4-page Case Study
Posted: 12/11/2012
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Apollo Health Street IT Provider's Remote Workers Gain Easy Intranet Access with Connectivity Solution

Apollo Health Street, a provider of IT solutions for the healthcare industry, needed a solution of its own to eliminate its reliance on time-consuming, complex, expensive virtual public networks (VPNs). It found that solution in the DirectAccess capability in the Windows Server 2012 operating system. By using the latest version of Windows Server, Apollo Health Street gives remote workers remote access with less latency, in a user-friendly format that turns the intranet into just another resource on the worker’s laptop screen. IT processes that formerly took weeks are now completed in days, if not hours. And the company says that the connectivity through DirectAccess is, in some ways, more secure than the company experienced with VPNs.

Situation
Healthcare delivery goes on around the clock. So healthcare IT delivery has to, too.

Few know this better than Apollo Health Street, which has been serving healthcare organizations with custom IT solutions for more than a decade. The company got its enviable experience in healthcare IT as the IT services arm of its parent company, Apollo Hospitals, one of Asia’s largest healthcare groups, with 50 hospitals and 8,500 beds across the continent.

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* We spend less time, energy, and money managing DirectAccess than we did managing virtual private networks—and get a more user-friendly and useful communications tool. *

Rajendra Prasad Raju
Assistant Vice President, Global Technology Services,
Apollo Health Street

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The company’s staff is split among four facilities in India and seven in the United States. About 20 percent of the US employees work from home, using a combination of managed assets and their own computing devices. Working from home has been less common in India, but that is starting to change.

“Increasingly we need to support our customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Rajendra Prasad Raju, Assistant Vice President, Global Technology Services for Apollo Health Street. “That means our people need access to the network at any time. Accessing the network from home, rather than requiring people to drive to an office, is both more productive and cost-effective. And complete work-from-home scenarios can give employees great flexibility that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

To deliver that around-the-clock access, Apollo Health Street used a series of virtual private networks (VPNs). For the IT department, the VPNs could be time-consuming and costly to manage. For remote workers, establishing VPN connections could be time-consuming, complex, and unreliable. Employees with the client-side software for one VPN couldn’t directly access the other VPNs—even if the applications or data that they wanted to use resided at a site with one of the other VPNs. Employees first had to access the site for which they were authorized, and then access another site that hosted the applications or data. That added noticeably to latency, making the use of VPN technology an even more frustrating experience.

Those users—mostly sales personnel and senior executives—would let Raju and his colleagues know about their frustrations. The IT staff wanted to accommodate them—but how? Beyond the latency issue, Apollo Health Street had other concerns about the VPNs.

One additional concern was security. The IT department might push out new policy settings or software updates to the remote workers but, until those workers established a VPN connection, they wouldn’t get them. And if workers were using their laptops primarily for email, which didn’t require a VPN link, it could be quite a while, up to several weeks, before they received and installed updates.

A related issue concerned terminated employees. Because the VPN account was one of several accounts for each employee, it might not get disabled immediately upon termination. That could leave a terminated employee with broad access to internal files and applications—hardly a desirable situation. “This was the weakest link in the chain connecting remote users to the network,” says Raju. “We needed to do something about it.”

Solution
Although it didn’t realize it at the time, Apollo Health Street took a significant step toward solving these issues in 2010, when it sought out a virtualization platform for its SAP enterprise resource planning system. It considered VMware and the Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 operating system with Hyper-V—and chose the Microsoft solution.

“Given the business-critical nature of SAP, we needed a virtualization solution with the highest possible reliability,” says Raju. “Hyper-V gave us failover clustering to keep SAP running even if we had to move it between servers. Plus we already had a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement. By choosing Hyper-V, we wouldn’t need the additional, and expensive, licenses that we’d need with VMware.”

Learning About DirectAccess
Its adoption of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 for virtualization also gave Apollo Health Street the opportunity to learn about the operating system’s DirectAccess capability. With DirectAccess, remote workers can connect to a corporate intranet without having to resort to the complexity of establishing a VPN. Raju and his colleagues explored the adoption of DirectAccess in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1—until they learned of the impending release of Windows Server 2012, with an updated DirectAccess. The newer version integrates DirectAccess with Routing and Remote Access Service, through which Windows Server provides VPN capability for resources that require it. In addition to streamlining management, the newer DirectAccess is easier to deploy and more reliable and scalable.

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* Accessing the network from home, rather than requiring people to drive to an office, is both more productive and cost-effective. *

Rajendra Prasad Raju
Assistant Vice President, Global Technology Services,
Apollo Health Street

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Apollo Street Health decided to wait for Windows Server 2012. But it didn’t want to wait long. So the company joined the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program and began to work with and deploy the release candidate of the software.

“Deployment of Windows Server 2012 with DirectAccess was easy from start to finish,” says Raju. “Once we had the hardware server ready, installation of the software took 15 to 20 minutes.”

IT professionals used out-of-the-box Windows PowerShell command-line tools and automated scripts for everything from setup to troubleshooting. The addition of a DirectAccess server was the only hardware needed to host the solution. Apollo Health Street uses mostly Dell computers; the DirectAccess server is a Dell PowerEdge 2850 computer. “We like Dell particularly for the support that it provides,” says Raju. “The company is reliable and meets service level agreements regardless of what time of day we call.”

Connecting Automatically
About 110 remote workers are now connecting to the corporate intranet through DirectAccess, and Raju expects that many more will follow them. In contrast to the former requirement to open VPN software, enter user name and password, and adjust configuration settings as needed (for example, pointing to a second site when a primary site is inaccessible) in order to access corporate resources, workers using DirectAccess are connected automatically and seamlessly to those resources every time they turn on their laptops. The connection is made in the background, so the process is transparent to workers—who can be unaware that they are connecting to intranet resources. They access files and applications from the intranet just as they do resources on their laptops: by clicking them.

