4-page Case Study
Posted: 12/8/2011
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BlueFire Hoster Offers Customers Flexible Desktop Access with Desktop Virtualization Software

BlueFire, a leading managed and cloud hosting service provider in Australia, wanted to expand its hosted desktop business and lower the costs associated with hosting and managing the service. It used the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system as the foundation for BlueFire Desktop as a Service (DaaS) and added other Microsoft and Citrix virtualization technologies to create a hosted desktop offering that meets a range of customer needs. Further, it uses Microsoft System Center data center solutions to automate the delivery and management of its standard operating environment, which reduces management costs. Customers get anywhere, any-device, always-available access to their applications, along with lower costs and fewer worries. BlueFire is able to expand in a fast-growing market by giving customers the desktop virtualization solution they need at a competitive price.

Situation
BlueFire is a pioneer and progressive among Australian managed and cloud hosting service companies, offering a broad suite of services and expertise across Australia, Asia, and the Pacific Rim. BlueFire provides enterprise-grade infrastructure and services to approximately 500 direct customers, and its presence extends to thousands of companies through its network of service partners and its parent company, Dimension Data. BlueFire has seven data centers across Australia and New Zealand, including in Sydney and Auckland, and has several more centers planned. The company has enjoyed revenue growth of more than 25 percent annually.

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* With Microsoft virtualization software, we can offer customers precisely the desktop solution they need. *

Jason Serda
Managing Director and Chief Information Officer, BlueFire

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BlueFire founders had a single goal in mind when launching the company in 1996: to accelerate the delivery of IT services, especially for small and midsize enterprises. “Our customers were confused by IT, wary of IT, making poor investments with limited knowledge, and consequently compromising redundancy and resilience, which resulted in outages and downtime,” says Jason Serda, Managing Director and Chief Information Officer of BlueFire. “Many companies were telling us, ‘We don’t want to know about IT; please take it over for us.’ We wanted to deliver IT as a service with guaranteed results. We invested in superior infrastructure with enterprise-grade resilience, so that small businesses could take advantage of it without paying for or worrying about it.”

A big part of customer challenges involved managing desktop computers—keeping them consistent, secure, up-to-date, and available where customers needed them. Even if a small business had no servers, it always had desktop and portable computers, and business owners spent an inordinate amount of time away from their business dealing with PC-related problems.

So, BlueFire offered customers a hosted desktop service, which it implemented using Terminal Services—a feature of early Windows Server operating systems—and Citrix software. In a hosted desktop computing model, the applications and client desktop environment run on a remote server and are delivered to client devices over the Internet or a company network. Users can access these virtual desktops from a desktop computer, portable computer, thin client (a device with a less powerful processor and less memory), tablet PC, or smartphone. Benefits of virtual desktop computing include improved centralized control over desktop environments, anywhere access to applications and data, and lower desktop management and client PC costs.

“Our hosted desktop service appealed to customers who wanted to outsource their desktop IT headaches,” Serda says. “They were able to log on to a desktop that gave them a more robust, better-performing system than they could create and maintain on their own.”

However, before server virtualization technologies were available, BlueFire deployed hosted desktops on physical servers and could fit only about 30 desktops on each server. This meant that the hosted desktop business entailed significant server acquisition and management costs. Also, BlueFire had to deploy each application on a separate server, so there were also hundreds of application servers to maintain. “Although it was a popular service, the whole thing was complex to set up and administer, with lots of manual work involved,” Serda says. “We had very little automation in setting up virtual desktops and had to be quite active in making sure we performed maintenance activities to keep things running.”

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* Although [the hosted desktop service] was a popular service, the whole thing was complex to set up and administer, with lots of manual work involved. *

Jason Serda
Managing Director and Chief Information Officer, BlueFire

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Solution
By 2010, most servers in BlueFire data centers ran the Windows Server 2008 operating system. When Microsoft introduced Windows Server 2008 R2, with new capabilities in the built-in Hyper-V virtualization technology, BlueFire was very interested.

