4-page Case Study
Posted: 12/5/2013
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Ikoula Hosting Provider Gains Advantage with Hybrid Cloud Flexibility, Self-Service Portal

iKoula is a leading hosting service provider in France whose customers wanted more flexibility in moving workloads between their own data centers, iKoula data centers, and Windows Azure. iKoula upgraded to the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system and deployed the Windows Azure Pack, a set of technologies deployed on Windows Server and Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 that provides customers with services consistent with those in Windows Azure. iKoula customers use the portal provided in the Windows Azure Pack to provision and manage their own websites, virtual machines, and databases. With these technologies, iKoula gives customers more control over their IT resources and more flexibility in where those resources run. iKoula also reduced its infrastructure costs and increased its competitive stature.

Situation
iKoula is a leading hosting service provider in France. The 50-person, family-owned company has strong expertise and a culture of innovation, especially in cloud services. iKoula manages more than 40,000 websites for 5,000 customers from its Reims, France, data center (east of Paris), which contains 5,000 physical servers and 8,000 virtual machines. Since 1998, iKoula has grown at least 15 percent a year, with an expected 2013 revenue of €6 million (US$8 million).

Because hosting is quite competitive in France, iKoula has to work hard to provide more customized services, better customer support, and lower prices than the competition (iKoula offers a €1-per-month (US$1.37) virtual machine). It’s a never-ending effort. iKoula used the Hyper-V virtualization technology included in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system to virtualize many of its approximately 3,000 Windows-based host servers. However, it hadn’t taken the next step of constructing a hosted cloud environment, whereby the virtualized infrastructure is enhanced with automation to dynamically and automatically reconfigure virtual resources on demand.

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* Our customers love the self-service portal that we were able to offer with the Windows Azure Pack. They can create and reconfigure their own virtual machines, which gives them tremendous flexibility. *

Pierre Fricotteaux
Principal Windows System Engineer, iKoula

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“We were providing dedicated virtual machines to customers, but our offering was not as flexible or scalable as we wanted,” says Pierre Fricotteaux, Principal Windows System Engineer at iKoula. iKoula had created its own self-service portal using the Virtual Machine Manager component of Microsoft System Center 2012, but the iKoula staff still had to perform many manual steps before handing the virtual machine to the customer. The customer could then use the portal to perform limited actions, such as starting and stopping the virtual machine and taking a snapshot.

iKoula wanted to continue to expand its business in France and the United Kingdom but needed more automation and more differentiated offerings to do so. It also wanted to add multitenancy to its data center, whereby workloads from multiple customers could run on the same physical hardware.

Additionally, many iKoula customers were moving workloads into Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud platform that provides on-demand compute, storage, content delivery, and networking capabilities from Microsoft data centers. However, nearly all customers had to keep some workloads inside France because of data residency and privacy laws, and they were looking for a bridge between the on-premises and public cloud models. “We had the opportunity to be the critical link between on-premises customer data centers and Windows Azure,” Fricotteaux says. “We just needed to get to market with an offering before anyone else.”

Solution
iKoula gained the first-mover advantage that it sought by participating in the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program (RDP) for the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system and Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 data center solutions. Through this program, iKoula received guided assistance in creating a multitenant hosted cloud. It further used the Windows Azure Pack to provision services consistent with Windows Azure from its own data center and create a self-service portal for customer provisioning and management.

The Windows Azure Pack is a collection of technologies that hosting service providers can use to deploy services consistent with Windows Azure from their own data centers. These technologies, built on top of Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, include portals for both hosting administrators and customers and services for websites, virtual machines, networks, databases, and an enterprise service bus. Plus, because the solution is extensible, Microsoft and third-party providers will continue to innovate on the platform with new services.

“We wanted to provide a service that was consistent with Windows Azure, even in portal appearance, but was hosted locally in France,” Fricotteaux says. “The Windows Azure Pack is a great complement to Windows Azure and the foundation for a competitive hosted cloud offering.”

iKoula worked closely with Microsoft Services to deploy the new software. Microsoft Services Enterprise Strategy provided best practices and reference designs for a Microsoft private cloud, and Microsoft Services Consulting provided on-site assistance in constructing the environment. “We had a very good experience working with Microsoft Services,” says Johan Delattre, Microsoft Administrator at iKoula. “It was the first time we had the opportunity to have a Microsoft engineer onsite to help us. We received great help and faster answers to our questions.”

Self-Service Customer Portal
During the RDP, iKoula used Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 to transform its virtualized data center into a multitenant hosted cloud environment with a self-service customer portal. The iKoula staff uses System Center 2012 R2 to manage the entire cloud environment, and customers use the portal to requisition and manage their own virtual machines.

From the Windows Azure Pack portal, customers can purchase iKoula services such as virtual machines, which look identical to the services running in Windows Azure data centers. Customers select the operating system they want (Linux or Windows), the amount of memory, number of processors, and amount of storage, and see the monthly charges for the configuration before they click and purchase. For more sophisticated configurations, customers can work with iKoula to customize network capacity, install multiple virtual machine templates, customize firewalls and load balancing, and more.

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* If we can provide services consistent with Windows Azure here in France, we can help our customers by offering another way to host their workloads. *

Pierre Fricotteaux
Principal Windows System Engineer, iKoula

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iKoula uses System Center 2012 R2 to automate the whole provisioning process. It uses the Virtual Machine Manager component of System Center 2012 R2 to provision virtual machines using templates, the Orchestrator component for workflow automation, and the Operations Manager component for server and application monitoring.

