Start-up gains business advantage by going with end-to-end Microsoft
Published: May 2011
Making IT work for the business is a much talked about concept that has become a reality for one Irish start-up. By choosing to run the company on a full suite of Microsoft products, Mainstream Renewable Power shows how a business can avoid IT problems that have plagued organisations for decades, giving the company competitive advantage in a fast growing market
Founded by Irish entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor in 2008, Mainstream Renewable Power is a global renewable energy business with a focus on wind and solar power. Mainstream is a business with an ambitious growth strategy. Within three years the company had opened seven offices around the world and seen its number of employees rise from 10 to 120. More than half work out of the Dublin headquarters, which is also the hub for all of its information and communications technology.
Chief Information Officer John Shaw was in at the start. With over 15 years experience working in senior IT roles for various blue-chip companies, Mainstream gave him the chance to build something from the ground up, a greenfield site where he could use all his knowledge to ensure that IT and technology would serve and benefit the business rather than add complexity and cost.
“I knew that if ever I had an opportunity to work with a blank canvas, I’d address interoperability by keeping everything as simple as possible,” he said. “I had seen the consequences in organisations that pursued strategies using many different vendors. It creates huge issues when you try to integrate everything together. There are proprietary codes everywhere and you find this out acutely when you go to upgrade.”
Before he committed Mainstream to a strategy, he carried out extensive research to see if a single company could deliver the business solutions he needed. The goal was to put technology in its place, keeping it simple while meeting the needs of the business. If this could be achieved, it would also relieve his IT department from the burden of unnecessary complexity. “If you can keep things simple, your IT team can focus on adding business value rather than fighting to keep the lights on,” he said.
Over a three month period he explored the options and evaluated all the leading suppliers. He concluded that the only company that could deliver the full solution for his business was Microsoft.
Mainstream chose to run its business on Microsoft products and solutions, building an infrastructure that could grow with the company from the outset. The strategy met the demands of an entrepreneurial firm where vision and ambition are a shared trait of the senior management team, including the CIO.
“Rather than build what we need as we needed it, I took the decision to build for the future from day one,” said Shaw. “I knew that the Microsoft approach to their solutions and licensing would help with this. As you grow, the products can take the additional load and your license charges rise incrementally.”
To get the strategy underway, Mainstream needed an IT services company with a strong Microsoft pedigree and a keen understanding of the challenges that businesses face. He chose DSS to become the company’s service provider, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and Solutions Partner that has been delivering IT infrastructure and technology solutions to the Irish market for over 25 years.
Rory Cremin, Head of Services Group at DSS, immediately identified a dynamic, rapidly expanding company with a similar mindset to DSS. “We were with Mainstream from the outset, providing a server here and a PC there. Within a year we working together to deliver a major infrastructure and applications project on a global scale,” he said.
“Right from the beginning DSS were engaged by Mainstream as a trusted strategic partner for their ICT needs. We shared the same vision of building a high scalable, reliable and performant ICT infrastructure that was standardised on best of breed technology from Microsoft.”
The main aim was to create a stable IT backbone for delivering a suite of Microsoft solutions to all employees, empowering them to be as productive as possible, working collaboratively regardless of geography.
Microsoft is the foundation for the business and Mainstream now runs 30 of its products, from backend infrastructure software managed by DSS, to front end productivity tools used by employees on a daily basis. Microsoft technology has created a dynamic working environment for a global workforce, secure and encrypted, from desktop to laptop.
All of this is run out of a data centre as a managed service, ensuring that applications and services are always available on a 24/7 basis. A second data centre ensures full business continuity in case of disaster.
Mainstream has used Microsoft to give its business an agility it needs to stay ahead in a highly competitive market. Every time the company has a new requirement, John Shaw and his team engage with DSS and Microsoft to see if there is a solution that will solve the problem. Invariably there is, and Mainstream knows from the outset that rolling it out will be painless. It will slip seamlessly into the existing infrastructure and ensure a fast return on investment.
The strategy of outsourcing its Microsoft infrastructure to two data centres in a managed private cloud service provided by DSS has helped Mainstream achieve its goal of turning IT into a service that is delivered back to the business. The data centre infrastructure was built on a virtualised Microsoft Windows Server 2008/Hyper-V platform.
