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Update from the Virtualisation & Infrastructure Team

In terms of IT infrastructure and services; 2011 has seen cloud offerings provide a serious alternative to the traditional “in-house” approach. Take up has been greater in some areas than others, with cloud backup becoming one of the most popular as companies “dip their toe” into cloud technology.

However with vendors increasingly investing in what has become a very competitive market, we only see its impact growing in 2012 as confidence increases in this form of IT delivery and prices are driven down.

At EACS our own cloud backup system undoubtedly has a future in this market and compliments other EACS services to provide a complete IT package for our customers.

Server virtualisation has continued to dominate infrastructure upgrades; there are very few companies who are not adopting, or planning to adopt, this form of delivery when it comes to upgrading their infrastructure.

VMware maintained its dominant position in this market, but perhaps not as much as they would have liked. Version 5 of vSphere was released in the latter half of 2011 with new features and increased performance in a number of areas. However their new licensing model, which aimed to align costs with the benefits of virtualisation rather than with the physical attributes of individual servers, generated much debate.

As Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor matures; 2012 could be a challenging year for both VMware vSphere and Citrix XenServer. The case for Microsoft is further strengthened when Hyper-V is considered alongside their System Center suite of products. This means a single vendor can provide a fully integrated and managed environment.

With regard to storage, our NetApp partnership continued to grow stronger in 2011. We achieved NetApp Platinum partner and ASP status, which means NetApp has recognised EACS as having superior sales and technical expertise in their full product line.

In addition, EACS is now an EMC Affiliate Partner for their VNXe range of storage systems, which offer an affordable unified storage platform for smaller businesses and has proved popular in the market place.

In terms of general storage, technologies like VDI and Virtualisation have placed far more pressure on storage to deliver data at greater speeds. SSD and Cache help in this area but the thirst for I/O is driving new specialist products and it’s an area EACS will look closely at in 2012.

Another vendor worth mentioning is Veeam, who have continued last year’s success with many more awards, including the Gold Award for New Technology at VMworld 2011. It’s our product of choice for backing up and replicating virtual environments outside of using built in storage based functionality. Previously limited to VMware only, Veeam announced in November that version 6 of their Backup and Replication product supports Hyper-V.

A further growth area for 2012 will be Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery. As IT becomes ever more critical, businesses need to examine the health of their IT estate, be proactive in providing enough capacity, but also be able to recover quickly in the event of a disaster. Our Cloud Backup, virtualisation, storage and monitoring solutions provide many technologies to simplify this and even automate the process.

Virtualisation also provides the opportunity for customers to upgrade their environment in terms of operating systems and applications. However this means there are new technologies to learn and support. All this change must be completed with minimal disruption to the company, its employees and its customers.

EACS is sympathetic to this and we continue to work very closely with our customers to provide confidence in their new environment, both during and after deployment, through support and management.

2012 will see the team continue to deliver projects to a high level, while leading with the technical innovations that continue at a pace in this industry.


The Great Email Migration

Microsoft Exchange 2010 is here, Exchange 2013 is likely to follow soon and Exchange 2003 is out of mainstream support, so it’s fair to say The Great Email Migration has begun.

We are always talking to CIOs and IT Managers about ways in which we can make their email management easier, and the conversation more often than not involves plans for migration.

Our partner Mimecast commissioned Loudhouse, an independent research consultancy, to conduct a survey into email system upgrade plans and it returned some very interesting results…

The rush to upgrade

With so many new features and enhancements being added to each new version of Microsoft Exchange, it’s no surprise that three quarters of respondents told us they were planning to upgrade in the next two years; 57% even said within the next 12 months. Most are migrating to Exchange 2010 on premise, but 21% are headed for the hosted option and 13% for Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365.

The benefits are clear

It’s great to see that IT departments are seriously thinking about Exchange 2010 and the new features and capabilities it brings, with 77% of those asked saying they were upgrading to keep pace with the advances Microsoft has made. Most of you are expecting to recoup the costs of the upgrade too, with 42% expecting that to happen as quickly as six months.

So the benefits are clear; new tech and features, improved security, improved OWA and pretty quick ROI, to name a few.

