Design Company Slims Down on Servers after Virtualising Test, Development and Backup

HASSELL is a multidisciplinary design practice with 12 studios across Australia and Asia. In 2007, the company decided to develop a single platform for its project management, time billing and accounting systems, choosing Microsoft Dynamics® AX. However, the application suite would require heavy investment in new server infrastructure: besides the live environment, the technology team needed an ongoing test and development environment to help integrate updates and new applications after the initial roll-out. In April 2008, HASSELL decided to deploy Microsoft Dynamics® AX using Microsoft’s virtualisation product – Hyper-VTM. This cut the number of new servers required by HASSELL from over 20 to seven. In addition, virtualisation has provided the team with permanent test and development facilities and dramatically improved the resilience of the company’s core information systems platform.

Situation

Founded in 1938, HASSELL is an international network of design studios, employing 860 staff in 12 offices across Australia and Asia. It is a multidisciplinary practice that provides architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, planning and urban design services to public, corporate and private clients.

HASSELL used a variety of specialist business applications to help manage its architecture and design projects. Providing accounting, time billing, project progress and customer relationship management (CRM) functionality, the applications had been integrated and developed by the HASSELL technology team over a number of years, as the company adapted to the demands of its design projects and the working needs of professional staff.

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*“We were in a position where there were only a few hours where we could do maintenance, or integrate test and development upgrades. This was untenable.”*
Bill Rue, Chief Information Officer, HASSELL
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“We stretched the overall project management platform about as far as we could without breaking it,” says Bill Rue, Chief Information Officer, HASSELL. “Eventually, the integration was just not good enough; for example, managers could only get project reports at the end of each month because all the data had to be integrated from the different systems.” While the natural choice was for HASSELL to investigate a single enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite, the technology team had a set of ulterior objectives that would influence the architecture of the system they implemented.

One of these was reducing infrastructure cost. Many of the documents are unusually large, consisting of technical drawings, photos, graphics and animations. Consequently, the company’s server capacity needs were extremely high. However, excess server capacity was essential, because HASSELL constantly modified and upgraded its systems.

“For us, maintenance and upgrade is really difficult, partly owing to the diversity and complexity of the systems we use,” says Rue. “And because our studios are spread across Australian and Asian time zones, our out-of-hours maintenance window had been squeezed horribly.

“We were in a position where there were only a few hours where we could do maintenance, or integrate test and development upgrades. This was untenable, not least because the complexity of the applications we use and the needs of our professional staff mean that we need to be doing development work constantly.”

Solution

The search for a solution was a drawn-out process that lasted over two years from the beginning of 2007. Rue’s team assessed both off-the-shelf and build-from-scratch options against a diverse set of criteria.

According to Rue: “It had to be web-based, because our studios and project sites are so geographically dispersed. And it had to be accessible from low-bandwidth/high-latency locations, because some of our projects are still building sites.

“In addition, despite encompassing financials, project management and time-keeping, we wanted a single user logon for ease of use, and we needed it to be integrated with our security access procedures.”

Eventually, HASSELL decided that the optimal application mix was the Microsoft Dynamics® AX platform, with additional Microsoft® customer relationship management and payroll modules, plus third-party application add-ons. However, according to the company’s long-term hardware supplier, Hewlett Packard – who also provided design and implementation consulting services – the scale of the server environment required to sustain this suite was considerable.

“Theoretically, they would need eight servers to implement the Dynamics suite, but in practice they would need triple that, as they needed a permanent test and development site and permanent disaster recovery facility,” says David Lee, a senior HP Services Microsoft Technology Consultant. “So part of the solution was to consolidate the hardware. That was where virtualisation came in. If they virtualised, they would only need seven [servers] in total.

“Because of our hardware background, we have experience in a wide range of virtualisation technologies. But Microsoft Hypervisor, which was the precursor to Hyper-V, had just been released to manufacturers. As an early adopter, HASSELL worked this to their advantage.”

“The rapid deployment program meant that we could test the product early in its life cycle,” says Rue. “We could experiment with it and if we encountered any problems we could get access to people from Microsoft who would resolve them.”

Encouraged by the potential to make large savings in infrastructure costs, in April 2008 HASSELL decided to implement the Dynamics AX suite in a fully virtualised environment.

Benefits

By virtualising its new ERP suite, HASSELL hugely improved the way it was able to deploy and then develop its project management platform. Most importantly, it cut the number of new servers that HASSELL needed to purchase by two-thirds.

