Consolidation is flavour of the month for IT departments. It helps businesses lower the cost of IT management by reducing the number of physical servers, desktop PCs and network infrastructures that must be supported. Consolidation also fits neatly into a company's green strategy, since less IT equipment produces less carbon and contributes to lower electricity bills. Here are four examples of IT consolidation.
CASE STUDY 1
Virtual desktop infrastructure: Leicestershire Constabulary VDI keeps bobbies on the beat
Like most frontline public services, Leicestershire Constabulary has turned to technology to reduce bureaucracy, while also keeping costs down.
Inspector Sanjiv Pattani of Leicestershire Constabulary says when the government released £50m to fund mobile policing initiatives following the publication of the late-2007 Flanagan report, the Midlands force was already looking at ways to use existing IT to increase officer productivity.
"We decided on a mixed economy of devices - Blackberry mobiles for selected teams without vehicles; demountable Panasonic Toughbooks in mobile units. The fundamental element to both was remote desktop access," says Pattani.
James Pearce, Leicestershire Constabulary information systems analyst, says the IT team had to translate the business case and user requirements into a successful delivery project. "It was decided to take the standard physical platform and make it virtual and accessible," he said.
The force was able to take advantage of the fact that it was already using Citrix Presentation Server for application delivery. "We wanted to take the virtual desktop infrastructure [VDI] and co-locate it anywhere. So implementing Citrix XenDesktop seemed a good fit, as we did not have to reposition the apps," says Pearce.
Although some bespoke development work was required to make key applications - such as Crime & Intelligence and Command & Control - work on the various mobile platforms, Pearce says the roll-out benefited from previous experience of the Citrix interface.
By September 2008, Leicestershire Constabulary had worked with Citrix reseller Point-to-Point to deploy 150 mobile handheld and laptop devices to frontline staff. Pattani says this has reduced the amount of time they spend at the police station by 35%. There are further plans to deliver over 300 more data terminals according to role-specific responsibilities in the near future.
"The VDI project has enabled officers to complete full crime reports at the scene in a way that is less manually intensive, while also improving the quality and accuracy of information, as well as our efficiency and visibility in the community," he says.
CASE STUDY 2
Server virtualisation: The Eden Project grows a greener IT infrastructure
Just like any mid-sized business, The Eden Project relies on its IT infrastructure for key day-to-day operations. But unlike other growing businesses it had more reason to look for "green" products when it began to experience space, cooling and power problems, on top of regular electricity "brown-outs" in the area.
Jon Curry, head of IT at The Eden Project, says that as far as energy consumption is concerned, the IT team is "always trying to do the right thing". It has achieved some easy wins by factoring the energy performance of equipment and IT suppliers' green credentials into the procurement process.
He says server virtualisation offered a potential solution to the disaster recovery challenges posed by its growth and power issues, that would also support the core environmental remit of the popular Cornwall botanical visitor attraction.
"We have UPS [uninterruptible power supply] units on site, but the vast majority of our server estate is due to be replaced within the next three years," Curry says. "One of the advantages of server virtualisation was that we would be able to restore data to any point, as opposed to taking on a major disaster recovery contract."
The Eden Project worked with third-party virtualisation specialist S3 Consulting to consolidate its datacentre infrastructure using NetApp storage virtualisation and VMware server virtualisation technology running on HP ProLiant servers. Curry says the project has gone smoothly, with virtualisation technologies deployed across a dozen of its servers so far.
The visitor attraction has already reduced its physical storage requirements by 50% using the storage virtualisation deduplication and thin provisioning features. Application performance and systems resilience and capacity have improved. And the removal of decommissioned servers, along with their space and cooling requirements, is expected to reduce IT's power consumption by 35% this year.
"We made the business case not by how much we would save, but against how much it would cost us in patching, downtime and solving other such problems if we did not do this," Curry says. "We expect the project to pay for itself within 18 months."
CASE STUDY 3
Software-as-a-service: SaaS streamlines online customer contact for Comet
When Comet established its goal to become "Britain's most trusted electrical specialist", it turned to self-learning customer relationship management (CRM) software to improve its online customer contact processes.
Simon Parkinson, general manager of the Comet customer information centre, says, "We had a bunch of in-house systems to support the customer contact process that were time-consuming and did not allow us to react to the consumer as we can now."
Within three months of deploying RightNow Technologies' CRM software and its self-learning knowledgebase in 2003, more than 40% of enquiry e-mails were eradicated. Today, this has increased to a 50% reduction in e-mails coming into the Customer Care team because 94% of customers opting for self-service are able to successfully access the constantly updated knowledgebase via the website's questions and answers page.
Parkinson says monitoring what customers are saying about thousands of different products and managing the knowledgebase this creates between Comet and its hundreds of suppliers would be extremely difficult to do manually. "The self-learning capability of RightNow is a key differentiator," he says, enabling the team to refine customer-related information for the rest of the business to better match customer expectations and requirements.
The fact that RightNow employs an on-demand, or software-as-service (SaaS), delivery has also been a key factor in its continued, successful use by Comet, where a 100% first-time contact resolution rate has been achieved, even during peak shopping seasons.
Parkinson says that because it is fully hosted it is easier to manage the SaaS model in terms of long-term costs, and the process of upgrading the CRM software - which the retailer is about to do again - was easier compared with traditional, on-premise systems.
"There are also a huge number of standard or bespoke reports, which form the main output of our work, but RightNow provides accurate data that we can track, deal with and respond to in a very short time," he adds. "We know who each customer is, when we spoke to them and what the resolution to their contact was."
CASE STUDY 4
Unified communications software: Midlands Mental Health Trust unifies communications
Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) wanted to reduce staff dependence on pagers and radios by creating a communications platform that could easily integrate new technologies.
As one of the largest and most complex NHS-based mental health trusts in the UK, it needed to find a better way of easily staying in contact with staff when they are away from their desk.
Richard Rennalls, BSMHFT telecommunications manager, says the Trust wanted to create a next-generation communications platform to improve staff contact in support of more responsive patient care.
As in all public sector organisations, the platform investment had to enhance patient service levels while also lowering costs. So BSMHFT last year invested in a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) based unified communications platform supporting voice, data, remote access and video to improve staff mobility.
The Trust selected Siemens' OpenScape and HiPath products to run over its existing wireless large area network (Wlan), coupled with Siemens' fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) technology, HiPath Mobile Connect, to automatically switch between its telecom operator's cellular network and the Trust's VoIP network, even during a call.
"Siemens was the only supplier able to offer a true, open, session initiation protocol (SIP) solution [at the time], with a complete enterprise feature set," says Rennalls. In addition, a high level of integration with BSMHFT's existing integrated services digital exchange (iSDX) network was key to achieving a lower total cost of ownership.
Since implementation, overall operating costs have dropped. A new contact centre, designed to take over from a series of smaller units, has also been introduced. It uses Siemens' multimedia customer query routing, tracking and handling system, HiPath ProCentre, to improve the ability to resolve customer enquiries on the first call.
Rennalls says the unified communications implementation has introduced technology that fits with the strategy of the Trust. "In particular, WiFi and applications such as DACS [Digital Alarm and Communications Server] and FMC are key to potential cost and efficiency savings."