The company: The housing association provides and manages more than 70,000 high quality, affordable properties, including sheltered housing and delivers a range of services to around 200,000 people across England.
The challenge: increasing efficiency and reducing infrastructure management costs against a framework of welfare reform and tighter budgets
IT is key to the way the association provides services to its many residents. The IT department runs around 500 Windows servers at major sites throughout the UK, supporting 3,000 end-user Windows 7 laptops. The in-house infrastructure team had both technical and business reasons for reviewing how it managed physical and virtual technology environments across multiple locations. It had been using a proprietary management and monitoring solution but “felt vulnerable”, according to the Infrastructure Team Leader.
He explains: “The software we used had changed ownership and was maintained by an external contractor, as we had no in-house skills to support it – making it an expensive resource. Although it had served us well, it couldn’t provide the flexibility or levels of granularity we now needed to meet our long term strategic technology roadmap. We also wanted to extend the solution beyond monitoring and automate basic remediation tasks so that we could reduce our support costs even further.”
There were also compelling business reasons for IT change. Welfare reform has put enormous new pressures on providers of social housing. Instead of receiving a single monthly payment from local authorities, they now have to collect rent directly from each household. As a result they have had to develop new business processes and deploy new systems, leading to escalating support costs. Meanwhile, revenue has taken a major hit, as housing associations now have to bear the brunt of any rent evasion.
The new business processes have significantly increased the workload of IT staff, and so the association needed a modern, integrated and automated infrastructure management solution to reduce the workload and help to offset these new costs.
The solution: Microsoft System Center implemented by EACS to provide integrated monitoring and management
As the housing association was very much a Microsoft house, Microsoft System Center was an obvious contender. However, the team needed to be sure that this would provide a truly integrated monitoring solution, offering both the basic remediation procedures it needed and the flexibility to support any sudden growth through possible acquisitions in the future, which would require the rapid deployment of additional equipment.
“It was vitally important that the technology we chose should not hinder our plans for business growth,” explains the team leader. “We wanted external confirmation that System Center would accommodate all our requirements, right through to our future use of the cloud, whatever route that might take.
“Microsoft recommended partnering with EACS as they were specialists in delivering their private cloud solutions. A number of my colleagues had already worked with EACS on other projects, so our expectations were high. I’m delighted to say that these expectations were fully met.”
EACS began with a series of high level overviews to ensure that, in essence, System Center ticked all the housing association’s boxes. Next came more detailed workshops, looking at how the association could utilise each component with its bespoke elements.
Once the association had confirmed that System Center was the product it wanted, EACS engaged a project manager to create the Project Initiation Document, which provided details of and a timeline for each phase of the implementation. An EACS consultant worked on-site during each phase, carrying out the configuration and providing documentation and training. They repeated the process in a very controlled, structured, organised way for each phase of the project.
“This worked remarkably well, and everything was delivered within the agreed timescales,” the team leader explains. “The team at EACS understood the special demands of the social housing environment, as well as our technical environment. We were so impressed with their delivery methodology that we have subsequently engaged them on other high profile projects.”
The outcome: improved management and time freed up for more productive tasks. Both end users and staff are happier
The housing association now uses the full suite of Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 components – Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, Service Manager, Orchestrator and Virtual Machine Manager – with the exception of Server Manager, which will follow later.
The team leader sums up: “System Center provides a more closely controlled infrastructure with tighter security, meaningful alerts, a considerable degree of automated remediation and fewer outages – all from a very user-friendly management console.
“We had anticipated that automation would free up valuable staff to spend time on more productive tasks. This has proved to be the case and, as a bonus, the tasks that have been eliminated were amongst the most frustrating. This has meant happier end-users and happier IT support staff.”
The solution is flexible and will support the housing association’s future growth. It also puts in place the foundation for Microsoft’s private cloud in the future and acts as a stepping stone towards the association’s longer term cloud computing goals.