But there are concerns

You told us you were worried about impacting the performance of email, and rightly so. Email is one of the most important services in your business, as is the availability of your email data. There is a real fear that moving to a new mail platform could cause your email to be unavailable for an unplanned amount of time, your data leak prevention and email policies may not be enforced, and that your data may become corrupted in transition.

So spending time moving data and potentially losing some of it is a real concern and it should be addressed before the migration starts.

Helpful additions to the plan

Dealing with the big data problem is an issue that is easily solved before the migration; consider moving that data to the cloud, reducing the old historic email in users’ inboxes and keep them running with much more recent data. Old data can be accessed online directly from the cloud, but seamlessly within Outlook from the users’ perspective, rather than from Exchange stores locally. By doing this, when you come to migrate mailboxes from an old Exchange server to the new one, you will be moving much less data. This will also mean the big data can be moved out to the cloud separately to the main migration project, so it won’t extend your timelines. The 52% of you worried about losing data can then be satisfied that a cloud solution that continues to capture email in real- time means you’ll always have a copy if something does go missing.

If you’re worried about system downtime – and we know 44% of you are – then the cloud is an ideal addition to your Exchange environment as it will provide continuity for your users before, during and after your migration. Deploying that cloud-based continuity solution before the migration means you will be protected from any sort of planned or even unplanned outage during the process, and if you need to roll back at any point, even that scenario will be a breeze.

Migration season is here!

Big data, continuity, complexity and spiralling costs shouldn’t be part of your migration plan this time round. So, why not consider letting the cloud augment your Exchange environment and offload some of those complex migration worries onto a vendor who really is an email expert?

Working with Mimecast and EACS before, during and after your migration can help to simplify the migration process and ensure a trouble-free, seamless transition – guaranteeing 100% email uptime throughout. You’ll also have the peace of mind that the future management of your email archiving, continuity and security services is in safe hands.

To download the Loudhouse report click HERE.


Take the Virtualisation Express

Virtualisation has plenty of benefits – from greater efficiency to significant savings. But virtualisation also has its costs. Your traditional storage and backup can’t keep up with your virtualised environment. In fact, they can increase costs and slow your progress to a crawl.

For SMEs there’s a better, smarter way to make virtualisation happen. EMC has affordable storage and backup solutions – all optimised for VMware – so you can maximise the bottom-line benefits of virtualisation.

Cut storage acquisition costs by 50% and reduce backup storage by 40-60x. Best of all, these cost savings don’t require complex actions from your team. Application-aware wizards and seamless integration of disk-based storage keep the savings simple.

See how EMC VNXe unified storage makes managing your virtual environment easy. Download the IDC report HERE.


Could Your Company Benefit from Proactive IT Monitoring?

One of the services which EACS delivers to many of our customers is remote IT systems management and support. This allows critical business systems to be continuously monitored by a team of IT experts, enabling hard pressed IT departments to concentrate on core business activities.

By maximising the benefits of technology, daily, weekly and monthly IT tasks can be automated and scheduled to ensure all tasks are completed reliably.

As these tasks run, valuable data is gathered by EACS to spot trends and patterns which can be used to plan future system changes or enhancements to the your infrastructure, further reducing and eliminating impact on the business.

Customer Comments

“Through the service, EACS identified a server that was running out of disk space and notified us so that we could take appropriate steps. Another server was over heating but…EACS was able to manage this remotely and fix the problem before the server went down.” David Walker, Clerk to the Trustees, Norwich Charitable Trusts.

“Over the years we have found that EACS’ familiarity with our infrastructure and business objectives means that they have been able to implement and recommend enhancements and improvements that increase our IT services and improve our performance.” Tony Drant, Technical Director, Emperor Design.

The Benefits:

  • Simplicity – modern complex environments, such as virtualised infrastructures, can be a challenge to support. EACS can remove this burden
  • Reliability – you cna focus on other more strategic IT tasks, secure in the knowledge that the management, maintenance and support of your infrastructure is in safe hands
  • Security – regular updates installed remotely ensure that your IT systems are protected from viruses and external attack
  • Productivity – issues are identified and fixed remotely, often before you are aware that a problem exists. Staff can concentrate on their core responsibilities without being distracted or inconvenienced by hardware or software glitches
  • Cost Management and Control – contracted service provides you with fixed costs, allowing for the efficient and effective budgeting of IT spend
  • EACS’ familiarity with your infrastructure and business objectives means that we can recommend enhancements and improvements

To read case studies from organisations already using this service click HERE.


