Provide a brief description of the Solution?
IRC Building Sciences Group (IRC) is headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario. They provide extensive building envelope engineering, roof consulting, and structural engineering services; including design, assessment and complete project management. In early 2009 IT Weapons developed and rolled out a centralized, high-availability, cloud-based computing, storage, and messaging system for over 100 highly skilled engineering, consulting, and support staff working in 6 locations across Canada. The fully virtualized system delivered from the IT Weapons Cloud has ensured that IRC has an end-to-end system with plenty of high-performance, is scalable, and has on-demand resources to accommodate their heavy computing demands (with AutoCAD and other design software) and their future growth. Their staff can focus on optimizing their business rather than troubleshooting and maintaining their IT environment. The ITIL certified Technical Support Team at IT Weapons is responsible for all the management and monitoring of IRC’s systems. At the server level, their system includes VMware virtualization technology which, along with XenServer technology, is one of the cornerstones of the IT Weapons Cloud. Storage is accommodated by the over 125 Terabyte redundant SAN system which we developed for our Cloud customers. IRC’s applications are delivered via Citrix XenApp 5, their file structures, organizational topology, and user groups were developed in Active Directory and their shared calendar and email systems are running in Microsoft Exchange 2007. Since the computing and storage environment of the IT Weapons Cloud is all housed in our secure Data Centre, nearly all of IRC’s employees access their work on simple thin clients and notebooks; keeping desk-side hardware and maintenance costs down, and ensuring sensitive corporate information is safe from theft or hardware failure. While server-based “thin computing” is not new technology, what is especially impressive is the innovation and performance capacity that was required for IRC’s engineers and consultants to be able to run resource intensive graphics programs like AutoCAD remotely, in Citrix, on simple thin clients. IT Weapons made that happen. From a business continuity perspective, IRC also enjoyed an important benefit from the system developed with IT Weapons. What is notable is that the new centralized system afforded IRC’s staff the ability to work securely from the field or from home-and they made good use of this remote access technology when 2 Ottawa employees were quarantined at home for 2 weeks after being diagnosed with H1N1 last year. Not only were these employees able to access all their applications and data from home, the technology ensured that no IRC employee would be encouraged to come into the office sick and risk spreading the illness. One of the employees actually joked to Fowler that he wouldn’t speak to him anymore because now he had to work from home because of the new system!
Describe what elements of the cloud computing architecture were deployed in this solution, such as private vs. public cloud, how those decisions were made, and how security concerns were factored into the project design and implementation?
The IT Weapons Cloud was designed solely by our consulting team and is hosted in our state-of-the-art Data Centre. Given the system demands for secure remote access to a Citrix based application delivery environment and a file structure designed in Active Directory, a private cloud solution like ours was ideal. The security risks were no more than they would be for any other Data Centre model of delivering IT services. Since we’ve been hosting and managing server environments for years, we already had a world-class network and system security, with firewalls, secure access for users, dedicated network and the like. A public cloud solution just couldn’t afford IRC the functionality and performance capacity required by nationwide engineering firm like theirs. With the range of heavy-duty applications and business and accounting software, it was best to utilize the private resources of the IT Weapons Cloud.
Describe what makes your cloud computing solution unique or innovative, and how you pushed the boundaries of a typical cloud computing architecture in designing and implementing this solution for your client?
