Set up by the government in 2002 as the country’s national energy authority, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) aims to make Irish society more reliant on sustainable energy structures, technologies and practices.
Though demand for its services have increased, SEAI has had to operate within the constraints of the public sector where there is pressure to control costs and keep operations in-house. Weighed against those imperatives was the challenge of serving up to 80 users across multiple sites, facilitating greater productivity with existing resources. The agency had already undergone some improvements in its business processes, and had even tried virtualisation, but more needed to be done. “We had to look at maximising what we had, and implement a flexible and scalable architecture to facilitate expansion with energy efficiency always in mind,” explains IT manager Aidan Keogh.
SEAI was already a Microsoft site and it tendered for a services company to help optimise its IT systems’ performance and efficiency. Decision Support Systems (DSS), Microsoft Gold Partner, won the contract and set about auditing the SEAI’s existing IT infrastructure and providing input into the technology strategy. The goal was to implement a world-class network architecture, to include redundancy and failover at the same time as ensuring that existing enterprise licence agreements were maximised and old investments reused where possible.
The cornerstone of the strategy was the deployment of Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V. SEAI had been an early adopter of Microsoft’s first iteration of virtualisation, but Hyper-V offered features and functionality that allowed Keogh and DSS to take it much further, making the organisation more resilient and agile. Since SEAI had already virtualised some systems, the gains in reducing the number of physical servers was relatively modest, from seven down to a Hyper-V cluster of three plus two more for backup and replication. But the operational benefits have been substantial.
The SEAI adopted a co-location hosting model with main servers centrally located in a Dublin data centre, apart from file and print servers in each of the agency’s five sites and two backup servers at different locations. Virtual machines now host a full suite of Microsoft products, including Windows Server 2008, SharePoint, CRM and Exchange, as well as other business applications. To complement the virtualisation strategy, Microsoft System Center was deployed, providing Keogh with a single pane view of the entire estate, an overarching management toolset that makes it easier to control and monitor the different applications. System Center Data Protection Manager 2010 was part of the suite, providing SEAI with a disaster recovery plan that gives the business stability and ensures that data is replicated off site at the end of each day.
The agency upgraded to Windows 7 at the same time, benefiting from tools to centrally manage desktop machines’ power consumption on a more granular level. Windows 7 runs with fewer background activities so the computer’s processor draws on less power. Fewer servers are central to a virtualisation strategy, which effectively reduces electricity consumption, not just for the servers but also the cooling systems. System Center Configuration Manager goes further, monitoring and measuring potential power saving across the organisation. Group policies help hibernate machines and ensure all networked hardware is powered off at the end of each day.
In a tough economic climate, SEAI has managed to make its IT budget go further. For minimal additional cost it has a suite of software offers with the features it needs, allowing it to maximise its enterprise license agreements. By standardising on Microsoft products, it was able to continue using existing assets, integrating the old with some new elements that provide a scalable platform for future growth.
The primary goal was to get to a position where the IT department could meet future business demands without having to make a large investment. “We knew we were going to have growth in terms of application requirements and user demands without having the extra budget to support them. The Microsoft suite of products has helped us to address this,” says Keogh. New applications and services are rolled out on virtual rather than physical machines. “We’re already doing more but still occupy the same rack in the data centre. We’re not paying for more space or consuming more power but we are managing to grow IT services to meet the business needs,” he adds.
The SEAI project shows how a highly standardised environment with integrated products can not only deal with current challenges but also create a platform that can scale with the business – without stretching the capacity of the IT department. “SEAI settled on a standardised Microsoft environment that would give them more for their money. We worked with them to ensure they were getting maximum value from their existing enterprise licence agreements and took them on a virtualisation path that was very affordable,” says DSS account manager John Murphy.
Ronan Geraghty, server and tools business manager with Microsoft Ireland, adds: “Like many organisations in the current economic climate, the SEAI was under pressure to control costs, yet needed to extend their IT capability to serve the needs of a growing number of users across multiple sites. The combination of Hyper-V plus System Center provided SEAI with not just a cost-effective and robust solution but also opened up the path to achieve energy savings which aligns with the principles of the organisation as Ireland’s national energy authority."