4-page Case Study - Posted 2/13/2013
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NTTX Select

Hosting Provider Redesigns Data Center, Expands Offerings with Server Upgrade

NTTX Select provides custom, hosted solutions to businesses throughout the United Kingdom. To stay competitive, it is always looking for the “next big thing.” When NTTX found Windows Server 2012, it was so impressed with the advanced capabilities that it decided to build a new data center around the operating system. By using the expanded virtualization features of Windows Server 2012, NTTX has much greater flexibility in meeting a range of customer needs and can virtualize far more workloads. Windows Server 2012 also supports industry-standard storage devices, so NTTX can get new solutions to market faster and also address new markets. By upgrading to Windows Server 2012, NTTX expects to realize new revenue opportunities of US$18.6 million annually and cost reductions of $5.8 million annually. It can also provide high availability to all customer applications at no additional cost.

Situation
NTTX Select is a United Kingdom–based service provider that offers custom managed IT solutions for businesses of all sizes. Its solutions include customized virtual desktops (which it calls Personal Virtual Desktops); hosting services for Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SharePoint Server, and Microsoft Lync; and cloud-based storage, backup, and antispam and antivirus solutions. NTTX solutions are completely modular and can be combined to meet an organization’s exact needs.

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* Windows Server 2012 gives us an incredible amount of flexibility. We can create far more powerful and scalable virtual machines than we could before and run any workload in a virtual environment. *

Philip Moss
Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer, NTTX Select

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NTTX is an untraditional hosting service provider in that it does not provide empty racks of servers for customer applications; rather, it provides custom, turnkey IT solutions for companies that need to focus on running their business, not managing their infrastructure. However, as customers asked for faster response times and support for new technologies, and as the market for hosting providers became more competitive, NTTX realized that its traditional data center limited its success.

NTTX used the Windows Server operating system for years, virtualizing a large section of its data center by using the Hyper-V virtualization technology in Windows Server 2008 R2. To further reduce costs and improve response times, NTTX exclusively used Dell servers. However, even with the advances that it had made, NTTX was always looking for greater economies and more flexibility in its data center.

“Traditional data center designs have become barriers to driving down operating costs and responding quickly to customer needs,” says Philip Moss, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer of NTTX Select. “Our market is very competitive, and we have to move faster and be cheaper than our competition. Although many data centers, including our own, have moved to industry-standard servers, there are still many specialized components that are expensive and have to be connected and managed, which drags down our costs and response time.”

For example, it often took NTTX as long as nine months to get a new service to market after a new server or operating system was introduced, because it had to wait for storage and middleware vendors to write drivers and connectors to one another’s technologies.

Additionally, NTTX was limited by the types of services that it could offer. Although Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V delivered incredible server consolidation benefits, NTTX experienced challenges with virtualization density (number of virtual machines per physical host server), virtual machine size, and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) user experience. Specifically, graphics-rich applications ran poorly in a VDI environment and were expensive to deliver, so NTTX could not offer its Personal Virtual Desktop (PVD) product to all markets.

As for its hosted Exchange Server and SharePoint Server offerings, NTTX could not use Hyper-V to virtualize performance-intensive components of these solutions, such as some large databases, so it had to use dedicated (nonvirtual) servers that were expensive and time-consuming to configure. “We can’t predict which services our customers will want from one month to the next, which meant that we had large numbers of servers dedicated to certain applications, even when the demand wasn’t there,” Moss says. “We wanted to build a data center that was 100 percent virtualized and able to deliver any workload at any scale level.”

Solution
Because NTTX has a long-running relationship with Microsoft, it received a high-level overview of Windows Server 2012 during a regular visit to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Moss was impressed and excited by what he learned.

New Approach to Data Center Design
“I could see that Windows Server 2012 would enable a complete paradigm shift in how data centers are built,” Moss says. “It provides an alternative to the traditional approach of buying specialized hardware and software components and spending enormous amounts of money on third-party middleware to make all the components work together.”

Windows Server 2012 provides a range of functionality in the operating environment and eliminates the need for many specialized hardware devices and software solutions. “Windows Server 2012 gives me completely independence from proprietary solutions,” Moss says. “This enables us to reduce costs, gives us far more flexibility in the hardware we use, and enables us to adopt new hardware much faster.”

Advanced Capabilities
NTTX highlights the following features in Windows Server 2012 as enabling dramatic changes in how it builds data centers and offers services:
  • Hyper-V over SMB. Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 introduces a new storage option: support for the Server Message Block 3 (SMB3) protocol. This provides increased flexibility, easier storage provisioning, and reduced system costs compared to the storage options in Windows Server 2008 R2. “Hyper-V over SMB in Windows Server 2012 is the greatest new feature for us, because this single feature makes our entire network design possible,” Moss says. “With Hyper-V over SMB, we can build a very scalable and available data storage foundation for demanding applications, such as Microsoft SQL Server data management software, at a far lower cost than is possible with SANs [storage area networks].”