Update from the Control & Collaboration Team

The Control & Collaboration team has seen significant interest and active deployment of a wide range of fantastic Microsoft based solutions, technologies and services that have made considerable difference to our clients.

If we were to stand back and take an objective view of the “hot spots”, there are some clear examples of high activity areas – Microsoft Exchange 2010, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 7, Hyper-V R2 and Threat Management Gateway. Plus of course Microsoft System Center Suite, which gels the whole story together.

We have been providing services and solutions around the widely known technologies such as Microsoft Exchange, Windows Server 2008 R2 for many years. However the knowledge and experience we have gained with regard to end to end Systems Management solutions has certainly increased this year.

So why is Systems Management surfacing as one of the most desirable and capable solutions for managing existing or new infrastructure, applications and services?

EACS believes there are many reasons for this, however right at the top of list:

The world we live in – quite simply the global financial crisis and the fallout from it have affected every one of us – personally and professionally. Many organisations are simply not expanding their IT Support workforce, typically are not increasing their IT budgets and yet are having to think creatively in offering the classic “more for less, or the same”.

So how does the Microsoft System Center suite help in this situation? Microsoft has developed their suite of applications over many years and many versions. It now provides an incredibly capable set of tools that offer powerful, scalable and flexible solutions to do just about anything you want – and not exclusively with only Microsoft applications!

As a whirlwind introduction to what makes up the suite:


Configuration Manager (SCCM)

SCCM comprehensively assesses, deploys, and updates servers, client computers, and devices – across physical, virtual, distributed, and mobile environments. Optimised for Windows and extensible, it is the best choice for gaining enhanced insight into and control over IT systems.

Operations Manager (SCOM)

SCOM is the end-to-end monitoring product that works seamlessly with Microsoft software and applications, helping organisations increase efficiency while enabling greater control of the IT environment.

Service Manager (SCSM)

SCSM is designed to meet the needs of the modern IT help desk. By providing powerful new capabilities for incident, problem, asset, and change management, SCSM will support organisations as they seek to improve the service they provide to their users.

Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM)

SCVMM provides a management solution for today’s virtualised data centre, affording centralised management of the IT infrastructure, increased server utilisation capability, and dynamic resource optimisation across multiple virtualisation and physical platforms.

Data Protection Manager (SCDPM)

Delivering enterprise-class data protection and scalability, SCDPM provides unified data protection for Windows servers such as SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint, Virtualisation and file servers, in addition to Windows desktops and laptops.

Orchestrator (SCO)

As a part of the System Center family, SCO provides IT processes automation of incident response, provisioning, virtual lifecycle management and change management. This is achieved through a workflow environment that orchestrates and integrates System Center tools with 3rd party management tools, enabling interoperability and process consistency across the data centre.

All of these components are compelling in the own right, however, when integrated together are almost untouchable in the level of service provided – no other solution can provide the depth of insight into your organisation and help your IT Service Delivery team maintain, adapt and advance the service offered to business

Some of you may be worrying that this is only for huge multinational organisations and that it would be either too expensive or too complicated for anything smaller – not so, we have had some great results for organisations of all sizes. What is important is that these tools are scalable and flexible, they do not need to be put in at one time and anyone can effectively “grow” into them.

To help our clients further, the Control & Collaboration team at EACS has developed a series of training courses to help you take on these new technologies.

How about that? We got through an IT based document in 2012 without mentioning the Cloud! Ohh wait…


Why Should You Protect Your Data?

Sooner or later – by mischief, misfortune or mistake – it is statistically likely that you will lose precious data. There are many causes of data loss: hardware failures, accidental file deletion, file corruption, viruses, hackers, stolen equipment or natural disasters. So, when your data is suddenly gone, how will you get it back?

It’s About the Recovery.

Many people think the only question is “What is the best way to make backups?” That’s certainly a critical question but business data is the very lifeblood of your business. You can’t afford to look at only half the equation.

