Microsoft customers are not the only ones who use the company’s products. Microsoft runs its own business on that same software, which means it has two sets of customers—internal and external—to satisfy with its solutions.
That also holds true for Avanade, the joint venture of Accenture and Microsoft that delivers business technology solutions and managed services. Avanade promotes its core competency and expertise in Microsoft technologies to customers, and it demonstrates that expertise with the way that it uses Microsoft technologies to manage its own global operations, including 16,000 professionals located across 20 countries.
Many of those professionals see the inside of an Avanade office infrequently. Consider Avanade consultants, who spend about 80 percent of their time outside their offices. They may not enter an Avanade office for weeks at a time, but they need always-on connectivity to Avanade whether they are making presentations to prospective customers, reviewing project status with current customers, or working on their own—or in virtual collaboration with colleagues—to deliver solutions for their customers.
The traditional solution for that need has been the use of virtual private networks (VPNs). It provides security—a must for the exchange of customer-specific and other sensitive data—but it is also clumsy and time-consuming for business people to set up, requiring user names, passwords, and configuration choices. And anything that presents a difficulty for business users eventually poses a challenge to the IT department’s help desk, too.
Avanade addressed these limitations when it adopted Windows Server 2008 R2—the second release of the Windows Server 2008 operating system—with Service Pack 1 (SP1). The DirectAccess technology in Windows Server provides a connectivity option that is easier for Avanade consultants to use and the IT staff to manage. The technology’s “always-on” capability means that consultants have their connections to the company whenever they turn on their laptops, without going through a manual access process. It makes accessing intranet resources much like it is for users working within the company’s offices.
But at least one key difference remained: Because the technology was limited to a single point of access—which Avanade put in its Seattle, Washington, data center—latency was high, especially for consultants accessing the network from one or more continents away. This limitation resulted in a hybrid model, with VPNs continuing to be used to access particularly interactive resources, such as data connections and intranet sites.
Avanade also adopted Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 for the company’s mission-critical Dynamic Computing Services (DCS). The DCS division provides an in-house, private-cloud development and test environment for Avanade developers working on projects for both the company and its customers, and has supported thousands of projects over its decade-long existence. It manages about 400 projects at any one time, using an environment of about 1,500 virtual machines running on the Hyper-V virtualization technology in Windows Server.
For DCS, the challenge is to continue to scale to support more customers—internal and external—without a parallel increase in costs. The last time DCS acquired an additional storage array, the purchase price was US$1 million, and “migrating data from the older equipment and moving it to the new system was a major event, was very expensive, and called for our users to accept significant downtime,” says Patrick Cimprich, Vice President and Global Chief Architect of the Technology Infrastructure Service Line at Avanade.