  • Massive scalability. Windows Server 2012 provides significant improvements in scalability and performance for virtualized workloads, which enables NTTX to run even the most demanding workloads in a virtual environment. Windows Server 2012 supports as many as 32 virtual processors and 1 terabyte of memory for Hyper-V guests, a new VHDX virtual hard disk format with larger disk capacity of up to 64 terabytes, and additional resilience. “We can build 63-node clusters with Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V, and this will let us create very large pools of virtual machine capacity to host very large virtualized workloads,” Moss says.

  • Improved Windows PowerShell support. The Windows PowerShell 3.0 command-line interface and scripting language is expanded in Windows Server 2012 to enable command-line management of more data center elements: servers, network, and storage. This has dramatically increased the level of control that NTTX is able to extend over data center components.

  • Improved user experience. Windows Server 2012 Remote Desktop Services includes features that support a vastly improved user experience without reliance on third-party products. These include mature support for video playback, three-dimensional graphics, and single sign-on access control.

“We previously had to go to third-party companies to get these capabilities, but now they are built into the operating system,” Moss says. “The fact that I can get all those features in one platform, features that users will really like, at a very attractive price point, is huge. It broadens the markets we can approach for virtual desktop offerings and enables us to react very quickly when new hardware capabilities come along.”

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* Traditional data center designs have become barriers to driving down operating costs and responding quickly to customer needs. *

Philip Moss
Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer, NTTX Select

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Collaboration with Dell
Moss and his team explored all these features and others. Moss was so impressed with the new capabilities introduced in Windows Server 2012 that he decided to build a brand new data center structured around its capabilities. In June 2011, NTTX began participating in the Technology Adoption Program (TAP) for Windows Server 2012. As soon as NTTX obtained code access in September 2011, it began prototyping the new data center.

For assistance, NTTX engaged longtime partner Dell Consulting. Moss says that the whole project would not have been possible without Dell’s help, especially without the help of Dell Consulting Lead Architect Terry Storey. “Terry is a solution consultant as we are,” Moss says. “He always has the complete inside track on Dell road maps, and he also has the ability to get things done inside of Dell, which is absolutely critical to us. He understands the functionality exposed in the software stack and how Dell hardware needs to respond. Additionally, the close cooperation between Dell Consulting and the Microsoft product teams was invaluable.”

The Dell Consulting team also gave NTTX visibility into the Dell 12th-generation server technology, which helped it prototype and build scale models for its Windows Server 2012 data center solution. NTTX can base its designs on the core server functionality related to the number of virtual machines per physical CPU and the best price–performance ratio. “We talk frequently to the Dell Consulting team about how to get the most from our current solutions, along with gaining insight into Dell’s technology roadmap,” Moss says. “This helps us develop our Windows Server 2012 platform strategically.” NTTX exclusively uses Dell hardware in its data center: Dell PowerEdge servers, Dell PowerVault MD1200 for JBOD storage, and Dell PowerConnect 5500 Series switches. All servers run Windows Server 2012 Datacenter, which provides licensing rights for an unlimited number of virtual machines on each two-processor server.

“We’ve been using Dell servers since Dell began making servers,” Moss says. “Dell makes very well-built hardware—in contrast to the poorly designed clones on the market. It’s competitively priced, but you know it’s going to work. We trust Dell, and our customers trust Dell. And, thanks to the innovations in Windows Server 2012, I can now source all of the hardware I need from Dell—servers, networking, and storage.”

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* We put all our trust in Windows Server 2012, and it’s paying off. *

Philip Moss
Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer, NTTX Select

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Productive Visits to Engineering Center
While designing its new data center, NTTX also visited the Microsoft Enterprise Engineering Center (EEC) to evaluate specific Windows Server 2012 features and work through design problems. The EEC is a state-of-the-art data center environment where Microsoft customers and partners can work with Microsoft product group engineers to validate next-generation enterprise solutions.

“Regular quarterly visits to the EEC are core to our business strategy,” Moss says. “The EEC staff understood our goals and overall solution approach. This meant that they could rapidly guide us on setup or scripting issues. Working with the EEC staff was like having additional staff members who had access to a huge knowledge base.”

NTTX completed its data center in just five months and is gradually migrating customer workloads to it. The data center currently has 600 virtual machines running Windows Server 2012; by the end of 2012, NTTX expects to have about 4,000 virtual machines.

NTTX uses the Microsoft Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA), which gives it complete licensing coverage for Windows Server 2012 on all host servers and virtual machines. “The Microsoft SPLA is key to our business,” Moss says. “We can charge for our services on a per-user, monthly basis without being concerned about how many virtual machines we used during that time.”