Questions about recovering data are even more important and to the point:

  • Is there any doubt that what I’ve backed up can actually be restored in the event of a crisis?
  • How difficult will it be?
  • How long will it take to get everything running again?
  • How much money will I lose waiting for data to be restored? For an hour? A day? A week?
  • Will I have the right help if I need it in an emergency?

Data backup is a bit like buying car insurance: Should you focus on an insurance company’s price and how easy it is to buy insurance? Or should you focus more on what might happen if you actually have an accident — when you really, really need the company’s support and a quick settlement?

Ultimately it comes down to trust. Trust in the professionalism of the people advising you on data protection. Trust in the backup and restore processes. Trust in the hardware and software. Making the right choice is critical to your success.

At EACS we regularly receive support calls for on-premise backups ranging from tapes not being changed causing backup failures to configuration questions and errors. Since our cloud backup has been introduced we have seen the number of backup calls reduce and there’s the added benefit that your data is held offsite.


Leave Employees to Their Own Devices

With the proliferation of new devices such as tablets and smartphones, everyone is looking for a simpler way to use these devices for work and personal use. Bring Your Own device (BYO) is the new business model that empowers employees to bring the device that best suits their virtual work style into the workplace, from iPads and tablets to Macs and netbooks.

It’s time to think beyond the desktop. Your employees are and so should you. Launch an employee-owned or “Bring Your Own” (BYO) device program, using Citrix® desktop virtualisation and you’ll be ready for any computer, smartphone, iPad or future device that comes along. Employees will be more productive on the latest technology of their choice, while IT offloads device management to free up time for more strategic initiatives.

Download your complimentary Gartner report entitled ‘Checklist for an Employee-Owned Notebook or PC Program’ and learn how to:

  • Define IT support responsibilities
  • Provide robust, scalable and secure access to corporate data
  • Protect enterprise data and intellectual property
  • Develop appropriate policies for employee-owned systems

Download the Gartner checklist by clicking HERE.


Technical Tip of the Week: Windows 7 Health Check

There are many possible reasons why your Windows 7 PC might be slow, unstable or suffering from a range of other annoying problems. Figuring out the cause normally requires exploring a host of troubleshooting tools. But there is an alternative, of course – with a single command you can have Windows 7 collect all kinds of useful data into one very helpful problem-solving report.

Click ‘Start’, type perfmon /report and press [Enter]. It takes a while to collect its data, so be patient – it will be worth the wait. When the report appears, you’ll see details like ‘problem’ devices – perhaps where there are issues with the drivers, for example.

It will also warn you about poorly chosen security settings, there’s a check that can highlight whether your hard drive may be about to fail, and you’ll see data about Windows service problems, hardware issues, system resource shortages, NTFS performance, and all kinds of information that you can’t easily get elsewhere: the files responsible for most disk I/O for instance.


The EACS Desktop & Application Delivery Team Provides an Update on the Past 12 Months…

Looking back over the past 12 months in the Desktop and Application Delivery Team, the keyword is once again change. This is an often overused adjective in the world of IT, but the last year truly has been one of massive changes. Just look at the application set provided by Citrix. In the last 12 months they have managed to perform a major version update of the entire product line:

  • Citrix XenDesktop made a huge advance from v4 to v5 and, as if that that was not enough, this was rapidly followed by v5 SP1 and then V5.5.
  • Citrix XenApp 6 remained the staple of the application delivery world for the majority of the year before being surpassed by its younger sibling, first as the ubiquitous “Iron Cove” Tech preview and then finally (once Citrix settled on a name for the product) as XenApp 6.5 in August.
  • Citrix XenServer 5 stepped through 5.6 SP1, SP2 and then finally 6.0 in November.
  • Likewise Citrix Provisioning server matured from 5.6 SP1 through to 6.0.
  • Citrix Access Gateway (CAG) also saw a near 100% ground up code re-write with the release of CAG 5 into production.
  • Even one of the more obscure technologies, XenClient, was updated to 2.0.