“Hyper-V has evolved to provide all the features needed from a virtualization platform,” Serda says. “So in early 2010, we started testing Hyper-V on our servers, with zero loss of features.” In late 2010, BlueFire began upgrading servers across its data centers to Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise with Hyper-V; today, it has hundreds of host servers running the software. By using Hyper-V, BlueFire was able to achieve exceptional levels of virtual machine density, packing hundreds of virtual server and desktop computers onto a much smaller number of physical servers.

In Windows Server 2008, Terminal Services was renamed Remote Desktop Services and enhanced with richer display options, multiple-monitor support, and other features that enabled BlueFire to enhance and broaden its hosted desktop offering. “There are several different ways to deliver desktop virtualization, and Microsoft offers an end-to-end suite that lets us deliver precisely the desktop service our customers need,” Serda says. “Microsoft software also works well with Citrix desktop virtualization software, which adds manageability and resilience that help us provide a seamless experience for customers.”

BlueFire Desktop as a Service
Specifically, BlueFire used Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise with Hyper-V, Remote Desktop Services, Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V), Microsoft System Center data center solutions, and Citrix XenApp 6.0 software to create a more complete hosted desktop solution, which it calls BlueFire Desktop as a Service (DaaS). App-V, part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance, is an application virtualization and streaming solution.

BlueFire currently has three DaaS offerings that meet the needs of three distinct user profiles:

  • Task worker. For workers who use the same applications every day and do not need significant computing or storage resources, BlueFire configures hosted desktops using a desktop virtualization model called session virtualization, implemented by using Remote Desktop Services and Citrix XenApp. With session virtualization, users access a centralized installation of a desktop by sending keystrokes to and receiving screenshots from a server, with each virtual machine hosting multiple user sessions. Citrix XenApp enables delivery of a seamless desktop experience across all devices, no matter which operating system is deployed.

  • Power user. Power users want a dedicated workstation, significant processing capability, the ability to install their own applications, and more autonomy in general. For these users, BlueFire uses the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) virtualization model as implemented by using the Windows 7 operating system with Service Pack 1 (SP1) running on Hyper-V. VDI provides the ability to store a desktop operating system, applications, and user data as a full virtual machine on a server. With VDI, each virtual desktop runs in its own Hyper-V virtual machine.

  • Mobile user. Mobile workers typically have a desktop or portable computer but need to be able to access applications and files when outside the office. For these workers, BlueFire uses Remote Desktop Services to give them access to their desktop computers and uses App-V to stream applications as needed to their computers. Personal VDI images run from software clients and are cached on the end-point device, thereby making them available offline.

“Every customer is different, and Microsoft has the most complete desktop virtualization solution to help meet more customers’ business needs,” Serda says. “For example, VDI does not work well for mobile workers, because it lacks offline capability. But VDI is perfect for remote-office workers or companies that need extremely high levels of security. Then again, session virtualization is ideal for some users and more cost-effective than VDI. With Microsoft, we can give each customer what they need.”

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* There are several different ways to deliver desktop virtualization, and Microsoft offers an end-to-end suite that lets us deliver precisely the desktop service our customers need. *

Jason Serda
Managing Director and Chief Information Officer, BlueFire

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BlueFire DaaS Infrastructure
BlueFire runs its DaaS offering on approximately 165 Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) B-Series blade servers running both the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise and Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise with Service Pack 1 (SP1) operating systems. On these 165 host servers, BlueFire has created nearly 20,000 virtual desktops and runs nearly 700 applications. “We average about 120 desktops per server,” says Serda. “This is a vast improvement over the 30 users per server that we could accommodate before virtualization.”

Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 provides the Dynamic Memory feature, which is an enhancement to Hyper-V that allows memory on a host server to be pooled and dynamically distributed to virtual machines based on workload demand, without service interruption. This provides more consistent system performance and is easier for administrators to manage. “We have deployed Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 in production workloads, and Dynamic Memory adds huge flexibility to our cloud environment,” Serda says. “Virtual machines are constantly being moved from host to host, and we are no longer constrained by host memory.”