Benefits
By upgrading to Windows Server 2012, NTTX Select has experienced a paradigm shift in how it builds data centers and structures customer services. NTTX gained new levels of flexibility in offering hosting services, faster time-to-market in delivering new solutions, lower operating costs, and an ability to offer high availability to customers at no additional cost.

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* [Windows Server 2012] provides an alternative to the traditional approach of buying specialized hardware and software components and spending enormous amounts of money on third-party middleware to make all the components work together. *

Philip Moss
Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer, NTTX Select

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Greater Flexibility in Meeting Customer Needs
As a hosting provider that operates in constantly changing markets, NTTX can address a wider range of customer needs, faster, with Windows Server 2012. “Windows Server 2012 gives us an incredible amount of flexibility,” Moss says. “We can create far more powerful and scalable virtual machines than we could before and run any workload in a virtual environment.”

Specifically, NTTX can build Hyper-V clusters and high-performance virtual machines capable of running very large SQL Server workloads. The scalability is also impressive. “In testing, we have nearly doubled the number of virtual machines that were possible with Windows Server 2008 R2 using the same hardware,” Moss says. “I am hopeful that each Windows Server 2012 host server can support more than 2,000 virtual machines in the next 12 to 18 months as new generations of hardware come to market.”

Faster Time-to-Market with Offerings
Because Windows Server 2012 reduces the company’s dependence on third-party proprietary solutions, NTTX can quickly incorporate new hardware and software innovations into its offerings. “The nine-month delay that stemmed from waiting for middleware vendors to write integration software for new technologies was devastating to our business,” Moss says. “During that time, our customers could go somewhere else. With Windows Server 2012, we have the virtual machine capacity and robust feature set to accommodate just about any customer need and do so as soon as the product is generally available.”

New Revenue Opportunities of $18.6 Million Annually
With the improvements to Windows Server 2012 Remote Desktop Services, NTTX can deliver more robust Personal Virtual Desktops capable of driving full three-dimensional graphics used by demanding applications such as Autodesk 3ds Max and Adobe Photoshop. “With these new capabilities, we can access new markets that previously would never use virtual desktops because of performance or cost constraints,” Moss says. “Windows Server 2012 fundamentally changes our target markets.”

NTTX not only delivers a much stronger end-user VDI experience, but it has also dramatically reduced the cost—by nearly 62 percent. “We estimate that we’ll increase our PVD customer base by around 400 percent to more than 18,000 users within the next 36 months,” Moss says. “This will generate about £11.9 million [US$18.64 million] in new revenue a year.”

Annual Cost Savings of $5.8 Million
Not only will NTTX make more money with Windows Server 2012-based offerings; it will also save money due to lower storage costs, higher virtualization density, and lower software licensing costs. “Windows Server 2012 has a feature set that my customers want, balanced with considerable cost reductions,” Moss says. “Thanks to the lower per-processor licensing costs and the elimination of nearly all third-party middleware, we are projecting annual cost savings of £3.7 million (US$5.8 million) to provide our PVD offering to 18,000 users.”

Increased Availability
In its previous data center, NTTX offered customers high availability but at a high price, because of the need to configure expensive, redundant host servers and specialized software. Sometimes customers balked at the price and went elsewhere. But with Windows Server 2012, high availability is built into the software and can be implemented by using low-cost commodity hardware.

“We can offer high availability to every customer, basically for free,” Moss says. “And because high availability is in the operating system and not in a mix of third-party products, we have better control over our solution. We put all our trust in Windows Server 2012, and it’s paying off.”

Windows Server
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 Dell products and services, visit the website at:
www.dell.com

For more information about NTTX Select products and services, call (011) 01260 289264 or visit the website at:
www.nttxselect.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 18 employees

Organization Profile

NTTX Select offers custom managed IT solutions for businesses of all sizes throughout the United Kingdom. Based in Somerford, England, the company employs 18 people.


Business Situation

NTTX wanted to overcome traditional data center design constraints to get new services to market faster and lower costs.


Solution

NTTX is designing a new data center around Windows Server 2012, which enables the use of industry-standard storage and supports better user experiences.


Benefits

  • Greater flexibility in meeting customer needs
  • Faster time-to-market with new offerings
  • New revenue opportunities of US$18.6 million annually
  • Annual savings of $5.8 million
  • Increased availability


Hardware
  • Dell PowerEdge 910, 720, 620, M610, and R805 servers
  • Dell PowerVault MD1200
  • Dell PowerConnect 5500 Series switches

Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2012 Datacenter
  • Microsoft Hyper-V

Vertical Industries
Hosters & ISPs

Country/Region
United Kingdom

Business Need
Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issue
Cloud Services

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Dell Inc.

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