Seven-Winds has long depended on Microsoft System Center data center solutions to monitor and support more than 2,500 customer PCs. However, applying security updates, creating customer reports, and performing low-level IT tasks consumed time
that could be spent on billable service. To automate these and other tasks, Seven-Winds decided to upgrade to System Center 2012. It uses System Center to automate up to a week’s worth of manual tasks each month. This frees technicians to focus on higher-value
work and ensures that customer computers are updated more consistently and with fewer errors. Seven-Winds can now expand its business without adding staff and can produce reports that show customers what it is doing to keep their systems running. By upgrading
to System Center 2012, Seven-Winds also plans to provide private cloud consulting to enterprise customers.
When Derick Featherstone and three colleagues launched their IT consultancy in February 2001, they chose the name Seven-Winds because it symbolized their vision for each founder to provide a different “wind in the company’s sails” and to someday operate
on all seven continents. Today, Seven-Winds is a successful and fast-growing IT services provider in its home country of the Netherlands and is gradually adding customers across Europe. The 20-person company primarily provides remote computer monitoring and
help-desk services for small and midsize companies that don’t have their own IT organizations. It also provides IT consulting to enterprise organizations. Seven-Winds is headquartered in Veenendaal, the Netherlands, and is a member of the Microsoft Partner
Network with Silver competencies in systems management and desktop computing.
As a Microsoft Partner, Seven-Winds has long used Microsoft System Center data center solutions to monitor and manage its own and customer computer systems. However, as the company continued to grow, it required more highly automated capabilities. “We’re
always trying to create new services and give customers even greater value, but we needed better tools to do this,” says Featherstone, Co-Owner and Senior Architect at Seven-Winds. “Many tasks still took too long and meant that we couldn’t grow the business
without adding more staff.”
Seven-Winds used Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 to remotely monitor more than 2,500 customer PCs and Microsoft System Center Service Manager 2010 to provide remote help-desk services for small and midsize customers. It also provided remote
software deployment services by using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2.
||With System Center, we’ve freed up about a week a month of technician time, which our staff can spend on billable activities. We’re better able to grow the business without expanding our staff.
Co-Owner and Senior Architect, Seven-Winds
However, the standard reports generated by these programs were not really what customers wanted; they wanted more integrated, top-level reports on the health of their entire environment. To create these reports, Seven-Winds had to manually integrate data from
the three programs, which took several days each month. This was time that technicians could not use to monitor customer systems and provide other billable service. Also, human error sometimes crept into these reports.
Technicians also spent a lot of time applying security updates to customer systems. Even though Seven-Winds used System Center Configuration Manager to apply the updates, a technician had to manually go through the updates and approve them for each customer,
which took one day each month to complete.
Another two or three days a month was lost to addressing alerts associated with customer server and application problems. Although Seven-Winds used System Center Service Manager to automate many of these event responses, there were still many manual steps
involved. Also, the company had created a hodgepodge of scripts for performing a variety of tasks but had no central place to store these scripts. This lack of documentation lengthened problem resolution time.
Before it could fulfill its vision of growing into a global consultancy, Seven-Winds needed to automate these and other operations so that its staff could be more efficient. It also wanted a better way of communicating its value to customers. “Our job is
to keep customer systems running around the clock, but when we do a good job, customers don’t have a good perception of what we’re doing for them,” Featherstone says. “They understand when something breaks and we fix it, but they don’t notice all that we do
behind the scenes when everything is running without incident. With more automated reporting tools, we could show them all that we’re doing and why our services are worth the money.”
When Seven-Winds learned about Microsoft System Center 2012, it immediately made plans to upgrade. The company was most intrigued by the Orchestrator component of Microsoft System Center 2012, which integrates, orchestrates, and automates IT processes.
“We used Opalis, the Orchestrator predecessor, from 2001 to 2003 to monitor servers, but it got too expensive, so we dropped it,” Featherstone says. “When Microsoft acquired Opalis, we became very interested in it again because of all our reporting and automation
challenges. We saw Opalis as a universal automation tool; it glues different systems together, although we had not used it that way before. When we heard that Microsoft bought Opalis, we thought that it was one of the best decisions to finish off the System
Center product line. It was the missing piece.”
In October 2010, Seven-Winds joined the Technology Adoption Program (TAP) for Orchestrator in System Center 2012 to get insight into the software, assistance in deploying it, and a preview of the Microsoft roadmap for System Center 2012. As a TAP member,
Seven-Winds worked closely with the Microsoft System Center team to understand the product and influence product direction.
Seven-Winds created System Center runbooks—or workflows—to automate many of its time-consuming IT processes:
Customer reports. The Orchestrator component automatically grabs data from the other System Center components, formats it, puts it in a customer-ready report, and sends it to the customer, eliminating the need for technicians to create manual
Security updates. Seven-Winds uses System Center to automate the complete security update process. It has programmed the software with the security update rules for all 2,500 monitored computers so that System Center can automatically apply
the appropriate updates to each device with no manual intervention.