Because DirectAccess credentials come from the workers’ Active Directory Domain Services accounts, the company automatically cuts the access rights of a terminated worker when it deletes the worker’s Active Directory account; no separate action is needed. Apollo Health Street has also adopted Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption for further security of information sent or received via DirectAccess.

DirectAccess is the first Windows Server 2012 capability that Apollo Health Street adopted—but it won’t be the last. The company has already tested some of its line-of-business applications on the updated Hyper-V and expects to upgrade its virtualization platform to it over the next six months. The move will, for example, give it access to Hyper-V Replica for use in business continuity.

“We expect to use most of the new features in Windows Server 2012,” says Raju.

Benefits
Apollo Health Street is using Windows Server 2012 to give its remote workers faster, easier, and more reliable access to corporate resources. That access is more efficient for IT professionals to provide, and helps ensure the level of security that the company needs to maintain.

Remote Workers See Reduced Latency—and Reduced Frustration
One of the key complaints from remote workers concerned the relatively high latency that they incurred when seeking to connect to intranet resources. That problem has been mitigated by the adoption of Windows Server 2012 with DirectAccess.

“With Windows Server 2012, we’ve made our remote laptops more responsive to users,” says Raju. “Our end users now feel we’ve taken them to the next level of remote computing. Reducing latency may seem like a small thing, but there’s an important feel-good factor involved.”

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* Hyper-V gave us failover clustering to keep SAP running even if we had to move it between servers.” *

Rajendra Prasad Raju
Assistant Vice President, Global Technology Services,
Apollo Health Street

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Another remote-worker benefit, of course, is freedom from having to establish VPNs. “Our remote workers used to feel they had second-class access to the intranet, having to go through the added process of establishing a VPN connection every time they wanted network access,” says Raju. “It took time and it didn’t always work. Now our remote workers are connected to the intranet automatically every time they open their laptops. When senior executives travel, their computing experience can be the same as when they’re working in their offices. Their frustration levels are way down.”

And their agility is way up. For example, when sales representatives or executives wanted to show presentations to customers, they generally had to preload those presentations on their computers, to avoid the time and uncertainty of attempting a VPN connection and downloading a slide deck. But that created version-control problems as copies of the presentations multiplied and as presentations on laptops became dated. Now company personnel can simply click to open the latest versions of presentations on their laptops, accessing the intranet resource as they would any local resource.

IT Staff Gains Faster, Easier Monitoring and Management
The Apollo Health Street IT department also experiences the benefits of the upgrade to Windows Server 2012 with DirectAccess. Using the integrated management console, IT professionals have faster access to more complete information than they did previously, including comprehensive monitoring information on specific server components, and detailed views of connected users and computers—even which resources they are accessing. And the IT staff found many anticipated deployment processes automated, simplified, or eliminated.

Raju says Apollo Health Street benefits in other ways, too. For example, the service desk used to receive 10 to 15 calls every day from users seeking support for making or retaining VPN connections. “Many of the service desk calls that we received were for problems that wouldn’t have existed if we’d had a remote connectivity solution with consistent, ubiquitous access,” he says. “Now that we have that solution, we expect the service desk calls to decline significantly, if not go away all together. That’s a time savings for both remote workers and IT staff.”

The reduced service desk calls are just one aspect of the increased productivity that the company sees from its adoption of DirectAccess. “We wanted the enhanced connectivity of DirectAccess, but we didn’t want to add to IT workloads to adopt it,” says Raju. “We spend less time, energy, and money managing DirectAccess than we did managing virtual private networks—and get a more user-friendly and useful communications tool.”

Company Meets Security Needs
The security of the remote connectivity solution remains a primary interest of Raju’s—but he’s confident that Windows Server 2012 has helped meet the company’s security needs. For example, that “weakest link”—continued access by terminated employees—is no longer a concern, because terminated employees have their intranet access revoked automatically upon the deletion of their Active Directory accounts.

The laptops themselves are also more secure, because security updates and policy settings are deployed automatically. The update process, which formerly took weeks, is now completed within days, if not hours.

“Some chief information officers might still think that VPNs are more secure than DirectAccess—but the faster security update process is one example of how DirectAccess can be more secure,” says Raju. “I feel better knowing that we have 100 percent compliance on updates in a very short period of time.”

Windows Server 2012
Windows Server drives many of the world’s largest data centers, empowers small businesses around the world, and delivers value to organizations of all sizes in between. Building on this legacy, Windows Server 2012 redefines the category, delivering hundreds of new features and enhancements that span virtualization, networking, storage, user experience, cloud computing, automation, and more. Simply put, Windows Server 2012 helps you transform your IT operations to reduce costs and deliver a whole new level of business value.

For more information, visit
www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/windows-server/2012-default.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 Apollo Health Street services, visit the website at:
www.apollohealthstreet.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 3400 employees

Organization Profile

Apollo Health Street, located in Hyderabad, India, with offices in India and the United States, provides IT solutions to the healthcare industry. It has 3,400 employees.


Business Situation

The company used virtual private networks (VPNs) to connect remote workers to the corporate intranet—but those connections were often complex, unreliable, and expensive.


Solution

Apollo Health Street adopted Windows Server 2012 with DirectAccess, using the connectivity solution to replace VPNs.


Benefits

  • Remote workers see reduced latency—and reduced frustration
  • IT staff gains faster, easier monitoring and management
  • Company meets its security needs


Hardware
  • Dell PowerEdge 2850

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2012
  • DirectAccess

Vertical Industries
IT Services

Country/Region
India

Business Need
Cloud & Server Platform

Languages
English

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