Building firm supports growth with HP micro server, thin client combo

Toronto’s recent four-year construction boom has done well for a lot of local businesses. However, the frenetic activity which at its height saw no less than 15,657 condos sold in a year in the Greater Toronto Area, could also take its toll on some small and medium sized (SMB) outfits.

For Greenferd Construction Inc. a 22-employee, construction management firm specializing in interior projects, the period meant rapid business growth. However, by 2008 the company found it increasingly challenging to share information among its five project managers who work out of a central office and nine other site managers.

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Thin client desktops and laptops from Hewlett-Packard that are able to access company data from HP ProLiant DL585 micro servers housed in remote data centre, helped Greenferd sort out its communicationproblems without driving cost up.

A thin client is a computer which depends heavily on another computer or server to access data and applications to carry out its computing roles. This is in contrast the traditional “fat client”, a computer designed to generally work by itself.

The limits of BlackBerry

As the Greenferd grew in terms of revenue and headcount, company purchased BlackBerry smartphones for to boost its managers’ communication capabilities. The devices enabled the employees to view e-mail in the field but did not provide them with the functionality they needed,” according to Heather McKelvie, controller for Greenferd.

For instance, in order to distribute drawings, managers still needed to travel to a satellite office, access e-mail attachments, then print these files. The company considered providing each site manager a laptop but backed off upon realizing the risks of network breaches or the possibility of losing critical data if the devices were stolen or damaged on the site.

McKelvie, who was also the IT administrator and help desk manager for the firm, said she often found herself spending eight hours a week tending to IT related problems of the company.

“It got to the point where we had so many users, it was difficult to disseminate information at the right time to meet their requirements,” she said.

Thin clients bring fat benefits

Through a consultation with ThinDesk Inc. a Markham, Ont-based HP reseller, McKelvie found out about using thin clients.

ThinDesk set up Greenferd employees with HP t5730 thin client computers and HP 6720t mobile thin client laptops equipped with wireless access adapter cards and wireless printers.

The HP reseller then helped the construction management firm move its data and applications to HP ProLiant DL585 servers in a data centre run by Telus.

The Greenferd computers did not carry any information in themselves, according to Scott Martin director of sales for ThinDesk. The devices merely accessed and display information hosted in the servers.

“This solution made a lot of sense because we’re providing infrastructure that’s scalable and very secure, and it drives cost savings into the business,” said Martin


With their thin laptops, site managers are able to access files while working on-site with clients. Desk-bound employees no longer have to e-mail documents to the site managers.

This cut about an hour day previously spent travelling to and from Greenferd offices, said Don Brown, Greenferd’s partner in charge of production. “Site managers may spend an hour at an office printing documents, and by the time they get back to the site, there’s another revision. Removing the time delay in having current information is going to be a tremendous asset for us.”

Greenferd may also be able to save 15 per cent on its utility bills by no longer running servers and desktops in-house.

The company’s contract with ThinDesk guarantees its user cost for three years.

“I have no hardware assets to depreciate,” McKelvie said. “What I have is essentially a utility bill once a month. It simplifies bookkeeping, and it’s comforting to know that our computing costs are fixed. We project that we’ll achieve a return on our investment within two years.”

HP Just Right IT

Small and medium sized businesses are looking for low-cost, easy to deploy and manage IT solutions, according to Lisa Wolfe, world wide SMB lead for HP.

“Our survey indicates that SMBs are looking around for new wireless solutions that enable fast and reliable server access. Small businesses are also looking for IP telephony solutions,” she said.

The ProLiant line of micro servers, Wolfe said, are an example of how her company is helping SMBs deal with tech budget challenges by offering what HP calls its “Just Right IT portfolio for small business. A single micro server can keep secure data sharing for businesses with up to 10 employees.

The Just Right IT portfolio also includes a new line of HP Officejet Pro 8500A-e all-in-one and HP Officejet 7500A wide format all-in-one printers that come with Web-connectivity. The printers allow users to print documents from any mobile device at up to 50 per cent less of the cost of printing on laser printers.

The portfolio also includes minitower PCs, monitoring and management consoles and shared storage SAN appliances.

Anil Miglani, senior vice president at AMI Partners, a strategy consulting firm, said these type of solutions will be useful for many SMBs. “While small to mid-sized business remain cautious about the economy, they continue to look for ways to simplify operations to prepare for growth.”

“This offers an expanded technology portfoilio with realistic options that enable SMBs to manage data expansion and improve employee productivity,” said Miglani.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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