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Sustainable Energy Authority Turns to Microsoft to Help Support Their Growing Business

Published: November 2010


Despite budgetary constraints, an Irish public sector authority has demonstrated how a complete suite of Microsoft products can help organisations do more with less and support a growing business through a combination of greater efficiency, agility and consolidation.

Situation

Set up by the government in 2002 as the country’s national energy authority, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has played a leading role in making Irish society more reliant on sustainable energy structures, technologies and practices.  Environmental concerns that have driven a global appetite for greener economies have gone through a period of sustained growth that shows no signs of abating.

Though demand for its services have increased, SEAI has had to operate within the constraints of the public sector where there is pressure to control costs and keep operations in-house. For IT Manager Aidan Keogh, the challenge was to serve the needs of up to 80 users across multiple sites, facilitating greater productivity with limits on resources.

Steps had already been taken to improve business processes with the planned roll out of a new financial system and the first tentative moves had been made to consolidate the infrastructure with some early virtualisation projects. But much more was needed if SEAI was going to rise to the challenge. 

“We had to look at maximising what we had, and implement a flexible and scalable architecture to facilitate expansion with energy efficiency always in mind,” said Aidan Keogh.

Solution

As a Microsoft user, SEAI went to tender looking for a services company that could help optimise the performance and efficiency of its information technology systems. A Microsoft Gold Partner, Decision Support Systems (DSS), won the contract and immediately set to work with an audit of the existing estate. Account Manager John Murphy sat down with Aidan Keogh and provided input into the Authority’s IT strategy. The goal was to implement a world-class network architecture, to include redundancy and failover at the same time as ensuring that existing enterprise license agreements were maximised and old investments reused where possible.

“SEAI settled on a standardised Microsoft environment that would give them more for their money. We worked with them to ensure they were getting maximum value from their existing enterprise license agreements and took them on a virtualisation path that was very affordable,” said Murphy.

The cornerstone of the strategy was the deployment of Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V. SEAI had been an early adopter of Microsoft’s first iteration of virtualisation, but Hyper-V offered features and functionality that allowed Keogh and DSS to take it much further, making the organisation more resilient and agile.

Because SEAI had already embarked on a virtualisation strategy, the consolidation gains in terms of reducing the number of physical servers was relatively modest, from seven  down to a Hyper-V cluster of three, plus two more for back-up and replication. But the operational benefits have been substantial.

The Authority has adopted a co-location hosting model with main servers centrally located in a Dublin data centre, apart from file and print servers in each of the five sites and two backup servers at different locations. Virtual machines now host a full suite of Microsoft products including Windows Server 2008, SharePoint, CRM and Exchange as well as other business critical applications.

To complement the virtualisation strategy, Microsoft System Center was deployed, providing Keogh with “a single pane” view of the entire estate, an overarching management toolset that makes it easier to control and monitor the different applications.

System Center Data Protection Manager 2010 was part of the suite, providing SEAI with a disaster recovery plan that gives the business a level of stability and resilience it has never had before. It ensures that data is replicated off-site at the end of each day. “The business continuity plan is something we are still developing but it already gives us a level of assurance that would have been impossible with the old infrastructure,” said Keogh.

At the same time, the user operating system was migrated to Windows 7. As well as providing a richer desktop experience, with new features that encourage people to work smarter, there was additional functionality that aligned with broader business goals.

BitLocker helps protect data on PCs, with Keogh able to ensure encryption across all laptops whether they are in or outside of the office. High-profile incidents have exposed organisations to embarrassing data leaks, so some form of encryption was always on the SEAI shopping list. Keogh was delighted to be able to encrypt devices at no extra cost.

Both Windows 7 and the virtualised servers allow the SEAI to practise what it preaches. Energy efficiency was a strong driver in the IT strategy. Windows 7 has tools to centrally manage power consumption on a more granular level. It also provides enhanced processor power management to deliver energy savings and performance on portable computers.

