Franz Morat Group Gears Up for the Future

Franz Morat improved performance, scalability, and security with Azure Stack HCI powered by Intel® technologies.

At a glance:

  • Franz Morat Group is a multinational manufacturer with its headquarters in Eisenbach, Germany.

  • The manufacturer modernized its data centers with Microsoft Azure Stack HCI running on Dell EMC Integrated System for Azure Stack HCI AX nodes built on 3rd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors.



Gears truly do make the world go round. Without ever knowing it, we’ve all probably used products that in some way depend on the high-precision gears and drive systems produced by Franz Morat Group, a multinational manufacturer headquartered in Eisenbach, Germany. The company anticipates its customers’ needs for ever-more refined designs, backing more than a century of gear production with new innovations, including its high-precision metal gears, and pioneering plastic injection-molded parts along with complete custom-designed drive units for a multitude of industries.

“We’ve verified energy savings and reduced our carbon footprint since deploying Azure Stack HCI, which is not only a cost saving for our company—it’s important sustainability legislation that we must follow.” —Roland Reiter: Chief Information Officer, Franz Morat Group

Franz Morat IT teams support the full spectrum of IT functionality that’s needed to keep the global manufacturer ahead of the technology curve, such as cutting-edge Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity for the machines on shop floors and supporting a multiplicity of business users. The IT teams needed a way to satisfy increasing demand for IT services and overcome the limitations of the company’s aging data center—latency and fast-impending capacity limits. But restricted cloud availability in its geographic region blocked a full cloud migration. They met the challenge with Microsoft Azure Stack HCI, an Azure service that delivers a hyperconverged infrastructure operating system that merges on-premises operations with the efficiency and security that the Microsoft cloud offers. Azure Stack HCI is optimized on Intel’s proven hardware infrastructure that helps provide the flexibility, performance, and consistency across on premise and the cloud. That move isn’t just a smart solution to limited cloud access—it’s the way forward for an innovative manufacturer.

Stepping Over the Barrier of Limited Cloud Availability

Franz Morat’s expansion has accelerated over the past decade, including the addition of production locations in Poland and Mexico, and sales and service offices in Turkey and the United States. “Providing the most up-to-date IT infrastructure possible to support the success of our global company is essential,” says Stefan Federer, Marketing Team Manager at Franz Morat Group. “We’re at the point where everything from collaboration with our customers and partners to the actual machines in our factories depends on information technology. We needed a technology that we could implement without causing downtime and that could accommodate modern production processes that change rapidly.” Its impending ERP migration to SAP HANA, which required an SAP in-memory certification, added to the urgency of the Azure Stack HCI migration. SAP HANA implementations require modernized, simplified data centers that offer a shared-resource virtualization environment (one that links compute, storage, and networking). That simplified architecture promotes agility and high performance. But standard virtualization couldn’t provide the uniform performance, security, or reliability that Franz Morat needs. “It was vital that we removed any obstacles for our SAP in-memory solution,” says Roland Reiter, Chief Information Officer at Franz Morat Group. “That was key to our decision to adopt Azure Stack HCI.”

Industrial providers like Franz Morat also face intense scrutiny into their cybersecurity from customers. “We must upgrade our systems regularly to be as secure as possible,” says Matthias Wiehl, Team Leader for IT Infrastructure at Franz Morat Group. “Our customers audit us frequently, and they’re particularly concerned about how well-updated our systems are, because out-of-date systems are a security risk. We need to protect their confidential designs. And the cost of interruption to our production processes could run to millions.” Even more than avoiding interruptions to existing platforms, Franz Morat IT needs to respond to an extraordinarily fast-paced, innovative environment. “When the business side of the company asks for a new solution, we can’t just tell them we need six months or more to answer that need,” says Reiter. “We need to match their urgency. That’s why general management approved our plan to implement Azure Stack HCI.”

All of those factors converged in a search for a technology that combines the cost, scalability, data protection, and management simplification benefits of hyperconvergence with the ability to connect remote locations. Hyperconvergence is not only the route to the shared-resource environment needed for an SAP HANA installation—it offers the benefits of reduced cost of ownership, optimized infrastructure utilization, and greater flexibility. It also presents the bridge to Franz Morat’s eagerly anticipated cloud adoption. “Our data center in Eisenbach, Germany, only has one landline, which makes cloud adoption impossible. Until we can migrate to the cloud, simplified data center design maximizes precious staff time,” explains Wiehl. “It’s easy for us to adopt Azure Stack HCI for access to cloud services. That relief is very welcome.”

Seamlessly Rolling Out Dell AX Nodes with Azure Stack HCI

Franz Morat reached out to abtis, a specialist in serving midsize companies, a Microsoft Intelligent Security Association member, and a Gold competency member of the Microsoft Partner Network. Most importantly from the Franz Morat perspective, abtis offered the expertise and the future-focused vision that perfectly aligned with Franz Morat’s needs. “We’re geared toward what we call the digitale zukunft—the digital future,” says Thorsten Weimann, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of abtis. “We try to help our customers expedite their transformation by bringing them to a digital, intelligent, and secure platform.” His firm weighed its recommendations for cloud alternatives carefully. “Azure Stack HCI was a strategic decision for abtis,” he adds. “We know that this solution can help our customers use Azure cloud technology at the edge, where we can help them to design, implement, and operate Azure Stack HCI infrastructure on premises, across a broad range of verticals and geographic locations.”

Strategy aside, addressing the issues of aging hardware and the best possible hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solution was an easy recommendation for Viktor Neugebauer, Business Development Manager at abtis. He sums up the conundrum before the Franz Morat team: “We recommend Azure to our customers whenever using the public cloud is feasible because of the security, scalability, and flexibility it offers,” he explains. “However, the public cloud isn’t always an option for customers that require such a high level of performance. That’s why Azure Stack HCI is such an invaluable alternative.”

He proposed Dell EMC Integrated System for Azure Stack HCI AX nodes on Intel® architecture—servers that are preconfigured with Azure Stack HCI. “We trust the 30-year relationship between Microsoft and Dell,” says Neugebauer. “The Dell AX nodes offer a highly performant, scalable, and secure foundation because Dell Technologies provide multiple data security features that protect our customers’ most valuable business resources.” The tight interoperation of the servers, Intel architecture and Azure Stack HCI software eliminates the complexity of separate configurations. Customers in Germany are constrained by cloud availability, he says, and the IT environment is becoming more uncertain. “Our response to increasing volatility is to deliver a more future-ready, modern infrastructure,” continues Neugebauer. “We’re focused on Microsoft, the only public cloud we work with, and Dell. Azure Stack HCI is a wonderful product for us because it excels for a variety of use cases across a broad spectrum of industries. It’s a platform solution that gets better and better, with continuous addition of valuable new features because of the subscription model.” For Weimann, the ability to layer in other related Microsoft solutions to create a seamless environment is key to boosting efficiency. His abtis team deployed Azure Arc and Microsoft Defender for Cloud on the Azure Stack HCI nodes to secure and automate the platform, adding Azure Automation to automate patching and routine maintenance tasks.

That Azure Stack HCI choice resonated with Franz Morat given its long and rewarding history with Microsoft solutions. The company had to delay its rollout because of the disruption caused by COVID-19, but late in 2021, the company worked with abtis to convert every system to Azure Stack HCI, starting with its Eisenbach data centers and progressing to the rest of its on-premises landscapes. Franz Morat completed the rollout in April 2022, a fast timeline that was unmarred by drama. “The actual technical implementation of Azure Stack HCI was the easy part,” says Reiter “Our biggest challenge was planning our server updates so that we wouldn’t affect any business operation.”

Relying on an Invaluable Combination: Microsoft, Dell, and Intel

The Dell EMC Integrated System for Azure Stack HCI is engineered to optimize Azure capabilities and streamline management of an Azure multicloud ecosystem. Built on 3rd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors, Dell AX-640 AllFlash nodes offer a mix of fast processing, increased memory, and high throughput that translates to excellent performance. That performance sprang from a close collaboration between Microsoft and Intel that optimizes Azure Stack HCI features to run efficiently and take advantage of the underlying hardware technologies. “The combination of Microsoft, Dell, and Intel makes life easier for our project teams,” says Neugebauer. “It’s verified, reliable technology that’s state of the art and highly performant. We trust the security architecture and features of Intel—it’s a solution that we can recommend to every customer.” He lauds the Secured-core server architecture that enhances security for Azure Stack HCI. Supported in 3rd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors, the technology combines hardware, firmware, and drivers to deepen protection, from the startup process to data in memory.

Through its extensive experience with Intel technology, abtis has formed a deep appreciation for several specific Intel features. “The Intel Crypto Acceleration gives us the best performance while also constantly enabling encryption,” says Weimann. “For us, it’s a must-have in every Azure Stack HCI project. And the Intel Total Memory Encryption provides the highest level of full memory encryption with hardware generated keys. We will add it to the Franz Morat infrastructure in the future.” The consistent Intel performance makes life simpler for consulting IT shops like abtis. “It’s the best technology in the field, and therefore the option we want for our customers,” explains Weimann. “Intel is a feature-rich, field-proven technology. It’s easy for us to propose to customers because they trust it, and we can prove that it optimizes workloads in the Azure Public Cloud.”

For Wiehl, a strong background with Intel technology was compelling. “Not only is Intel technology very pervasive in the market, but it’s a future-focused technology that has served us well in the past,” he says. “Likewise, our past projects with abtis have gone very well, and we trusted its recommendations.” Most of all, he looks ahead. “We’re using the Intel Xeon processor on every server in all our Azure stacks,” he adds. “We chose it to enable virtual desktops and for use with sophisticated CAD programs, which require Intel Xeon processors. This is one of the technologies we’ve focused on to prepare for the future.”

Managing It All with Azure Arc

Franz Morat runs 100 systems and services throughout its global landscape, and that diverse, distributed collection of applications and platforms is complex. Azure Arc simplifies the job of managing that diversity. “It doesn’t matter whether a company’s resources are in the public cloud or running on-premises—Azure Arc is an overall management system that brings it all together nicely,” says Neugebauer. That ease of management has enormous implications for a midsize company like Franz Morat, which constantly feels the pressure to do more with less. “Being able to manage our entire environment from a single control plane is an enormous benefit for us,” says Wiehl. “Without Azure Arc, we’d need to hire 10 more people. Even if we could find such scarce resources, at great expense, it would be difficult to justify that cost.”

Weimann strongly endorses that choice from a more universal perspective. “In our opinion, Azure Arc is the primary building block for any modern data center,” he muses. “That’s why we only deploy Azure Stack HCI with Azure Arc. That approach avoids building up legacy technologies, making it easy to move workloads to the cloud when the time comes. We feel that we best serve our customers with that recommendation because it protects their Azure investment and sets them up for the future.”

Rolling into the Future with Ease

Top management couldn’t ignore that case for the Azure Arc addition to the Azure Stack HCI rollout. And Reiter’s ethos on strong communication with his colleagues on the business side of the enterprise predisposes them to back crucial initiatives like the Azure Stack HCI project. “Talk to the business, talk to the business, talk to the business—that’s so critical to deploying IT effectively,” he says. “Running our data centers around the world takes flexibility, the right people, and expertise. We’ve always relied on those things to support the business, and when we presented the scalability, security, and performance of Azure Stack HCI, the business supported us.”

With Azure Stack HCI fully rolled out, Franz Morat recognizes a range of benefits. “The Azure Stack HCI solution, including monitoring and operational tools make it easy for us to manage and scale our servers,” says Reiter. “The flexibility and speed we’ve achieved support our team to create the environments they need to build the solutions our customers want. We manage everything in one interface. This is empowerment.”

The energy savings Franz Morat realizes with the solution are good news not just for the company, but the planet. “Azure Stack HCI needs less energy than our previous stack,” explains Wiehl. Reiter adds, “We’ve verified energy savings and reduced our carbon footprint since deploying Azure Stack HCI, which is not only a cost saving for our company—it’s important sustainability legislation that we must follow.”

Reiter and Wiehl anticipate a day when public cloud services will be more easily available. “We look forward to the goals that Franz Morat can achieve by using the public cloud with Azure,” says Wiehl. “Azure Stack HCI is a way to realize Azure benefits now, and it’s the first step to the day when we fully migrate to Azure.”