Air Products, a worldwide manufacturer of gas products and services, sought to move its messaging system from an on-premises arrangement to a Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based solution. Before it could feel comfortable with such a decision, the
company wanted to visit the facility that would host its data. It attended a Data Center Briefing at a Microsoft data center and learned what it needed to confidently move forward with its migration.
Air Products supplies a unique portfolio of atmospheric and other gases, performance materials, equipment, and services to consumers in more than 40 countries. The company serves customers across a variety of industries, including food and beverage,
healthcare, energy, transportation, and semiconductors.
The company relies on cutting-edge technologies in the manufacture of its products, so it always turns a keen eye toward advancements in other technological areas. In 2010, when Air Products faced the need for a messaging system upgrade, the company analyzed
whether to upgrade to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 in a traditional on-premises implementation or to move to Microsoft Exchange Online, a hosted version that is part of Microsoft Office 365. “We follow market trends, and we could see that a software-as-a-service
model was getting lots of positive press,” says Bob Elward, Director of Infrastructure Engineering at Air Products. “We decided that we needed some experience with a hosted cloud services offering and thought that our messaging solution might be a good first
step in gaining that experience.” Air Products also appreciated the scalability that such a service could offer, with variable costing based on the company’s changing size.
||Seeing the well-run nature and integrity of the data center along with its massive scale convinced us that Microsoft would be an excellent vendor to host our global email system.
| Bob Elward
Director of Infrastructure Engineering, Air Products
However, Air Products would not move to Exchange Online without first seeing a Microsoft data center in action. “When we make a decision to outsource, we like to visit the physical facility where our information will be hosted to get a sense of the building’s
security and location, see how well it’s run, and meet some of the people who manage it,” explains Elward. “It’s an important part of our due diligence effort, and we wouldn’t agree to an outsourcing arrangement without it.”
In December 2010, a group of Air Products executives traveled to Chicago, Illinois, for a Strategy Briefing at a Microsoft Technology Center (MTC), followed by a Data Center Briefing (DCB) at a nearby Microsoft facility. “Our intention was to tour the
data center, but we wanted to maximize the value of the trip, so we used the Strategy Briefing at the MTC to talk about Exchange Online and the direction that Microsoft was taking with Microsoft System Center products, including how we could use them to aid
in our migration to cloud-based solutions,” recalls Elward.
Prior to the tour, Air Products attended sessions that were dedicated to discussions about the scale to which Microsoft was building its data centers. “The sessions gave us new insight into how much Microsoft is investing in this area,” says Elward. “It
was clear that Microsoft is not just toying with cloud services but is in it for the long term.”
The Air Products team then visited the facility itself. “The building is appropriately nondescript, even though it’s hard to hide something of that size, and it had all the proper physical security mechanisms in place,” says Elward. “Nobody could casually
enter, which was definitely important to us.”
The tour began upstairs, in raised-floor rooms partitioned with approximately 10,000 servers per partition. “We could see from the partitioning and card access to each room, along with other measures taken, that this was a tightly run operation,” says Elward.
Downstairs, the Air Products group encountered a different, containerized setup. “It looked like a very clean loading dock, with neat aisles of white shipping containers that each housed approximately 2,000 servers,” says Elward. “We were struck by the fact
that each self-contained unit required just four connections to the data center, making it easy to replace if necessary. Seeing so many units lined up like that had a big impact on us.”
Air Products left the DCB with an extremely positive impression, leading to the company’s adoption of Exchange Online, which went live for the company’s 22,000 mailboxes in May 2012. “Seeing the well-run nature and integrity of the data center along
with its massive scale convinced us that Microsoft would be an excellent vendor to host our global email system,” says Elward. Benefits include:
Better sense of scale. Air Products had viewed other data centers in the past, but none as large as the Microsoft facility. “This was a completely different scale than anything we have seen before,” says Elward. “We realized that Microsoft
is one of only a few organizations that can achieve operational efficiency and uptime on that scale.”
Greater understanding of innovation. The use of containers and their cooling mechanisms, rotary flywheel technology for redundant power, and other advancements introduced to the group on the tour exemplified the forward thinking that Microsoft
uses in its data center design. “We were impressed at the progressive cooling and all the other innovative processes and systems Microsoft is using,” says Elward. “The DCB is not an experience you forget.”
Reassurance about security, reliability. Through the DCB, Air Products confirmed its decision to rely on Microsoft for cloud-based messaging. “The DCB experience sold us on the fact that we wouldn’t have to worry about outages from a physical
standpoint if we hosted our email with Microsoft,” says Elward.
Strategic insight. Air Products appreciated learning about the Microsoft vision for data centers in the future, including plans to build more around the world. “We came away convinced that Microsoft really is a leader in the data center
area,” says Elward. “Getting a first-hand account of its strategy assured us that we could trust Microsoft to run our systems.”
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