Event response. Seven-Winds also uses System Center to automate and document responses to event alerts. Seven-Winds was able to eliminate many of the “oddball” scripts that Featherstone says staff members had written to perform a variety
of tasks. “System Center has real value in automating small mundane tasks, such as validating an Adobe Acrobat file,” he says. “Previously, no one ever knew precisely where these scripts were running or how many we had. With System Center, we can not only
automate processes but document them. It gives us a central place where all our processes reside and a good overview of how things work.”
Seven-Winds also uses System Center to better demonstrate the value of its services to customers. The firm has programmed the Orchestrator component to pull information about resolved incidents from other System Center components and create data-rich email
messages that go out to customers every time Seven-Winds averts or solves a problem. The company created runbooks that pull information out of customer email messages (“My finance application is down.”) and transmit that information into System Center for
faster, automated problem resolution.
Private Cloud Foundation
Seven-Winds has deployed all the System Center 2012 components that are currently available and will upgrade to the remaining components as Microsoft releases them.
||Our job is to keep customer systems running around the clock, but when we do a good job, customers don’t have a good perception of what we’re doing for them.
Co-Owner and Senior Architect, Seven-Winds
Once it fully deploys System Center 2012, Seven-Winds plans to enter the private cloud consulting business, an area of projected significant growth. “Many of our enterprise customers have virtualized their data center environments by using the Windows Server
2008 R2 operating system with Hyper-V virtualization technology and want to move to the next step, which is cloud computing,” Featherstone says. “System Center 2012 provides all the tools necessary to create, monitor, and manage private cloud environments,
including monitoring of networking components such as switches and routers. Also, with System Center 2012, we can incorporate SAN [storage area network] resources and load-balancers into the cloud fabric and monitor everything from the bare-metal hardware
to the applications. It’s a complete private cloud package.”
Seven-Winds runs System Center 2012 on Dell PowerEdge R710 servers.
By upgrading to System Center 2012, Seven-Winds has been able to improve IT efficiency and customer service and open up new opportunities in cloud computing.
Improved IT Productivity and Ability to Grow the Business
With the automation efficiencies it has achieved with System Center 2012, Seven-Winds reduced its customer report preparation time from three days a month to four hours a month. It also saves one day each month in applying security updates.
“With System Center, we’ve freed up about a week a month of technician time, which our staff can spend on billable activities. We’re better able to grow the business without expanding our staff,” Featherstone says.
Additionally, job satisfaction is higher now that staff has access to advanced automation tools. “Our staff likes working with System Center. They don’t mind creating runbooks because it relieves them of so much manual work and enables them to spend more
time on more fulfilling tasks,” Featherstone adds.
Better Customer Service
By standardizing and automating IT processes, Seven-Winds can update customer systems more consistently and with fewer errors. Seven-Winds also uses System Center to make customers more aware of what it does to keep their systems healthy and available.
“By using System Center, we can create rich, dynamic email messages that keep customers notified of all that we’re doing on their behalf to keep their computers running,” Featherstone says. “This demonstrates that we are really working hard for them and
using very sophisticated tools to catch issues that other providers could not catch. System Center gives us very precise information with which we can solve problems faster and a way to share this rich data with customers.”
For example, if Seven-Winds detects that a customer server is performing slowly, it can use System Center to create a graph that shows the time period where the server was overloaded or service was down and send it in an email message to the customer. Because
Seven-Winds preemptively fixed the problem, the customer would otherwise never be aware that the application was in danger of slowdown or failure.
New Consulting Opportunities
Perhaps the biggest revenue potential lies in using System Center 2012 to enter the private cloud consulting business. “We already do a lot of System Center consulting, and the next logical step is to bring all the System Center components together in
a private cloud environment,” Featherstone says. “System Center process orchestration is an instrumental piece of that strategy. By the end of 2012, we hope that private cloud consulting will be 60 percent of our business. Many of our customers deploy just
one of the System Center components for a specific task, but there is so much more you can do with it, and we want to help customers take fuller advantage of using the entire product.”
Microsoft System Center 2012
Microsoft System Center 2012 helps your organization achieve IT as a service by enabling productive infrastructure, predictable applications, and cloud computing on your terms. With System Center 2012, use a self-service model to deliver flexible and cost-effective
private cloud infrastructure to your business units while capitalizing on existing data center investments. Applications run your business, so System Center 2012 is designed to offer deep application insight combined with a service-centric approach to help
you deliver predictable application services. Finally, by using System Center 2012, you can deliver and consume private and public cloud computing on your terms, with common management experiences across both.
For more information about Microsoft System Center 2012, go to:
For More Information
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For more information about Seven-Winds products and services, call (31) (88) 079 46 37 or visit the website at: