4-page Case Study
Posted: 9/24/2012
286
Rate This Evidence:

Business Connexion IT Provider Expects to Reduce Storage, Bandwidth Needs with Branch Cache Solution

Business Connexion is a fast-growing South African IT services firm that likes rising revenues but has a different opinion of its own rising IT costs. The costs of branch-office access to data over the wide area network were a particular concern. To address those costs, the company is adopting Windows Server 2012 with BranchCache technology. Business Connexion is using it to centralize data while streamlining the process by which it’s cached and used at branch offices—reducing the time it takes business users to download and open large files, boosting the accuracy of data, and increasing IT productivity.

Situation
It seemed like there was nothing that could hold back Business Connexion, one of South Africa’s largest and most successful IT companies. The company became the biggest data center in the South African market, with a 27 percent market share, and perhaps the most reliable, with only 17 minutes of downtime per year. According to independent estimates cited on the company’s website, its systems support 20 percent of South Africa’s custom software development, 30 percent of the country’s payroll systems, and 40 percent of its liquid fuel deliveries.

*
* Instantaneous data access is a tremendous benefit of Windows Server 2012 and BranchCache. It means the technology is fast enough to keep up with the business users. *

Adrian Chambers
Principal Consultant, Advanced Managed Services,
Corporate Information Services,
Business Connexion

*
When Business Connexion was much smaller, the wide area network (WAN) bandwidth available in South Africa and much of the continent—generally 512 or fewer kilobytes per second, and up to about 0.5 megabytes per second—was sufficient. Certainly it imposed no limits on growth. But as Business Connexion grew, opening more branch offices, farther from its headquarters, and increasing the amount of business handled at those branches, suddenly, limited bandwidth appeared to be a possible, if not likely, constraint on further growth.

Both business users and IT professionals at Business Connexion felt the pain. It could take six or more minutes to download large files from the headquarters to a branch office—not an eternity, but long enough to break a business user’s momentum and concentration, thus slowing productivity. Storing files on local shares or personal hard disks to avoid the WAN gave business users faster access to data, but the inherent redundancy of local and individual file stores bred problems of version control and data accuracy. For business users in offices too small to support local file shares, sharing files among colleagues was even more risky.

IT professionals weren’t any happier. The high cost of WAN bandwidth consumed precious IT budget. Maintaining local file shares to avoid the WAN meant more branch hardware to buy and maintain and, for small branches that didn’t warrant on-staff support, more IT services to buy from contractors. It also meant more power consumption. Configuring client software for data exchange was a manual, time-consuming, and error-prone process. Backing up local data was another manual process, one involving backup tapes that sometimes proved unreliable. All of these IT issues added to the company’s capital and operating budgets. And that wasn’t all.

“Getting traffic over the network was always a balancing act,” says Jan Fourie, Team Leader, Platform and Infrastructure, Corporate Information Services at Business Connexion. “A priority for one protocol meant slower status for others. Everyone wanted their data to flow over the network as fast as possible—and that wasn’t possible.”

Solution
The company looked at potential answers, such as network devices designed for a Quality of Service solution. But these would add significant cost while only addressing network speeds—not any of the related issues, including data access, accuracy, redundancy, and remote management.

*
* Getting traffic over the network was always a balancing act. *

Jan Fourie
Team Leader, Platform and Infrastructure, Corporate Information Services,
Business Connexion

*
Instead, Business Connexion turned to a very different type of solution: the Windows Server 2012 operating system. The company, already running largely on Microsoft technology, was eager to upgrade its servers to Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 when it learned of the newly enhanced BranchCache capability in Windows Server 2012, a capability designed exactly for companies facing the challenges of connecting remote offices or branches—or even remote data centers.

BranchCache is a WAN bandwidth optimization technology that downloads content from a company’s content servers and caches it at office locations, allowing local client computers to access it. After a client computer has downloaded content one time, other client computers that request the same content don’t have to download it from the content servers over the WAN connection; instead, they retrieve small identifiers, called “content information,” from the remote content servers. Clients use the content information to find the content in the local office, cached on either a server running Windows Server or on other client computers (a scenario called “peer caching”), depending on the mode in which BranchCache has been deployed.

This technology was introduced in the previous version of Windows Server, but it was the major enhancements to it in Windows Server 2012 that caught the attention of Fourie and his colleagues, even before the software’s general release in September 2012. Those enhancements include:

  • An Extensible Storage Engine that powers Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, allowing a single hosted cache server to meet the demands of more people while using the same hardware.

  • A single Group Policy Object for the deployment of BranchCache anywhere in a company, replacing the need for office-by-office configuration of a separate Group Policy Object at each location.

  • Automatic client computer configuration, eliminating the need for manual configuration.

  • Encrypted cache data without the need for server security certificates.

  • Management of BranchCache with Windows PowerShell and Windows Management Instrumentation.

  • Integration with Windows File Server, which BranchCache uses to help identify unneeded duplicate data.

With guidance from Microsoft Services, Business Connexion participated in the Microsoft prerelease Rapid Deployment Program for Windows Server 2012 and focused on test and production deployments of branch caching. Microsoft Services helped the company to install one hardware server—an HP DL385 G6 server—at its headquarters as the central file server. The company’s deployment of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, also accessed through the solution, runs on an Egenera blade server.