The IT Weapons Cloud, designed and backed by our award winning consulting team is at the heart of this end-to-end solution. There is no question that very few (if any) VARs in Canada have the expertise and resources to execute this kind of project, in 6 months, for a company like IRC. IRC operates with over 100 highly skilled engineering and consulting employees in the field and in six offices across Canada. From an IT systems management perspective, IRC’s operations presented a unique set of challenges. First, they are geographically dispersed across Canada with under 150 employees. So having dedicated IT resources (including staffing and equipment) at every location would be cumbersome and terribly expensive to administer. The problem was that while they recognized the growing need for a centralized system, their consultants and engineers across Canada rely heavily on sophisticated, resource-intensive, and expensive software and technology for dealing with engineering schematics, architectural drawings, etc. Before IRC redeveloped their IT system with IT Weapons, they would have to spend over $3,000 for a single high-end, maintenance heavy, computer to run software like AutoCAD. And the staff could rarely (if ever) access those AutoCAD files from anywhere but that workstation. Since many IRC consultants spend a great deal of time onsite with their customers, this process was inefficient and expensive. Now, with a centralized, remotely accessible Citrix environment delivering their apps, there are IRC employees that are able to run AutoCAD on a $250 thin client with a Linux Operating System. That’s unheard of! And they are free to access centralized files remotely too with nearly any web-enabled device. On the hardware side alone this amounts to a near 10-fold (1000%) savings in workstation costs, let alone the money saved in reduced support and maintenance time with thin clients. From a costing and budget perspective, moving to the IT Weapons Cloud meant that IRC would be free from the typical capital spending cycles associated with purchasing back-end IT equipment like servers, storage devices, etc. No longer do the IRC executives have to set aside cash reserves for unexpected equipment replacements in the Data Centre. A good deal of their capital expenses when it comes to IT have been eliminated and replaced with a simple, fixed, monthly fee that is proportional only to the resources used by IRC. The IT Weapons Cloud, designed and backed by our award winning consulting team is at the heart of this end-to-end solution. There is no question that very few (if any) VARs in Canada have the expertise and resources to execute this kind of project, in 6 months, for a company like IRC.
Discuss why a cloud computing-based solution was the right choice for your client in this business case, rather than a traditional IT architecture?
First, we provide centralized perimeter security solutions, providing streamlined and standardized system management. Second, we operate with the industry’s best components, very high end equipment, reporting and auditing systems that are usually out of budget for the average medium size business or small enterprise. We also provide a highly redundant, centralized route point that allows customers to choose the most cost-efficient private WAN provider site by site; our DC routes those WAN providers for them. This negates the need for them to purchase a circuit from each provider at their various locations. From a costing and budget perspective, outsourcing to a fully managed solution like the IT Weapons Cloud means that companies like IRC are free from the typical capital spending cycles associated with purchasing back-end IT equipment like servers, storage devices, etc. No longer do the IRC executives have to set aside cash reserves for unexpected equipment replacements in the Data Centre. A good deal of their capital expenses when it comes to IT have been eliminated and replaced with a simple, fixed, monthly fee that is proportional only to the resources used by IRC. The IT Weapons Cloud, designed and backed by our award winning consulting team is at the heart of this end-to-end solution. There is no question that very few (if any) VARs in Canada have the expertise and resources to execute this kind of project, in 6 months, for a company like IRC. For geographically dispersed organizations, a secure centralized IT infrastructure is far and away the most efficient way to deliver uniform IT services across the business. An outsourced system means that an organization eliminates the need to staff IT resources at all their locations. And when it comes to expansion and acquisitions, IT Weapons customers now look at their IT systems as an enabler of their acquisition activities. This is in sharp contrast to the typical perception that IT is like a boat anchor slowing down their ability to integrate new acquisitions. In most cases, a new site simply requires new software licenses and internet connectivity. This is especially true for our Cloud customers (like IRC) who just need IT Weapons to provision a new virtual server to accommodate a new site with new users. Our solutions are far more preferable than an onsite solution for SMBs too. Why? By tapping into our large virtual resource pools, they get access to world-class DC resources for very little startup costs, and only a fixed monthly fee proportional to their usage. Capital expenses for IT become little more than the costs for simple web enabled thin clients at the workstation.
Describe the business need this solution was expected to fill for your client, and how this solution has meet or exceeded those expectations. What measurable metrics, such as reduced costs or other efficiencies, can be provided to support the customer’s return on investment?