Hybrid Cloud Mobility
With its private cloud environment, iKoula is able to become the critical link between customer-premises data centers and Windows Azure. “It’s a real challenge to implement a hybrid cloud that spans three different data center environments, but it’s really important for us to have this capability,” Fricotteaux says. “If a customer decides that a workload cannot be run in our data center or in Windows Azure anymore, they can move it back on-premises very easily. Or, if they need to move an on-premises lab environment into production, they can move that workload into our data center with just one mouse-click. Windows Azure Pack provides the critical linkage between customer-premises data centers and Windows Azure.”

Benefits
By upgrading to Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, iKoula was able to give customers more autonomy over their iKoula-hosted servers and the flexibility to move workloads between their data centers, iKoula data centers, and Windows Azure. By automating routine infrastructure tasks, iKoula reduces administrative costs and can redirect that time and money into expanding its business. All these capabilities help iKoula be more competitive in the French hosting market.

Give Customers More Control Over IT Resources
iKoula customers can use the Windows Azure Pack self-service portal to easily provision their own IT resources using an infrastructure-as-a-service model. Instead of creating just one or two virtual machines at a time, they can create dozens or hundreds at once, with push-button simplicity. “Our customers love the self-service portal that we were able to offer with the Windows Azure Pack,” Fricotteaux says. “They can create and reconfigure their own virtual machines, which gives them tremendous flexibility in adapting their IT to changing business needs. Customers no longer need to wait several days to receive their iKoula servers; they can have them in minutes.”

iKoula used the portal out of the box, as Microsoft designed it, because iKoula considers the Windows Azure “look and feel” to be a big business advantage. “So many of our customers are also hosting workloads in Windows Azure, so it’s a benefit for our portal to look as much like the Windows Azure portal as possible,” Fricotteaux says. However, some iKoula customers are hosting resellers, and they have the freedom to modify the iKoula portal with their own logo and colors.

Deliver More Cloud Flexibility
By using the Windows Azure Pack to offer these new services within its own data center, iKoula is able to offer customers more flexible hosting options. For example, iKoula hosts Microsoft Exchange Server email messaging for many customers, most of whom require that their mailboxes be hosted in France. Now, customers can combine iKoula hosted email with Microsoft Office 365, which provides email messaging and other productivity services from Microsoft data centers.

“With Windows Server 2012 R2, we can fill the gap between customer data centers and Windows Azure,” Fricotteaux says. “If a customer wants to run a workload in the public cloud, they can move it to Windows Azure. Flexibility is one of our most important goals, and Microsoft gives us that flexibility. Microsoft has a real advantage in having a common operating system and platform across public, hosted, and private clouds, with interoperability between all three.”

Increase Competitive Advantage and Reduce Administrative Costs
With its new Windows Server 2012 R2-based products, iKoula can reach new types of customers that it could not access before—typically, developers who already use Windows Azure to deploy websites and databases and need a service like Windows Azure hosted in France. “If we can provide services consistent with Windows Azure here in France, we can help our customers by offering another way to host their workloads,” Fricotteaux says. “We were the first-to-market in France with a Windows Azure Pack self-service portal offering, and it’s a big competitive differentiator for us.”

iKoula not only stands to expand its business with the new offerings but also to reduce the operational costs that previously stymied business growth. The virtual machine provisioning and deprovisioning process is much easier and less time-consuming. “Previously, it could take five minutes to create a virtual machine but a week to deal with manual administrative tasks such as approvals,” Delattre says. “System Center 2012 R2 automates all that and saves both our customers and our staff a great deal of time.”

From a strategic perspective, iKoula can provide more customized services and customer assistance. “We don’t want to simply be providers of server racks; our goal is to provide more flexible and innovative products that help our customers succeed in their businesses,” Fricotteaux says. “When we reduce routine infrastructure management work, we free up more time to research and create innovative services and spend time with customers to learn about their needs.”

Transform the data center
The hybrid cloud from Microsoft transforms the data center by extending existing investments in skills and technology with public cloud services and a common set of management tools. With an on-premises infrastructure connected to the Windows Azure platform, you can deliver services faster and scale up or down quickly to meet changing needs.

For more information about transforming the data center, go to:
www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/cloud-os/modern-data-center.aspx

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 iKoula products and services, visit the website at:
www.ikoula.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 50 employees

Organization Profile

iKoula hosts more than 40,000 websites for 5,000 customers in France. The Paris-based hosting provider specializes in cloud services.


Business Situation

To gain a competitive advantage, iKoula wanted to give customers more self-service capabilities and also help customers bridge their on-premises data centers and Windows Azure.


Solution

iKoula upgraded to Windows Server 2012 R2 and Microsoft System Center 2012 R2, which includes the ability to use the Windows Azure Pack to provide services from its own data center that are consistent with those in Windows Azure.


Benefits

  • Give customers more control over IT resources
  • Deliver greater cloud flexibility
  • Increase competitive advantage and reduce administrative costs

Hardware
  • Dell PowerEdge R710 servers

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Microsoft Azure Pack
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft Services
  • Microsoft Consulting Services
  • Microsoft Enterprise Strategy Services
  • Datacenter
  • Microsoft System Center 2012 R2
  • Microsoft Hyper-V

Vertical Industries
Hosters & ISPs

Country/Region
France

Business Need
Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issue
Cloud Services

Languages
English

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