Cloud computing for all

By Jonathan Nally
Wednesday, 24 February, 2016

Cloud computing for all

The rise of the cloud has seen a variety of solutions developed to suit the needs of many different kinds of enterprises.

What does the cloud mean to you? Does it mean private, public or hybrid? Does it involve storage, backup, virtual machines, compute facilities, scalability or something else? Indeed, that’s the beauty of the cloud concept — it’s so versatile that, in 2016, it offers something for just about everyone, whether directly as a service engaged by a firm or nebulously in our daily lives (who knows where our banking and other data is kept?).

In From the Frontline this issue, we look at how the cloud is helping three different Australian enterprises that have very different needs.

On the road again

Tyres4U is the largest wholesaler of tyres in Australia. Around five years ago, the company established a retail banner, Tyreright, with an e-commerce site that enables customers to book appointments to have tyres fitted as part of the sales check-out process.

At the time, the site used a very simple web server and a simple database built on a CMS platform in partnership with a local development company here in Sydney called Switch. But “we were aware that we were going to need strategies for growth”, said Daniel Wright, Tyres4U’s chief digital officer.

“About halfway through last year, we actually had a relational issue with a third-party supplier who had helped set up our original hosting solution,” said Wright. “It became very clear that we were going to need to migrate away from this solution pretty quickly.”

A chance meeting with some Rackspace representatives at a conference saw Wright being presented with just the solution he had been looking for. “Truthfully, my knowledge of Rackspace at that point in time had always been ‘Great reputation, pretty expensive’,” he said. But he was pleasantly surprised. “In the space of 24 hours I got three fully specified quotes from these guys that got progressively cheaper and met every objective I needed for the next 12 months. It was just crazy.

“We’ve gone with a dedicated private set-up for the moment, which allows us to manage the core hardware, in particular our analytics and database servers,” said Wright. “We have a major development component that’s due to ship later this year which will add a significant additional section to a private website, which is a members’ portal. Once that ships we’ll be looking to move to a hybrid set-up and expand further out of what we’ve got right now.”

Wright said that scalability is the main benefit to come from moving to the cloud. “Just the ability to load up and down, particularly because we are starting a whole series of marketing campaigns for Tyreright this year, so we’re expecting peaks and valleys in performance based on that,” he said.

“What I wasn’t really expecting, mostly because I hadn’t given it a lot of thought, was the improvement that we got on page performance. So our average load times came down by over a second; our page response times improved by 80%. It was just really nice to actually fire it up and find that everything was not just more stable, but faster.”

No more ‘keeping the lights on’

Macpherson Kelley Lawyers is a 100-year-old law firm with around 300 staff based in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, but with a national presence targeting the legal mid-market. It keeps all its data for 25 years, and needed a storage solution that was elastic enough to house that data but not too painful when it came time to recover it.

“I think the biggest issues for us were around performance. We found that our backups were running into the workday and grinding our users to a halt,” said Matt Purves, the company’s national infrastructure manager. “We were using a previous SAN vendor that we weren’t necessarily happy with, that wasn’t elastic enough, that wasn’t scalable… and just wasn’t feasible moving forward. We actually pulled [the system] 18 months into our [contract when] we still had 18 months to go.

“I think the biggest thing as well [is that] the traditional IT approach of ‘keeping the lights on’ is quite legacy now,” said Purves. “We were finding that we were always keeping the lights on, always managing those helpdesk tickets around slow performance, and we weren’t really staying abreast of the technology innovation and the disruption that everyone is talking about.

“And the challenge for us was to find a product that leveraged cloud technology but also gave us a good stepping stone because we were… running everything internally and we just needed something that would give us that step into the cloud,” he added. The company chose Pure Storage flash arrays for its storage needs, and “we run all of our on-premises backups via Commvault, and then we replicate them into our IaaS cloud”.

“The biggest shift for us [is that] we’re sort of changing skillsets to an extent as well,” said Purves. “We were finding with our SAN solution that we would spend one to two hours per day just trying to fix a lot of those performance-related problems. [The new solution meant] we were able to reduce our helpdesk tickets by about 62% over a 30-day timeframe, which is quite significant for us.”

And the combination of Commvault and Pure Storage means “we can basically backup anything we want within our window at night-time now as well, whereas before we really needed to pick and choose what we wanted to do, and even then it was running into the workday”, said Purves. “So it gives us a lot more security on our data and our servers.”

Inundated by email

KordaMentha is another firm that operates in the legal space, being one of Australia’s foremost multidisciplinary advisory and investment firms with prominent forensic, real estate, corporate turnaround and restructuring practices.

The company’s 350 business specialists rely heavily on emails. Ongoing involvement in legal proceedings meant both that KordaMentha staff were inundated in email — the average email inbox has over 100,000 items in it — and that they needed fast, effective searching and retrieval of those emails from the office and in the field. The company chose a solution from Mimecast to migrate nearly 40 million emails from a legacy on-premise archiving system, being the first step in moving to Office 365 with a cloud archiving and compliance solution.

“Mimecast wasn’t a cost-saving initiative, but was actually a part of the strategy for where the firm was heading from a cloud technology perspective,” said Ryan Wadsworth, KordaMentha’s director for information technology. “It is financially viable, fits in with our strategy and added significant end-user enhancements. The experience for my team was good; however, the experience for the end user is outstanding.

“Since the email platform has gone live, KordaMentha has been so encouraged with its benefits that the company has implemented the rest of the suite,” he added. “Add-on module Targeted Threat Protection helps protect against malicious links, while Secure Messaging and Large File Send offer additional benefits to users.

“Large File Send, in particular, was flagged as a more-secure, better-managed replacement for the cloud file-sharing tools that employees were often using to exchange confidential documents,” said Wadsworth. “A lack of controls meant those tools failed significantly on compliance requirements but transitioning users to Mimecast Large File Send has provided a robust alternative that has been eagerly adopted by users.”

KordaMentha was looking for three key benefits: a solution that would support migration from the in-house email system to Microsoft Office 365 while still being compliant; reduce the reliance and continual investment in storage for on-premises archiving and backup; and speed up the searching and retrieval of emails for discovery and legal purposes.

“Microsoft has a strong proposition with Office 365 that Mimecast makes even stronger by providing ‘wraparound’ services to address additional security risks, high availability, as well as backup and archiving,” said Wadsworth. Plus, “email search and retrieval, from mobile and desktop, is ‘lightning fast’ and users gravitate towards it instead of the native Outlook and iPhone mail apps”.

Image courtesy George Thomas under CC

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