DSS provide a 24/7 helpdesk and monitoring service using Microsoft tools that allow Mainstream to retain full control over the environment without the day-to-day hassle of running it.
The highly scalable solution means that if an opportunity presents itself, Mainstream has the ability to deploy the Microsoft environment to hundreds of new users at any time, anywhere in the world.
By choosing to use Microsoft across the entire enterprise, Mainstream has simplified its business while harnessing all the power that cutting-edge IT can deliver. The technology is easy to manage and transparent in terms of ongoing costs and upgrades. The ability to maintain tight control over its IT investments has helped the Mainstream stay attractive to potential investors.
For a dynamic start-up, it has also helped deliver on the business goals, freeing up in-house IT people to concentrate on more strategic projects.
On the frontline of IT operations, John Shaw is delighted that the benefits of going with a single supplier/partner have been realised. “In the old world, each of the technologies would have an integration point that was a potential point of failure. Each would have to be tested at huge cost and in many cases you wouldn’t be able to upgrade one product because it might not run with another. We have none of those issues,” he said.
Always knowing that each application and version has complete backwards and forwards compatibility makes life easier for the IT department and costs the business less money. “Because it all comes from Microsoft, it’s pre-tested so we know that upgrades will work with our infrastructure. And if you do run into difficulty you have the vast army of Microsoft support on your side. We only have a team of four in IT, but we also feel we have everyone in Microsoft working for us, that’s another 90,000 people.”
As well as resolving any interoperability issues and eliminating the need for expensive system integrators, Shaw talks of an “uplift effect” across the entire company. With everything from one vendor, things just work better.
Mainstream users enjoy a high quality ICT service with high availability of systems and rapid service responsiveness. Microsoft System Center gives Shaw and his team a window into operations at all times. They are removed from the day-to-day but can still oversee everything. “We use System Center Operations Manager to monitor the health of our systems in real time. There has to be trust in an outsource partnership, but we make sure it’s also verifiable. We always know how well our environment is performing,” said Shaw.
In difficult economic times, organisations look to IT to help improve efficiencies. The problem is that technology is often seen as a cost rather than an asset, a drain on human resources and budgets. For start-ups and mid-size companies that are due an extensive IT upgrade, Mainstream Renewable Power demonstrates that there is another way.
End-to-end Microsoft applications and services are delivered back to a business that reaps all the benefits without any of the pain. The IT team is left to focus on innovative projects that add value to the business rather than fire fight technical problems.
“Ten years ago it would have been more difficult,” said John Shaw. “We caught the wave at the right time. A lot of the Microsoft products had come to maturity and market readiness between 2006 and 2008. We benefited from the timing.”
Right now, Mainstream is reviewing Microsoft’s on-line portfolio, Office 365 and the Azure platform, very aware that cloud delivery could take the company even further down the road of alleviating the IT burden.
The relationship is reciprocal. Not only has Microsoft found a customer that showcases the power of end-to-end investments in its products, it has found a partner in a vibrant business sector. The Power and Utilities division of Microsoft in the US is now working with Mainstream on new technologies that could be used for managing and monitoring off-shore wind farms.
“We are a small Dublin organisation with a global strategic relationship with Microsoft. It hits a lot of exciting areas,” said Shaw.
Mainstream Renewable Power
Mainstream is a global renewable energy business with a focus on wind and solar power
An Irish start-up with an ambitious growth strategy, Mainstream wanted to keep its IT simple and standardise on a single vendor
A full suite of Microsoft software provides end-to-end solutions that are easy to integrate and quick to scale, supporting the broader business strategy
With no integration challenges and infrastructure that is easy to manage, costs are transparent and the IT team can focus on more strategic projects
Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2/Hyper-V
Microsoft System Center Suite 2007
Microsoft Forefront Suite 2010
Microsoft Exchange 2010
Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007
Microsoft SharePoint 2007
Microsoft Dynamics AX
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0
Microsoft SQL Server 2008
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional
Microsoft Visio 2010
Microsoft Project 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
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