At a manufacturing plant in Delaware, forklifts zip backward and forward across the warehouse floor, lifting and shifting hundreds of palettes of finished product onto waiting 18-wheelers. As the forklifts move, a plant manager can pop open a laptop to see real-time visual representations of the forklifts’ paths and receive instant alerts if there’s an accident.
That technology is part of Rackspace customer TotalTrax’s telematics hardware and software, making warehouse operations safer and more productive nationwide.
Even though TotalTrax is in the lift and shift business, a lift and shift approach was not the best move for their software, which until recently, was installed locally on a computer server located at each customer’s plant.
To gain more customers, TotalTrax knew it needed to move its software to the cloud, but also knew that it needed expert help to speed up the process.
“It became glaringly obvious that we needed to do something, and the question was just who do we turn to, how do we find somebody,” said Ryan Fauth, production software engineer at TotalTrax. “We also had a desire to bring in the experts — to bring in somebody who could come in and tell us what the industry standard was, [and] what the best practices were.”
Rackspace Principal Architect Itari Ighoroje recommended the company begin by participating in the Rackspace DevOps Accelerator, a three-day on-site workshop which allows Rackspace DevOps and application specialists to gain a deep understanding of a company’s existing architecture and application delivery processes, as well as its corporate culture and business objectives.
Explained Ighoroje: “We work one-on-one at your location to assess your business objectives, pain points, architectures, applications and platform delivery processes, monitoring — even your organizational culture — then provide concrete solutions and a strategic roadmap for achieving your goals.”
That roadmap comes in the form of a report that allows companies to understand exactly what they need to reach their aspirational IT state, and how to take the next steps.
DevOps Accelerator is part of Rackspace Professional Services, a suite of end-to-end professional services that offer organizations expert guidance through all phases of an IT transformation, from planning and assessment to design and migration through management and optimization.
Ighoroje recommended that TotalTrax move to an automated system to increase consistency and speed of deployment.
The DevOps Accelerator lived up to its name — delivering a solution that could be implemented in a few months, compared to a year or more if the company had tried to do it completely by themselves, said Neil O’Connell, senior vice president of Technology and Innovation for TotalTrax.
Faster installations mean more time available to service a greater number of customers.
With the new system that emphasized DevOps and a continuous integration, continuous deployment approach, TotalTrax sped up customer deployments from three to four weeks per customer down to three to four days.
In addition, the company’s software developers can now focus on making TotalTrax better instead of worrying as much about infrastructure and manual installations. The new approach has increased the speed of software development cycles by a factor of six.
Capturing opportunities for efficiency is what DevOps is all about. Anything that you or your engineers have to do more than twice can be streamlined, and made simpler, with fewer manual steps and less chance for human-induced error.
The TotalTrax system consists of an open-source, web-based Java application server, called GlassFish, connected to MySQL on the backend. That works together with RabbitMQ, an open source message broker software that works just like instant messaging, only it is designed specifically for applications where network connectivity may be touch-and-go, like when you have forklifts going in and out of warehouses.
Total Trax’s onboard tracking device works with an optical camera that reads 2D barcodes strategically placed along the ceilings of warehouses. As the forklift moves underneath the barcodes, combined with timestamp data, the software determines the speed and location of the working vehicles down to a few inches. Instead of event data like a forklift has started or stopped, TotalTrax sends a constant stream of data, visualized by graphical breadcrumbs that can be seen on a plant manager’s screen. TotalTrax collects and analyzes the data those systems create for its warehouse operator customers.
Setting up a new system each time another customer needed another forklift managed posed a real problem. Rackspace engineers recommended a solution that would allow it to rapidly replicate and could take advantage of a relatively recent technological development: containers.
Containers make it simple to create a system, with all of its dependencies, and segment it into a something that can be installed over and over again, anywhere. Container technology gives TotalTrax the ability to have everything it needs, in exactly the way it needs to be, each and every time it needs it. So instead of running scripts to assemble the various pieces of the TotalTrax system each time the company needed a new machine built, it simply loaded the Docker container it had built. The approach also gives TotalTrax great flexibility on which platform its software can run on, which is important because its customers could be running AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform.
Beyond the huge time savings, operating with a container-based solution developed in coordination with Rackspace helped TotalTrax free the company’s engineers to do other, higher-value tasks more directly related to building things for its customers.
TotalTrax has been impressed with the solution that Rackspace set up for it. The company particularly liked not being up-sold or moved to more expensive solutions that would not have fit its needs. It wanted to continue working with the Rackers it had come to trust
It’s a collaboration that’s not only helped TotalTrax become more successful, but improved warehouse safety as well.