What do Marquette University, Menzies Aviation, Suncorp Group, and EmpireCLS have in common? Smart business leaders, that’s what — decision makers who recognized unmet needs and cost-effectively filled them. For Marquette, a Jesuit university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, those needs centered on meeting the IT demands of its 11,800 students and 1,100 faculty members. Menzies, a global provider of aviation services, needed an affordable operating system that would accommodate new businesses and manage additional employee identities and information access across 132 airports in 34 countries. At Suncorp, a financial services group, there was a desire to create more flexible workplaces and empower the company’s 16,000 employees to work from multiple locations. Meanwhile, the folks at EmpireCLS, a global provider of chauffeured transportation services, were looking to save money and grow their business by moving to a cloud-computing environment. Four very different organizations, with four different needs—and, as we’ll see, one solution.
For the IT decision makers at Marquette, the goal was simple: keep up with the ever-changing technology needs of the faculty and students, without adding to the IT headcount. That meant coming up with a solution that would run the school’s more than 300 servers with only four staff members to manage them. Marquette had already virtualized its data center, primarily using software from VMware, but those licenses were becoming cost-prohibitive. Marquette’s lean and mean IT department decided to see if the Windows Server 2012 operating system could replace the VMware software and, coincidentally, lower the university’s data storage costs.
While eliminating the VMware licenses initially drove the move to Windows Server 2012, the data storage savings look to be even more dramatic. Marquette expects its storage costs to be 10 times lower than if it continued relying exclusively on a storage area networks (SAN). These savings will result from the flexible storage options baked into Windows Server 2012—options that let an organization switch from expensive SANs to less expensive storage architectures. In a nutshell, Windows Server 2012 lets organizations store application data on a file-sharing server and obtain a level of reliability, availability, manageability, and performance comparable to what SANs deliver, but far more frugally.
Over at Menzies, the challenge focused on managing employee identities of a globally distributed workforce. With airline customers at airports from around the world, Menzies has a complex, widely distributed workforce and high staff turnover. And if that weren’t enough, Menzies must protect confidential customer information—such as timetables, passenger lists, and cargo contents and delivery schedules—to help ensure passenger and crew safety and compliance with strict aviation and government regulations. At the same time, Menzies employees need to access this information from virtually anywhere—servers, desktop computers, portable laptops, mobile devices, and email stores—and share it appropriately.
Menzies found the solution to centrally managing employee identity and access to information in Windows Server 2012, choosing to deploy the product’s Identity and Access Management scenario, which allowed the IT staff to benefit from improvements to Active Directory and the introduction of Dynamic Access Control, a file-system authorization mechanism. Dynamic Access Control, new in Windows Server 2012, provides a holistic approach to data classification and protection. When combined with access policy delivered via Active Directory, this classification mechanism provides centralized control over data access.
Instead of managing file security at the individual file level, Menzies Aviation system administrators can save time by defining central file-access policies at the domain level; these policies then apply to every file server in the domain. Classification information is automatically saved with the file itself, so that it is directly available for all applications, including the operating system. System administrators can use Dynamic Access Control to improve control over access to file data, including unstructured data, regardless of where the information resides. They can also define and configure centralized audit policies in Active Directory that can be applied across multiple servers. With Windows Server 2012, the company found a centralized, flexible, and powerful way to build an easily managed identity framework that controls employee access to file data and achieves compliance.
Moving “Down Under,” we find Suncorp Group, whose general insurance, banking, life insurance, and retirement brands serve about 9 million customers in Australia and New Zealand. Suncorp was already promoting a “work from home” initiative when the January 2011 floods in Queensland put several of its buildings under water. That disaster drove home the value of enabling employees to work remotely by giving them virtual desktops, where applications and the client desktop environment run on a remote server and are delivered over the Internet. Such a system could also accelerate company growth, since new employees would only require an Internet connection to start working.
Suncorp was already using a mix of vendors to facilitate remote work via virtual desktops, including session virtualization to 5,500 employees who accessed a centralized installation of a generic desktop, and a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) model that provided custom desktop images hosted in individual virtual machines to some 1,500 employees who needed dedicated, personalized workstations. But the firm’s IT leaders were eager to take full advantage of their existing Microsoft Enterprise Agreement and try out the virtualization features in Windows Server 2012.
Suncorp tested the Hyper-V live migration, storage migration, and “shared nothing” live migration features. Live migration supports simultaneous virtual machine migrations with no downtime, in and outside of a cluster. Hyper-V storage migration allows for transfer of virtual hard disks to a new location without the downtime required to upgrade or migrate storage or perform storage maintenance. “Shared nothing” live migration provides the ability to migrate a virtual machine from one Hyper-V host to another host that isn’t part of the same cluster, shares no storage, and has only a gigabit Ethernet connection to the first virtual machine. By using these features, Suncorp can achieve high levels of availability within and across data centers and promote the work-from-anywhere model that suits its business needs and the desires of its mobile workforce. And not to be overlooked, by switching to Hyper-V and fully utilizing its Microsoft license, the company can eliminate substantial virtualization software licensing costs in its VDI environment.
EmpireCLS is another company that’s taking advantage of the features in Windows Server 2012. For them, a prime value was the ability to move beyond virtualization to cloud computing. The IT team at EmpireCLS is using Hyper-V live migration to migrate virtual machines between host servers without downtime, and they’re employing Hyper-V storage migration to migrate virtual hard disks to new locations, again without downtime. They’re also taking advantage of the new cross-premises connectivity capability in Windows Server 2012 to set up remote-access servers and securely move workloads and traffic seamlessly between the company’s multiple cloud sites. By turning to cloud computing, EmpireCLS created an IT environment that is dynamically reconfigurable on demand in an automated fashion. This means that resources can be scaled to match workloads, which results in increased flexibility and efficiency.
However, getting into cloud computing required software tools that could perform the many automated steps required to dynamically provision and de-provision virtual machines, monitor workloads, identify and resolve problems, and request human intervention when needed. EmpireCLS found that enabling toolset in Microsoft System Center 2012. Upgrading to System Center 2012 allowed EmpireCLS to build a mixed private-public cloud infrastructure. When configured as a private cloud environment, the company’s Hyper-V virtual machines become a fluid computing commodity rather than a set of discrete servers that have to be managed individually. Ditto for storage: rather than having to painstakingly plan and assign storage to various workloads, the IT staff is able to view storage as a pooled cloud asset that is simply there when needed. EmpireCLS manages its entire cloud environment – public and private – using System Center 2012, a holistic solution that frees the IT staff to spend more time developing new business opportunities.
So there you have it: four different organizations, with four different needs, and one common solution—Windows Server 2012