Easy Online DaaS Ordering
When BlueFire began virtualizing servers using Hyper-V, it built an automation solution called BlueFire Service Delivery Hub to automate virtual machine creation and migration. It used Microsoft System Center data center solutions, the Microsoft Dynamic Data Center Toolkit for Hosters, and the Windows PowerShell command-line interface and scripting language to create this automated console. The Dynamic Data Center Toolkit for Hosters provides step-by-step instructions for building an instantly scalable virtualized infrastructure. The BlueFire development team was able to take this code and combine it with the company’s own intellectual property to deliver best-in-class DaaS.

BlueFire uses its Service Delivery Hub to automatically build hosted desktops and enable customers to build their own. Customers simply log on to the BlueFire Service Delivery Hub portal and use a graphical interface to determine their needs. BlueFire has customers fill out a detailed questionnaire about their computing needs so that it knows which user profile (task worker, power user, or mobile user) to assign to each desktop. Customers also specify which applications each employee needs.

Once BlueFire knows each user’s needs, the BlueFire Service Delivery Hub configures the hosted desktops using a fully automated process. “Once we determine each user’s profile, the Service Delivery Hub places the user in a specific group in Active Directory Domain Services, which gives them access to a particular type of hosted desktop and applications,” Serda says.

BlueFire also offers the Service Delivery Hub to its service provider partners, so they can offer DaaS and other cloud services to their customers. “Service provider customers can power up virtual machines in our main data center and then transfer them to any of our data centers to locate computing power closest to the point of use,” Serda says. “They use the portal to simply drag resources between data centers. They have enormous and flexible control over their virtual infrastructure.”

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* We average about 120 desktops per server. This is a vast improvement over the 30 users per server that we could accommodate before virtualization. *

Jason Serda
Managing Director and Chief Information Officer, BlueFire

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Extensive Management Capabilities
In addition to using System Center solutions to create the Service Delivery Hub, BlueFire uses them to manage the thousands of physical and virtual servers across all seven data centers. It uses Microsoft System Center Server Management Suite Datacenter (SMSD) to cost-effectively license all the applications needed for a comprehensive solution for management of high-density virtual server environments. The SMSD license provides rights to manage an unlimited number of operating system environments on a single physical server.

Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 is the technology used by the BlueFire Service Delivery Hub to create new virtual machines and perform virtual-to-virtual and physical-to-virtual server migration. But System Center Virtual Machine Manager also gathers status and health information about all servers, desktops, and applications, and delivers it to the BlueFire Service Delivery Hub portal where it is viewable as user-friendly charts and graphs.

BlueFire uses Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to deploy applications and security updates to physical and virtual servers, and it uses Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 to monitor servers. “We have very advanced automation capabilities with System Center,” Serda says. “With the combination of System Center and Windows PowerShell, we can automate just about any function in our data center environment.”

As a workflow engine for its technology, BlueFire uses Microsoft System Center Orchestrator 2012, a Microsoft automation solution for orchestrating and integrating IT tools to lower the cost of data center operations while improving the reliability of IT processes.

Benefits
BlueFire has expanded BlueFire DaaS to meet a range of customer needs, giving customers anywhere access to their work applications and relieving them of significant desktop costs and worries. BlueFire has also lowered its own costs by using Microsoft software and gained a cost-effective hosting and management infrastructure that will enable it to profitably grow its hosted desktop business.

Unprecedented Flexibility in Configuring Hosted Desktops
By using Microsoft software, BlueFire has unprecedented flexibility in configuring hosted desktop services. “With Microsoft virtualization software, we can offer customers precisely the desktop solution they need,” Serda says. “Customers want to work the way they want to work, and we’re able to offer different DaaS models to meet their needs.”

