4-page Case Study
Posted: 2/10/2012
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Government of Albania Albania Standardizes Government IT with Cloud Services, Lifts Productivity 70 Percent

The ministries and agencies of the Albanian government were making great strides in their use of technology—but that became a problem. A growing number of decentralized applications ran on a variety of platforms—making it impossible to achieve economies of scale. The agency tasked with tackling this challenge lacked the computing resources and personnel to centralize, standardize, and manage hundreds of traditional application servers. By hosting the applications in a private cloud environment based on Microsoft technologies, the agency has found that its current resources—both technological and human—are ample. Government users now get better, faster, and more reliable application services. And IT professionals at the agency easily handle the increased workload while working fewer nights and weekends than before.

Situation
Part of Albania’s allure lies in its variety: pristine beaches, world-class archeological wonders, exciting city nightlife, breathtaking mountains. But variety of a very different type was becoming a bane, rather than a boon, to the government of Albania.

As a natural consequence of making large, rapid strides in adopting technology to support the needs of a 21st century republic, the government of Albania found itself with a decentralized, often unmanaged variety of technology platforms. Some 300 server computers that were scattered across its 14 ministries and agencies ran on operating systems including the Windows Server operating system, Linux, and UNIX. Infrastructure services—such as email, directory services, and networking—were similarly varied. That made it tough for the government to take advantage of economies of scale that would extend the reach of its technology while reducing its cost.

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* We were frequently working nights and weekends, telling ourselves that the workload would lighten, and it never did.... By using Microsoft private cloud technology, IT staff will minimize that overtime. *

Endri Hasa
General Director, National Agency for the Information Society, Government of Albania

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For Albania’s National Agency for the Information Society (NAIS)—the agency tasked with coordinating government technology initiatives—working with that variety was anything but a walk on one of the country’s famed beaches. The agency began operating in 2008 with a mandate to bring centralization and standardization to the government’s sundry systems. It started by offering hosted basic infrastructure and technology services to any government entities that wanted them. By 2010, NAIS was managing 100 services used widely throughout the government.

From that success, another mission for NAIS was born: to centralize, standardize, and host not just infrastructure services but also the line-of-business applications and solutions through which the government increasingly conducted its activities. This challenge was greater: managing hundreds of server computers that were then located at, and managed by, ministries and agencies throughout the government. With those applications and solutions running on a variety of platforms, NAIS knew that it would be difficult to achieve much consolidation. A new data center would have to be built to support the enterprise. The agency’s staff of 35 would likely struggle to manage the additional hardware. The high levels of application availability that ministries and agencies needed could be at risk. Planning and soliciting proposals for new computers—then ordering, acquiring, configuring, and deploying them for new or expanded applications—could take most of a year and distract IT staff from more value-added work. Costs could climb. Service could suffer.

“When government ministries and agencies were asked to adopt a completely different way to use technology—that is, to rely on us to host and manage their application servers for them—we found that we also needed to adopt a completely different way to provide that technology,” says Endri Hasa, General Director of NAIS. “We needed a way to host and manage technology that was faster, easier, more cost-effective, and more reliable than traditional infrastructure.”

Solution
At the same time that NAIS received its new mission, the technology market was showing increasing interest in a new technology model that promised to solve IT challenges such as Hasa’s. That model was cloud computing, in which computing resources are provided as an online service, freeing business users and application owners from the need to manage underlying hardware.

With that model, NAIS could add, subtract, and redirect computing resources to ministries and agencies whenever and wherever they were needed, without having to take into account the mix of platforms that those entities used. A private cloud solution—in which computing resources would be kept within the government’s infrastructure and management—combined the potential for manageability and productivity that the government wanted with the system integrity and security that it needed.

Two Key Ingredients
The two key ingredients in the private cloud solution would be virtualization and centralized management. The former would contribute the underlying flexibility of computing resources that the solution needed. The latter would contribute the tools with which NAIS would dynamically control those resources for the maximum benefit of the government ministries and agencies.

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* We needed a way to host and manage technology that was faster, easier, more cost-effective, and more reliable than traditional infrastructure. *

Endri Hasa
General Director, NAIS

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NAIS had a choice of technologies with which to create its private cloud environment, and it considered its choice carefully. It tested the two prominent virtualization technologies: VMware and the Hyper-V technology in Windows Server 2008 R2 with Service Pack 1 (SP1). According to Hasa, both technologies offered lower hardware costs, higher availability, and better use of computing resources—but Hyper-V offered more.

“Hyper-V gave us fuller interoperability with the Microsoft technologies we were already using,” says Hasa. “That by itself would simplify management and increase availability. It was also a perfect fit with the Microsoft System Center products we wanted to use to maximize the benefits of the private cloud environment. Hyper-V also gave us better licensing—an unlimited number of virtual machines on each server running Windows Server 2008 Datacenter.”

Two Technology Providers
To design and implement its private cloud solution, NAIS used two of its longtime technology providers: Microsoft Services and InfoSoft Systems, the latter being one of Albania’s largest systems integrators and technology resellers, and a Microsoft Partner Network member with multiple Gold competencies. The greatest value of Microsoft Services on this project, according to Hasa, was its training and other knowledge transfer programs for ongoing private cloud management. InfoSoft collaborated closely with Microsoft Services, contributing its knowledge of the customer and its technology infrastructure, in addition to contributing much of the personnel responsible for the deployment process.

The collaborative process resulted in a private cloud solution consisting of three failover clusters with 14 to 16 nodes per cluster and a total capacity of 150 virtual machines, all running on Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter SP1 with Hyper-V technology. The nodes are HP BL460 blade system servers and HP ProLiant DL585 servers with two clusters running on Intel architecture and one cluster running on AMD architecture. All the virtual machines and cluster configurations reside on a storage area network consisting of two HP 4400 Enterprise Virtual Array devices.

“We recommended HP servers to NAIS because they offer the best hardware infrastructure for virtualization and server consolidation,” says Armand Sharra, Vice President of Business Development at InfoSoft Systems.

NAIS manages the cloud environment using a variety of Microsoft System Center products:

  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 SP1, for functions including provisioning and deprovisioning servers, and implementing live migrations for dynamic load-balancing and failover of virtual machines

  • Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R3, for single-console monitoring of both the virtualized and nonvirtualized environments

  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self-Service Portal 2.0, to empower ministries and agencies to quickly provision their own servers whenever needed for new or expanded applications

NAIS hosts the private cloud environment in a new, 450-square-meter data center with about 150 racks for blade servers. Because the data center was originally designed for physical (and not virtual) servers, it now has enough space to host three times its current capacity, eliminating the need for expansion anytime soon.

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* Hyper-V gave us fuller interoperability with the Microsoft technologies we were already using. That by itself would simplify management and increase availability. *

Endri Hasa
General Director, NAIS

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Two Workload Platforms
The agency is populating the private cloud environment with externally facing websites, internal portals, and others, running on a mix of Windows Server and SUSE Linux. NAIS can support both Windows Server and Linux in a single hypervisor because of the cross-platform support available in Hyper-V.

Benefits
Through its use of Microsoft private cloud technologies, NAIS has succeeded in centralizing and standardizing the application servers that are used throughout the Albanian government. As a result, ministries and agencies get better, more responsive service that delivers resources when they need them, which enables application owners to focus on solutions rather than on infrastructure. The IT professionals, meanwhile, accomplish their increased workloads while minimizing overtime work—and they still gain time to help solve government technology challenges.

Reduces Server Provisioning Time by About 70 Percent
NAIS has used private cloud technology to achieve its key goal: supporting the application hosting needs of ministries and agencies throughout the Albanian government.

“We started with no practical way for our limited IT staff to support varying platforms on varying servers in scores of locations,” says Hasa. “Now, when institutions ask if we can support them or if they have to buy their own hardware, we have the capacity to say, ‘Yes, we can support you.’”

Transforming line-of-business applications into private cloud services frees those institutions from a traditional planning, purchasing, and provisioning process that takes up to eight months. Instead, planning and provisioning a new system in the private cloud environment takes about one month—a decrease of about 70 percent. “Time-to-market is tremendously important because we have many areas where we want to apply technology to solve government challenges or improve government services,” says Hasa. “The faster we implement processes such as server provisioning, the faster we can demonstrate progress on these substantive issues.”

Enables Internal Customer Focus on Solutions, not Infrastructure
Albanian ministries and agencies benefit from the ability to focus on solutions, not on infrastructure. “With Microsoft private cloud technology, government institutions that want to host new applications don’t have to worry about drawing up budgets, planning topologies, ensuring compatibility, and all the other tasks they used to have—they can focus purely on the applications they want to create and use,” says Hasa.

Those institutions no longer have to place their provisioning requests in a queue and await a response from NAIS, either. Now, they use the self-service provisioning capabilities of the private cloud service to provision their own servers when needed and to deprovision them when not needed. They can also use self-service provisioning to take advantage of servers in new ways—for example, to create test servers, rather than put untested applications into production because the time and cost involved in acquiring physical servers is impractical.

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* When institutions ask if we can support them or if they have to buy their own hardware, we have the capacity to say, ‘Yes, we can support you.’ *

Endri Hasa
General Director, NAIS

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Boosts IT Staff Productivity by About 70 Percent
Albanian ministries and agencies are not the only beneficiaries of the solution based on Microsoft private cloud technology—so are NAIS and its IT staff. In many ways, they can manage the private cloud environment and its workloads faster, less expensively, and more productively than they could manage physical servers.

For example, by using the single System Center console that gives IT staff a comprehensive view across both the physical and virtual environments, NAIS has eliminated the need to maintain a separate monitoring system for each.

Because both the virtualization and management technologies that support the private cloud solution are based on the Windows Server technology that the IT staff already knows and supports, that staff easily manages the private cloud environment along with its other responsibilities. Overall, Hasa expects productivity in managing server workloads to increase by between 50 and 70 percent.

That productivity increase is associated with other gains too. “By choosing Microsoft private cloud technology, we reduced our training needs by months, speeding the time needed to put the private cloud into service,” he says. “We have reduced our staffing needs by at least 10 percent because now we don’t need to maintain a separate staff for a different virtualization technology. And I gain the flexibility to assign people where we need them, not where the technology allows us to assign them.”

Minimizes Night and Weekend Work; Frees Time for Solving Problems
All the benefits that NAIS has experienced from using Microsoft cloud technology add up to another benefit for Hasa: a workload that is easier to manage. “We were frequently working nights and weekends, telling ourselves that the workload would lighten, and it never did,” he says. “We were going to have to take on this major addition to our workload with or without the private cloud. By using Microsoft private cloud technology, IT staff will minimize that overtime. I know that using Microsoft private cloud technology will make my life easier in the years ahead.”

Because Hasa and his staff will largely be freed from the mundane tasks of planning and deploying hardware, they will have more time to work with ministries and agencies to help solve their issues and to foster more efficient, effective technology solutions. For example, they will have more time to identify existing private cloud services from which the institutions can benefit, along with more time to create additional services that the institutions can use. “After all, that’s why we pursue careers in IT—not to deploy servers, but to help solve real problems. Now, we can do more of that.”

And if Hasa and his colleagues face less variety of the technological kind, that’s fine with them, too.

Windows Server 2008 R2
Windows Server 2008 R2 is a multipurpose operating system designed to increase the reliability and flexibility of your server and private cloud infrastructure, helping you to save time and reduce costs. It provides you with powerful tools to react to business needs faster than ever before with greater control and confidence. For more information, visit:

www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/windows-server

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about InfoSoft Systems, call (355) 42 235 139 or visit the website at:
www.infosoftsystems.al

For more information about the Government of Albania, call (355) 42 277 750 or visit the website at:
www.akshi.gov.al

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 35 employees

Organization Profile
Albania’s National Agency for the Information Society is responsible for setting standards and coordinating business-critical government IT initiatives. It has 35 employees.

Business Situation
The agency was tasked with centralizing and standardizing hundreds of application servers running on various platforms. It lacked the resources to do so in a traditional way.

Solution
It used Microsoft technologies to create a private cloud solution that mitigates cross-platform issues and reduces the time and money spent on traditional management tasks.

Benefits
Reduces server provisioning time by about 70 percent Enables internal customer focus on solutions, not infrastructure Boosts IT staff productivity by between 50 and 70 percent Minimizes night and weekend work Frees IT staff time for solving problems

Hardware
HP BL460c G1 blade servers HP BL460 G6 blade servers HP ProLiant DL585 servers HP 4400 Enterprise Storage Array devices

Software and Services
  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2
  • Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter
  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self-Service Portal 2.0
  • Microsoft Services
  • Datacenter

Vertical Industries
Government

Country/Region
Albania

Business Need
  • Cloud & Server Platform
  • Cost Containment

IT Issue
  • Virtualization
  • Private Cloud

Languages
English

Partner(s)
InfoSoft Systems

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