Windows 7 runs with fewer background activities so the computer’s processor draws on less power. Other innovations include less power-hungry DVD playback, automatic screen dimming, powering off unused ports, and a more accurate battery-life indicator

†Fewer servers are central to a virtualisation strategy, cutting down on electricity consumption, not just for powering the servers but also the cooling systems. System Center Configuration Manager takes it further, monitoring and measuring potential power saving across the organisation. Group policies help hibernate machines and ensure all networked hardware is powered off at the end of each day.

Benefits

In a tough economic climate, SEAI has managed to make its IT budget go further with Microsoft and extend the IT capability of the organisation. The suite of software offers rich features at minimal extra cost, allowing SEAI to maximise its enterprise license agreements. By standardising on Microsoft products, it was able to sweat existing assets, integrating the old with a new set of solutions that have provided SEAI with a scalable platform for future growth.

Virtualisation was key to this strategy, providing a flexible platform for rolling out new applications and services, using virtual rather than physical machines. “We’re already doing more but still occupy the same rack in the data centre. We’re not paying for more space or consuming more power but we are managing to grow IT services to meet the business needs,” said Keogh.  

The primary goal was to get to a position where the IT department could meet future business demands without having to make a large investment. “We knew we were going to have growth in terms of application requirements and user demands without having the extra budget to support them. The Microsoft suite of products has helped us to address this,” he said.

A combination of Hyper-V and System Center tools have been core to the success of project, allowing the SEAI to achieve its gaols while staying true to it sustainable energy principles. The green IT element of the project shows that the SEAI is leading by example.

From a purely business focus, the development of a business continuity plan has been a massive gain. The SEAI has a more resilient and highly available IT infrastructure. System Center makes it all manageable, giving the IT department a real-time view of the entire estate and the power to be proactive rather than reactive, thanks to monitoring and reporting tools.

Summary

At a time when “doing more with less” has become a mantra for the public and private sectors, Microsoft has given the phrase real meaning. The SEAI project shows how a highly standardised environment with integrated products can be leveraged, not just to tackle here-and-now problems but to create a platform that can scale with the business without stretching the capacity of the IT department to breaking point.

The combination of Hyper-V and System Center addresses modern business needs. Integrating seamlessly with wide-ranging business tools, they enhance productivity at the front end, and ensure resilience and business continuity at the back. The Microsoft drive to make IT more environmentally friendly and power efficient was the other crucial piece in the jigsaw that made it easy for SEAI to justify the upgrade.

Solution Overview

Organisation
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI)

Certified Partners
Decision Support Systems, a Microsoft Gold partner

Customer Profile
SEAI was set up in 2002 as Irelandís national energy authority

Industry
Public sector

Business Situation
As demand grew for its services, SEAI had to work with budget constraints and do more with less

Solution Description
Virtualisation has provided a platform for upgrading to a suite of Microsoft products and management tools that are transforming the Authority

Benefits

  • Virtualisation facilitates other IT initiatives at little extra cost
  • A more flexible environment to manage
  • Improved resilience and disaster recovery
  • Power savings through “green IT” initiatives
  • Ongoing consolidation and associated cost savings
  • More visibility of an IT estate, making it easier to manage and opitmise

Microsoft Software
Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V
System Center Operations Manager 2007
System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007
System Center Data Protection Manager 2010
Windows 7
System Center Configuration Manager 2007
Dynamics CRM

Country/Region
Ireland


For More Information

About Microsoft in Ireland:
The Irish Sales, Services and Marketing Operation of Microsoft was established in 1991. The full-time team market all Microsoft products and services in the island of Ireland, targeting customers both North and South. The team services customers across all segments including enterprise, small and medium sized businesses and home computer users. In addition to developing desktop products, Microsoft provides tailored consultancy services and solutions to suit enterprise businesses. Microsoft is continuing to concentrate on its relationship with the Irish enterprise market - the top 100 companies in the island of Ireland. Enterprise customers of Microsoft include the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Civil Service Commission, Dublin.
For more information on Microsoft’s products and solutions, please visit www.microsoft.com/ireland

About Microsoft:
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq "MSFT") is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

 

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