Consolidation of company IT systems in the Cloud
Read about how W Engineering, an SME business with manufacturing facilities to the north and south of London, overcame challenges to update its IT infrastructure to meet a number of business challenges. The solution was ultimately found in the very latest cloud technology from Microsoft.
The Story of W Engineering Limited
W Engineering is a group of three companies that operate manufacturing facilities in the home counties. Two facilities in Welwyn Garden City and another in Kent. The business specialises in the production of plastic (PTFE, PEEK and fluoropolymer) machine parts and coatings.
Established in mid-eighties and employing over 100 staff, the business recently moved its head office into new purpose-designed premises to accommodate future growth.
The Challenge of Upgrade and Consolidation
The company initially engaged ITbuilder in 2018 to tackle the challenges presented by its ageing server infrastructure. We embarked on a journey of server virtualisation, to preserve some legacy Windows Servers that operated the admin, finance and production systems. The servers were migrated to modern and more reliable on-premise server hardware, converting them to virtual server with daily cloud backups for redundancy. Simultaneously, the company’s email system was moved from Exchange 2010 to Office 365.
In recent years, as the clock ran down on vendor support for the Windows 2008 R2 and 2012 R2 server editions of operating systems, it was time for a significant upgrade to deal with a number of challenges:
- Phasing out server operating systems from the network that are unsupported and thus enabling the business to continue to qualify for Cyber-Essentials certification
- Providing secure access to Sage ERP and Finance applications across both company manufacturing sites as well as to sales personnel working from home
- Demarcation of factory production network from the company administration and finance network
- Extend the domain security authority from the head office to branch office for user authentication to access company data
- Support for Windows and Mac user devices to run Sage business applications
- Restructuring of shared file libraries by department and facility for mobile access
As a result of business mergers over the years, the IT infrastructure was in need of consolidation to provide a consistent, secure and policy-driven computing environment to drive the main business finance and administration operations.
Why W Engineering Chose Azure Virtual Desktop with ITbuilder
Following a number of meetings and discussion between the leadership team at W Engineering and experts at ITbuilder, it was concluded that the latest cloud technologies from Microsoft held the solutions to meet the business challenges presented to them.
The company was already on a pathway to the cloud through migration of the email system to Office 365, server backups offline and some light use of Teams during the pandemic beginning in 2020. Also, Sage being a client-server application that only runs on Windows operating systems largely determined the need to remain on Microsoft technology.
How ITbuilder Responded
ITbuilder presented an option to build a completely secure, private network in Microsoft’s Azure IaaS platform that would exist with restricted, secure connectivity back into A Plastic’s existing on-premise network with encrypted Virtual Private Network tunnels. The new cloud network was equipped with a new, virtual Windows server running the latest 2022 server edition and integrated into the Azure Active Directory Domain Services for user authentication using existing identities employed for the Office 365 services: Exchange and Teams. The server hosts the company’s Sage business applications.
Into the virtual cloud network were deployed a series of multi-session desktop hosts integrated into the Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) Platform-as-a-Service. AVD provides a secure Windows 10 desktop environment, accessible on either Windows or Mac computer devices at office premises or at remote locations and protected with the latest access control technology.
Legacy file shares have been migrated to SharePoint libraries for team-based access control to exploit features such as co-authoring, version control, version roll-back and auto-save.
The Group Sales Manager had this to say:
“Prior to the upgrade, we used to all work on individual silos of data. I use to get very frustrated trying to connect my MacBook via VPN to access Windows shared drives that would frequently disconnect. Now with SharePoint, I can update documents directly on my Mac and even work on them on them when travelling.”
W Engineering now has a consolidated, uniform computing environment running on up-to-date, supported software release. It is accessible across it’s user base whether at the Kent or Hertfordshire sites, or even working from home. Sales personnel using high-end MacBook laptops can access the Sage business applications via a convenient Windows desktop as easily as the office-based staff using traditional desktop computer.
The administration and finance network is segmented and secure, operating independently yet still able to access on-premises the company printers and, in only a very limited and specific way, the production network with its manufacturing machine devices.
Collaboration between user workgroups across the business is now smoother with team-based file-sharing and integration with the Teams platform.
Mark D., in charge of production and site operations, said “We used to have people working in different ways between our production sites as well as home workers, each doing their own thing. It was challenging to control and co-ordinate.
Now that everybody operates on ‘one unified network’, we can collaborate much more easily and safe in the knowledge that it is all secure in one location and protected by modern authentication methods.”
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Note: the names of the business and personnel have been anonymised on this edition of this case study to protect the company’s security. An Identifiable account is available upon request, subject to authentication.