Anywhere Desktop Access, Increased Availability
BlueFire DaaS gives customers the ability to access needed applications from any location that has an Internet connection, using any device. “With our hosted desktop service, customers can gain remote access to their work desktops from their Apple iPad, iPhone, or other devices, from anywhere,” Serda says. “This service really enables customers to work the way they want to work.”

Customers using BlueFire DaaS also have fewer worries about computer and data loss. All BlueFire hosted desktops have full redundancy across multiple data centers, so there is seldom a catastrophic loss of user applications or desktop data. If an employee loses a portable computer or smartphone, a backup of their data remains in a BlueFire data center.

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* With the combination of System Center and Windows PowerShell, we can automate just about any function in our data center environment. *

Jason Serda
Managing Director and Chief Information Officer, BlueFire

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Reduced Costs for Customers
BlueFire customers also reduce desktop-related costs with BlueFire DaaS. “The cost savings of desktop virtualization can be significant—up to a 40 or 50 percent reduction in hardware, software licensing, and desktop management time,” Serda says. “Customers eliminate disparate desktop configurations that are hard to manage and gain a standard operating environment. If something goes wrong with a PC, a user can log on to another PC to get to their files. Small businesses can think about their business and not about IT.”

Lower Data Center Costs
With the rich suite of virtualization and management software from Microsoft, BlueFire also reduces capital and operating costs. By using Hyper-V, it has been able to dramatically reduce its hardware expenditures by packing dozens or hundreds of virtual servers and desktops inside each host server. Dynamic Memory increases virtual machine density even more. “With Dynamic Memory, we can achieve greater virtual machine density, and the virtual machines perform faster and better,” Serda says. “Applications have access to the full amount of memory on the host computer.”

With the automation made possible by System Center, Citrix, and Windows PowerShell, BlueFire has also dramatically reduced data center management costs. “I would estimate that the work involved in provisioning hosted desktops and servers has been cut in half by the use of Microsoft software,” says Serda. “Just as important is the ability to deliver the same thing [consistent desktop environments] over and over again and manage it in a consistent way. Provisioning virtual desktops is still very complex. You absolutely need an end-to-end automated software solution, and Microsoft has it. Without these tools, we simply could not deliver this service at a competitive price.”

Large Revenue Potential
BlueFire is working to grow its DaaS business and feels that it has a competitive, customer-focused offering while other managed hosted providers are attempting to persuade customers to accept a “one size fits all” desktop virtualization solution. “Customers want what they want, not what we want to sell them,” Serda says. “Additionally, the consumerization of IT is driving hosted desktop demand; customers desperately want to use iPads, other tablets, and smartphones to get to their applications. They can do that with BlueFire DaaS. We continue to see huge growth in the DaaS market and expect an increase of 40 percent per year.”

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 BlueFire products and services, call (61) (2) 8969-4000 or visit the website at:
www.bluefire.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 90 employees

Organization Profile

BlueFire provides cloud and managed hosted computing services to companies across Australia and the Pacific Rim. BlueFire has seven data centers in Australia and New Zealand and 100 employees.


Business Situation

BlueFire wanted to enhance its hosted desktop offering and reduce server acquisition and management costs. It also wanted more latitude in fitting virtual desktop offerings to customer needs.


Solution

BlueFire used Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V, Remote Desktop Services, Microsoft Application Virtualization, and Microsoft System Center data center solutions to create a flexible Desktop as a Service offering.


Benefits

  • Unprecedented desktop virtualization flexibility
  • Anywhere desktop access
  • Reduced costs for customers
  • Lower costs for BlueFire
  • Large revenue potential


Hardware
  • Cisco Unified Computing System B-Series blade servers


Third Party Software
  • Citrix XenApp 6.0


Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance
  • Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007
  • Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2
  • Microsoft System Center Orchestrator
  • Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2
  • Windows Server Remote Desktop Services
  • Microsoft Active Directory Domain Services
  • Microsoft Hyper-V

Vertical Industries
Hosters & ISPs

Country/Region
Australia

Business Need
Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issue
  • Cloud Services
  • Virtualization

Languages
English

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