Stace LLP, a construction and property consultancy company with 170 staff in various locations, had a sprawling and ageing IT infrastructure which was failing to meet the demands of an expanding business.
Although there was much use of virtualisation techniques, the business was being constrained by its centrally deployed on-premise IT infrastructure and was suffering regular outages and downtime. Business Critical applications such as CAD and CATO were impacted by stability and performance issues and technologies that were not best suited to professionals working in isolation.
Northdoor proposed the replacement of the existing infrastructure with a Microsoft Azure based hybrid cloud solution featuring high security, high availability, versatility and simplified communications all round.
Existing complex, graphic-dependent applications such as CATO, Adobe Premier and Auto-CAD were not best suited to cloud and would benefit from migration to the full power of graphic adapters in high-power, commodity Laptops and PCs.
The key benefits were described as:
- Removal of capital costs associated with a central data centre
- Efficient software licensing agreements
- Simplification and enhanced reliability of desktop services for professional users
- Enhanced remote and home working facilities
- Enhanced Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity capability
- Truly scalable services
- Centralised and simplified network security
The move away from remote desktop as a 100% solution for applications started with an evaluation of exactly what applications were best suited to an RDP environment and then to plan and deploy an appropriate testbed in the Microsoft Azure service. Testing revealed one or two issues, not least with a need to provide a positive user experience and improve access speeds at remote offices and through the use of an “Express Route” connection to Azure. Selection of suitable workstations for professional users was a relatively simple exercise by comparison, but tools to maintain their integrity had to be enhanced.
Techniques such as the use of Azure Site Recovery to move from on-premise VMWare to Cloud were engaged to achieve an orderly and consistent migration to the new service. Together with the existing VPLS this enabled one of the key success factors – the ability of users to continue working without disruption.
As a result of de-centralising some services, a degree of enhanced security together with a user awareness programme was called for. VPNs connecting to the VPLS were added for all professional users, secured by two factor authentication. Office 365 with encrypted mail was implemented to complete the security picture.
Key benefits include the move away from a regular major update of central hardware and the associated capital expenditure every two or three years. This was a particularly acute problem, since the provision of CAD services through central servers often failed to keep up with enhancements in software. Now, to take advantage of new CAD versions, Stace may simply replace a laptop.
Cloud servers mean no client access licences are required resulting in a significant reduction in software licensing costs.
Professional users are now free to ‘design on the go’ but also know that there data is being backed up and shared with others by way of a highly secure and resilient central cloud location. Office based users now have up to date versions of popular back office solutions with automatic updates.
Additional cloud services may be introduced with a much truncated and far more efficient request-propose-approve-deploy cycle. Disaster recovery testing has been simplified and the ability to test what-if scenarios is now available on demand.
While the demands of end users have not decreased, support personnel are now focussed at the application level rather than the back-end technology, meaning that productivity has improved and the user experience enhanced considerably.
“The Northdoor team have been a pleasure to work with. Their breadth of skill-set and deep knowledge of the technologies required to deliver the project was invaluable to its success and we would happily recommend them to partner organisations.”