Overall business benefit

For the business, the most immediate impact was to reduce the cost of upgrading to an advanced ERP platform.

“Without Hyper-V we would have had to purchase 24 servers to do the test and development and to support the live environment,” says Rue. “Plus we would have required another seven servers for disaster recovery. As it is, we probably saved around $300,000 in hardware costs by only buying seven.”

In addition, the flexibility of an easily replicated live environment ultimately improves reliability. The disaster recovery servers are constantly updated, which ensures that the backup system is up-to-date, and any rebuild is a straightforward exercise.

“If one of our old servers died, then it took a lot of time to do the rebuild,” says Rue. “With Hyper-V, we can replace the server and bring it back online without interruption. Without Hyper-V there would have been an outage window and a danger or continued downtime if the rebuilt server didn’t work. Ultimately this means a lot less risk to the business.

“It’s feasible that we could have done what we do now without virtualisation – we could have bought a stack more hardware. But it would have cost a fortune.”

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*“We did the design in a test and development environment and saved a lot of money because it only took a single piece of hardware to virtualise the live environment.”*
Bill Rue, Chief Information Officer, HASSELL
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Smoother implementation

Even before Microsoft Dynamics AX was rolled out, the functional benefits of a virtualised environment were apparent to the HASSELL technology team.

“We did the design in a test and development environment and saved a lot of money because it only took a single piece of hardware to virtualise the live environment,” says Rue.

With the assistance of HP consultants, the HASSELL team created different development environments for different scenarios that they wanted to test prior to putting the test environment into production.

“By having it virtualised, we could isolate problems on different servers and could test the impact of configurations on each server, with each discrete application,” says Rue. “We could even switch between different servers on one piece of hardware. Even at this stage it was pretty powerful.

“Without Hyper-V we could not have configured the suite as if we were live. It would have either been much more expensive, or what we were developing and testing wouldn’t have been what we actually used.”

Maintenance and upgrade

Virtualisation has dramatically improved the ability of staff to develop and experiment with applications without impinging on the live environment.

“The principal benefit for us is that it is much easier for us to make the changes that we need to make,” says Rue. “We just take a snapshot of the live environment, restart that on another server and get to work on that.”

In addition, the ability to use templates to test new integrations has reduced the time staff need to do development work.

“For example, if we want to add a new security feature to the CRM part of the system, we can take a template of the standard CRM environment and get to work on that,” says Rue. “It means we don’t have to fiddle about with the live environment to see if something works, nor do we have to build a CRM environment from scratch. This saves us hours in the process of putting new procedures or applications into a live environment.

“If there was no Hyper-V, then we would have to put the changes together during an outage and the pressure would mean there would be a high risk it wouldn’t work,” says Rue. Hyper-V means we don’t have to sit through the night doing stuff.”

Microsoft Virtualization

Microsoft virtualization is an end-to-end strategy that can profoundly affect nearly every aspect of the IT infrastructure management lifecycle. It can drive greater efficiencies, flexibility, and cost effectiveness throughout your organization. From accelerating application deployments; to ensuring systems, applications, and data are always available; to taking the hassle out of rebuilding and shutting down servers and desktops for testing and development; to reducing risk, slashing costs, and improving the agility of your entire environment—virtualisation has the power to transform your infrastructure, from the data center to the desktop.

For more information about Microsoft virtualisation solutions, go to: http://www.microsoft.com/virtualization

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, please call 13 20 58 or go to: www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/appv/default.mspx

For more information about Hassell products and services, call (+61) 3 8102 3000 or visit the Web site at: www.hassell.com.au

For more information about HP’’s Microsoft Solutions go to: www.hp.com.au/microsoftsolutions

Customer Size: Medium Organization
Industry: Professional Services
Country or Region: Australia
Solutions:
  • Microsoft Hyper-V Server
  • Microsoft Dynamics AX
Organization Profile: HASSELL is a multidisciplinary design practice that specialises in architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, planning and urban design. It employs approximately 860 staff in 12 studios.

Business Situation: HASSELL wanted to upgrade its enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, but knew the upgrade would require an expensive test and development environment.

Benefits:
  • Dramatically reduced the system upgrade’s original hardware requirement
  • Provided a more powerful and flexible test and development environment
  • Eased subsequent update roll-outs
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