new requirements.”
Since the migration to DATAGROUP’s data centers, other areas have already been transferred to managed services, such as the operation of the Fortinet infrastructure with firewalls and switches as well as virtual machines, which were previously the responsibility of Kombiverkehr and have now been transferred to DATAGROUP’s operations based on SLAs.
“Particularly in an age of skills shortages, when it is becoming increasingly difficult to find IT specialists, it feels good to be able to place operational responsibility securely in the hands of service providers,” says Christoph Büchner, citing the benefits he sees in managed service models. As the new Head of IT at Kombiverkehr, Christoph Büchner has been steering the strategic direction since his predecessor Gerhard Dittrich went into well-earned retirement. “Currently, we are working on the migration of our Comarch ERP system environment from IBM i to a virtualized environment. For this task, too, we know where to get reliable support if needed.”