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Driven by passion

For more than 100 years now, iconic British luxury brand Aston Martin has been producing sports cars that inspire passion in their owners.

But drivers aren't the only ones passionate about the brand. As cars roll off the company's state-of-the-art assembly lines each day, you can see — and feel — the passion of the people who are hand-crafting the prestigious automobiles.

That same passion extends to IT which strives to mirror the power, beauty, and soul found in the company's exceptional sports cars. But as Aston Martin accelerated its growth and ramped up production, the IT department became known primarily as a support group. Important, certainly, but not passion inspiring.

To drive the technology innovation the company needed, the IT team knew it had to forge a new identity, to become more proactive. "What I found when I arrived here was that we were very reactive," says Daniel Roach-Rooke, the company's IT Infrastructure Manager. "There was no integration with the business. We weren't able to act as a business enabler at all."

For Aston Martin IT, it was time to face reality. "We had to simplify our IT platform and our policies and procedures," says Roach-Rooke. "And to do that, we needed to align the business with a strategic IT partner who could provide us with robust, leading-edge, and interoperable technologies so that we could build a central IT function with global insight and management."

That partner turned out to be Microsoft. "We found there were a lot of vendors who were good in single areas, but what we were looking for was an end-to-end approach, and that's why I liked the Microsoft product stack," explains Roach-Rooke. More specifically, Aston Martin liked Microsoft cloud technology, and chose to fully embrace what the cloud had to offer. With that decision, the beginnings of an IT transformation were in place.

"The IT team's purpose is to enable Aston Martin to build the most beautiful sports cars in the world. So from servers, to desktops, to production line PCs, Microsoft technology is behind everything we do.”

— Daniel Roach-Rooke, IT Infrastructure Manager
Inspired to innovate

As Aston Martin started exploring the cloud, it knew that transforming IT wasn't going to happen overnight.

That's because the company's supporting infrastructure—including offices in Germany, the United States, Japan, and China as well as corporate headquarters and production facilities in Gaydon, England—was a heterogeneous platform of operating systems and management tools. "The landscape that I found when I arrived here was very disparate," admits Roach-Rooke. "There was no high availability. There was no monitoring in place." Security was another concern. "We design beautiful sports cars, and we don't want to see those designs released to the press before they go live," says Roach-Rooke.

As the first step on its journey to becoming a new kind of IT, Aston Martin implemented Microsoft Office 365, which offers hosted cloud versions of Microsoft Exchange Server and SharePoint Server, giving employees cloud-based communication and collaboration tools and remote access to email. Inspired by that technology's easy deployment and adoption, Aston Martin decided to take another step into the cloud, moving the corporate website, www.astonmartin.com, to the Microsoft Azure platform. By moving to Azure, the company can easily scale the site up or down in response to increased site traffic.

Another piece of the puzzle was Windows Intune, a Microsoft cloud-based PC management service. Windows Intune connects with System Center Configuration Manager 2012 R2, to provide a single console for managing devices whether they are connected to the network or not. Aston Martin IT staff intends to use Windows Intune to track and manage almost 700 devices used by remote employees, including a mix of Windows Phone 8 devices and employee-provided 'bring your own devices' (BYODs). "It's proven a challenge from day one, and it's only now with Windows Intune that we can actually properly manage these devices," states Steve O'Connor, the Desktop Support Team Leader for Aston Martin.

Device security, too, will be easier managed with System Center and Windows Intune. "What System Center has allowed us to do, in conjunction with Windows Intune, is to be able to provide the security and governance that we need to feel confident that our intellectual property is safe and secure, and it's not going to fall into the wrong hands," says Roach-Rooke.

Using its comprehensive new Microsoft IT infrastructure, Aston Martin IT employees are now enabling the business to develop. "With System Center 2012 R2, it's a lot less work managing, updating, and deploying software out to our estate, so we can focus on strategic IT projects," says Roach-Rooke. More than ever before, IT is proactive rather than reactive. O'Connor says, "My favorite thing at the moment is the ability to look forward and make plans, rather than having to react to issues and get bogged down in problems that are easily solved now."

Most recently, the company started to address its needs for an automated backup and recovery solution by exploring the latest business resiliency capabilities within Windows Server 2012 R2 and the latest version of Hyper-V Replica, which replicates virtual machines over IP-based networks to a remote site. The IT team chose Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013, Microsoft SQL Server 2012, and System Center 2012 R2 workloads to test a live disaster-recovery scenario.

"It's proven a challenge from day one, and it's only now with Windows Intune that we can actually properly manage these devices."

— Steve O'Connor, Desktop Support Team Leader
Empowered to succeed

It's about IT empowering people with new tools that enhance their passion for their work, and for the brand. It's about offering them faster ways of doing what they want to do.

For Aston Martin it all starts with communication, one reason the company originally started its IT makeover with Office 365. The company was committed to making it simple for people to communicate in whatever format they wish, including via email as well as the instant messaging and presence functionality in Microsoft Lync. Employees can also access company applications themselves, when they need to, because IT can rely on Windows Intune to offer a self-service portal for deploying applications on the Internet. "The software portals in Windows Intune are vital to our users," says O'Connor. "They're able to get the applications they require and the support they require as well."

Today, Aston Martin employees work in a growing number of locations, as well as four global offices. Many of them use their own tools, including Windows Phone, iOS, and Android-based devices. Previously, the company struggled with how to manage these devices. "We didn't have the tools to manage the laptops, mobile devices, and phones used by our remote staff," says Roach-Rooke. "Consequently, it was difficult to enable a 'bring your own device' environment, and BYOD was one of our goals."

But now more of the company's employees can better represent the Aston Martin brand around the world. "To represent the company in a manner befitting our luxury brand workers need their laptops, mobile devices, and smartphones to work 100 percent of the time," says Roach-Rooke. "That's why we use Windows Intune. Now the IT team can step in and help employees before their productivity is affected."

With these powerful new mobile communication tools, Aston Martin employees are empowered to succeed, from the assembly line to the boardroom. On the factory floor, for example, efficiency and performance are better than before. "Our entire production line runs on 250 touch-enabled Windows 7 PCs that we can monitor and control with System Center 2012," states Roach-Rooke. "There are no more unexpected calls asking for assistance on the factory floor because we have insight into everything that's running." And at the executive level, the company's leaders can make key decisions no matter where they are located.

None of this would be possible, of course, without an IT team that has the right technology in place and a growing reputation within Aston Martin as an innovator. "We have positively changed the perception of the IT department and have been able to show our passion for the business," says Roach-Rooke.

Ultimately, it all comes back to the cars. Aston Martin sports cars inspire passion in everyone involved, from IT to assembly line workers to the owners themselves. And for Aston Martin IT, delivering powerful solutions that support the people behind those cars is easier than ever.

"Thanks to Microsoft technologies, IT is gaining credibility and demonstrating that we can deliver what we say we can," says Roach-Rooke.

"Thanks to Microsoft technologies, IT is gaining credibility and demonstrating that we can deliver what we say we can."

— Daniel Roach-Rooke, IT Infrastructure Manager