*
* We primarily use HP servers at Business Connexion because this is what we provide to our clients as well; we know we can count on them. *

Jan Fourie
Team Leader, Platform and Infrastructure, Corporate Information Services,
Business Connexion

*
“We primarily use HP servers at Business Connexion because this is what we provide to our clients as well; we know we can count on them,” says Fourie. “For BranchCache, we use HP internal storage, without the need for an external SAN [storage area network] device.”

The company is running BranchCache in two offices, with at least 50 employees in each. The BranchCache role is hosted in each office on an existing hardware server upgraded to Windows Server 2012, and is accessed through client computers running Windows 8. The technology is also used in one smaller office in the peer caching model. There, the local, client computers are again running Windows 8. Fourie expects the full, enterprisewide deployment of Windows Server 2012 and BranchCache to be completed in 2013.

Business Connexion is also a longtime user of Microsoft System Center for both data center and client management. Fourie expects the company to use the newest version, System Center 2012, together with the Hyper-V virtualization technology in Windows Server 2012, to migrate its infrastructure to a private cloud infrastructure. In that scenario, BranchCache would become a virtualized service on the private cloud, facilitating its broader deployment as Business Connexion continues to grow.

Benefits
Business Connexion is already speeding up the time to access data through its use of Windows Server 2012 and BranchCache. It expects to increase IT productivity, too.

Eliminates Wait to Access Data
Business Connexion adopted BranchCache capability in Windows Server 2012 in part to speed and simplify data exchange between its headquarters and remote offices. With the deployment still in its early phases, the company says it’s accomplished that goal. In just two weeks, the technology cached about 1 gigabyte (GB) of data from the central File Server, 4.6 GB of data from the SharePoint Server in the Data Center, and 300 MB of data cached on Windows 8–based client computers in peer caching mode. As a result, content retrieval improved markedly. Business users who accessed information from cache rather than from the source data across the WAN opened even large files instantaneously, rather than waiting five or six minutes, as before.

*
* As more and more employees see how well BranchCache works, they won’t want to take chances with erroneous or outdated data from other sources. *

Jan Fourie
Team Leader, Platform and Infrastructure, Corporate Information Services,
Business Connexion

*
“Instantaneous data access is a tremendous benefit of Windows Server 2012 and BranchCache,” says Adrian Chambers, Principal Consultant, Advanced Managed Services, Corporate Information Services at Business Connexion. “It means the technology is fast enough to keep up with the business users—they no longer have to slow their work to accommodate the technology. As more of our employees upgrade to Windows 8, this advantage will spread throughout the company. Collectively, it will be a massive improvement in how we access and use information. Information will be more current and more accurate, and that will improve virtually everything that we do.”

Boosts IT Productivity, Expects to Reduce Data Volume by One-Third
Business Connexion’s successful use of BranchCache will also support another company goal: the centralization of data on servers running SharePoint Server, rather than on individual or department hard disks scattered throughout the company.

“As more and more employees see how well BranchCache works, they won’t want to take chances with erroneous or outdated data from other sources,” says Jan Fourie. “As we move more consistently to centralized data, IT productivity will increase. For example, data backup will be faster and more accurate because information will be in one place, and we’ll be able to eliminate data duplication—which we estimate is as high as one-third of our data—reducing the amount of information that needs to be backed up and managed.”

Business Connexion will use the various enhancements to BranchCache in Windows Server 2012 to boost IT productivity further by, for example, eliminating the time and effort to deploy and manage cache servers and clients individually, and to configure and deploy multiple Group Policy Objects. The company will be able to identify and purge duplicate data more easily and manage branch caches remotely.

Fourie has another insight into the benefits of using BranchCache in Windows Server 2012. One of his colleagues implemented the earlier, 2008 version at another company. “He can’t believe how much easier it is to install BranchCache in Windows Server 2012,” Fourie says. “We can just configure a few lines in one Group Policy and deploy to the whole infrastructure in a few hours. We don’t install certificates or multiple Group Policies across our sites.”

Expects to Reduce Storage, Bandwidth Needs
The gains for business users and IT professionals translate into savings for Business Connexion. Eliminating data duplication by one-third will enable Business Connexion to reduce storage needs, as well.

By using peer caching in small offices, the company will eliminate the need to buy and maintain servers in each of those locations. By hosting branch caches on existing servers—and, ultimately, on virtual servers, the company will minimize hardware needs further.

And with bandwidth used more effectively, Business Connexion will be able to slow the growth of its need for additional bandwidth, even as the rate of data access increases.

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 Business Connexion products and services, visit the website at
www.bcx.co.za

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 7000 employees

Organization Profile

Business Connexion, based in South Africa, is a major IT services provider to both the private and public sectors.


Business Situation

As Business Connexion grew, so did its numbers of branch offices and employees working in them, putting an increasing strain on its IT staff and budget to support additional hardware and network costs.


Solution

The company has adopted Windows Server 2012 with BranchCache technology, which works with existing branch hardware and even serves branch offices too small to justify a server role on that hardware.


Benefits
  • Eliminates wait time to access data
  • Boosts IT productivity, expects to reduce data volume by one-third
  • Expects to reduce storage, bandwidth needs


Hardware
  • HP DL385 G6

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2012
  • BranchCache
  • Microsoft Services
  • Datacenter

Vertical Industries
IT Services

Country/Region
South Africa

Business Need
  • Cloud & Server Platform
  • Cost Containment

IT Issue
  • Virtualization
  • Private Cloud
  • Cloud Services

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Microsoft Services

RSS