Keeping up with this rate of change has been a challenge in itself, but within the EACS technical teams, it has been a challenge that has been fully overcome with the engineers, support staff and consultants all updating their skill sets and helping us bring these technologies online. With all this changing technology it’s not surprising that many companies are unable to internally maintain and update these constantly changing skillsets and look to partner with solution providers such as EACS just to keep up to date.

Looking back at the projects we have delivered this year, it’s no surprise that the bulk of production environments we have implemented have been based around XenApp, however more and more companies are starting to look towards XenDesktop to answer some of their problems. The number of XenDesktop Proof of Concepts we have implemented this year has grown significantly with customers contemplating the myriad of paths available to them on the minefield that is the upgrade path to Windows 7. Many of these customers are no longer convinced that the traditional 3-5 year desktop refresh cycle is maintainable and the majority of XenDesktop trials have also included customers trialling thin client devices, either for the first time or as part of an existing strategy.

Last year we undertook an independent desktop strategy assessment for a large outsourced call centre provider with circa 12,000 desktops. We were able to drill right down into the underlying financial costs of implementing the multitude of combinations of thick, thin, centralised, distributed, managed and unmanaged desktops. This enabled us to produce a complex financial model that highlighted the potential cost savings that can be realised of a 5 year period from switching to a centrally delivered desktop model with energy efficient thin client devices.

Finally, 2011 saw the appearance of the Microsoft only Desktop & Application Delivery solution. The Microsoft product stack has matured to the point where it can now deliver a real competitive solution without the need to layer Citrix on top. This has huge financial advantages for customers with cost efficient Microsoft Licensing, such as charities and educational environments. Both in the application delivery arena with native Server 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and Hyper-V desktop virtualisation (VDI). These solutions now provide web access, secure internet access, load balancing and real time brokerage. Watch out for Microsoft in this area, as usual they are just a service pack away from providing some real challenges to Citrix.

Looking forward to 2012, does the Desktop & Application Delivery Team have any predictions? Well we think VDI is really going to take off. We have had an action packed year of trials, pilots and Proof of Concept labs, but the time of trials and POCs is drawing to an end and the Windows XP end of support date is looming on the horizon. With the current economic climate Chief Financial Officers are challenging the traditional desktop refresh cycle based doctrine. The question is why spend all that money to maintain the status quo, when for the same amount you can achieve all the benefits of switching to a centrally hosted / delivered model? Combine this with the use of energy saving thin clients and it could even be more cost effective!


Technical Tip of the Week: Burn ISO Images Easily with Windows 7

Burning ISO images to CDs or DVDs couldn’t be much easier. Just double-click the ISO image, choose the drive with the blank disc, click Burn and watch as your disc is created.


Technical Tip of the Week: How to Change Windows Server 2008R2 Edition

Have you installed the standard edition of Server 2008R2 then realised to get certain functionality you need the Enterprise or DataCenter edition? Don’t despair, you can upgrade the edition of Windows without having to re-install by following these simple steps:

Click on the “Start Button” Type cmd, cmd.exe will then show under programs, Right Click the cmd.exe Icon and select “Run as administrator.

Enter this command in the window to confirm the version you are running: “DISM /online /Get-CurrentEdition”

Enter the following command to see which version you can upgrade too “DISM /online /Get-TargetEditions” You will see from the output that Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard can be upgraded to Enterprise and DataCenter.

Enter in the following command to upgrade your version of Windows Server to do this you need to have a key for Enterprise edition and fill in the XXXX with that information “DISM /online /Set-Edition:ServerEnterprise /ProductKey:XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX”

Once the command has run you will need to restart your computer, if you are ready just type “Y.”

Once the computer restarts, you can look at your computer properties, and you will now see you are running Windows Server Enterprise.

For more information, please click HERE.


Technical Tip of the Week: Windows 7 – Calibrate Your Screen

The colours you see on your screen will vary depending on your monitor, graphics cards settings, lighting and more, yet most people use the same default Windows colour profile. That means a digital photo you think looks perfect might appear very poor to everybody else.

Fortunately Windows 7 now provides a Display Colour Calibration Wizard that helps you properly set up your brightness, contrast and colour settings, and a ClearType tuner to ensure text is crisp and sharp.

Click Start, type DCCW and press Enter to give it a try.