Suppose IRC wanted to open a new location or branch. The centralized system from IT Weapons makes this process smooth and budget-friendly. IT Manager Fowler reflected that, “I just have to buy some additional licensing, get IT Weapons to deploy another virtual server in their Data Centre, ensure internet connectivity at the new site, and in a matter of hours, the IT infrastructure can be user-ready.” He continues, “gone are the days where I have to procure hardware, upload a bunch of software, and build a server room. I don’t have to do that anymore. At my old employer, in their recently built Edmonton branch, their entire IT room is the size of our boardroom; they have a $15,000 air conditioning unit, and over $100,000 spent on racks, batteries, physical servers, etc…” With the fully outsourced virtual resources at the IT Weapons Data Centre, expansion is quick and cost-effective. Newly provisioned virtual servers are a mere fraction of the potential cost. Or consider the costs associated with engineering computer workstations. Before IRC redeveloped their IT system with IT Weapons, they would have to spend over $3,000 for a single high-end, maintenance heavy, computer to run software like AutoCAD. And the staff could rarely (if ever) access those AutoCAD files from anywhere but that workstation. Since many IRC consultants spend a great deal of time onsite with their customers, this process was inefficient and expensive. Now, with the centralized, remotely accessible Citrix environment delivering their apps, there are some instances where IRC employees are using AutoCAD in a $250 thin-client with a Linux Operating System. And they are free to access files remotely too with nearly any web-enabled device. On the hardware side alone this amounts to a near 10-fold (1000%) savings in workstation costs, let alone the money saved in reduced support and maintenance time with thin clients.
Discuss how designing and implementing this cloud computing solution challenged or broke new ground for you as a solution provider. How did it differ from other cloud computing implementations you have done, and what new challenges were faced by your technical and sales staff?
To prepare our infrastructure to accommodate the growing demand for on-demand cloud computing resources, our consulting team spent more than 1500 hours planning and redesigning every element of the IT Weapons Cloud infrastructure, resulting in a variety of leading-edge innovations built into the system. And we are able to pass these on to each of our managed service customers regardless of their size or budget. This is especially true for IT Weapons Cloud customers who don’t actually have to incur any capital expense to get enterprise-class IT resources. One of the most innovative solutions enjoyed by our DC customers is the dynamic load balancing of all customers’ email between pour primary and secondary DC sites. We developed a fully redundant high availability email system that all our customers get as a simple value-add to their managed services. Since we have over 5000 concurrent users on the IT Weapons mail servers, we ensured email traffic remained secure and SPAM free with Barracuda SPAM filtering devices for all inbound and outbound email; each with N+1 redundancy-so, four devices, with two at each DC. The mail traffic automatically fails back and forth between our DCs if the mail queues on each Barracuda device get too high or if the devices themselves have issues. The high availability NetScalers from Citrix were leveraged to make this happen. We installed the NetScalers to monitor and manage all traffic coming in and out of our Barracuda perimeter devices. The result: an intelligent self-monitoring email system with full redundancy and SPAM protection. We know of no other hosting provider that offers this kind of innovative service, and we do it for every customer, regardless of their size or budget. It’s simply built into the system shared by all our DC customers. Because the IT Weapons team is 44 people strong, we are small enough to remain nimble and flexible when it comes to accommodating customer demands; whether that means adjusting pricing and customizing service agreements, or for change management. The enterprise class resources we provide with a small agile team means that we can respond with the care and speed that no Canadian competitor in this market space is able to provide. The only other company’s with the same level of expertise or Data Centre resources are large corporations themselves with hundreds of employees, layers of managerial bureaucracy, and their executive teams are largely inaccessible to most clients for consultation and guidance. With IT Weapons, the opposite is true; our customers have direct access to our entire consulting team, our CEO, and our Chief Architect for regular meetings. When it comes to pound-for-pound expertise, service, and customer response times, the reality is that large IT service companies like Bell, IBM Global Services, and SunGard simply cannot match us. As our CEO Ted Garner likes to say, ‘IT Weapons success is proof that it is not the big that eat the small … but rather, the fast that eat the slow.”
How does this solution further your customer’s green or environmentally friendly plans?
In so far as IRC relies completely on virtual computing resources and thin client workstations, rather than physical servers and desktop computers, their carbon footprint is negligible at best.