Storage

Virtualization Revs Up Small Business

Clarkdale Volkswagen, a leading car dealership in the city of Vancouver, is about to celebrate its 50th year in business. It goes without saying that an IT strategy was not in place when the dealership opened its doors in 1960, and the company's technology infrastructure has grown in an ad-hoc way over the years. To bring order to the chaos and streamline operations, Clarkdale called in Computer Troubleshooters Canada.

Clarkdale VW's last major IT overhaul was in 2003, but the outdated POP3 e-mail and decentralized network of desktop PC offered little communication between departments the 65 employees, made backups a sporadic hassle, and kept IT costs high by requiring excessive labor to maintain. Clarkdale was ready to hire a full-time IT person to manage this mess, but knew it would mean taking a big hit to the payroll budget. Computer Troubleshooters recommended a virtualization makeover to simplify the company's tech infrastructure and eliminate the need for full-time IT staff.

Aging Infrastructure

Before Computer Troubleshooters stepped in, the dealership had little data center to speak of. A single Linux server ran the company's Enterprise Resource Planning software, and six print servers connected ten printers to the network. E-mail was served directly to the desktops by an off-site POP3 account from a local ISP.

With no domain on the network, users were managed individually on each desktop PC. Meanwhile, the company's LAN was connected to several different wireless networks, including a public wireless network for customers, which left the network at risk of intrusion. This was particularly problematic, as there was no security in place to prevent attacks. Meanwhile, remote workers had no way of accessing data on the network, and no central storage for important files.

To bring this network up to date, we had to address every single item in the IT Infrastructure. The goal was to create an environment that can be supported with no on-site IT staff, only remote support and on-call support. The network had to have a low long-term support cost without compromising functionality or reliability. The loss of a single sale, or one unhappy customer due to system downtime or lost communications, would not be acceptable.

Virtualization Revamp

We started by replacing the POP3 e-mail with a hosted Exchange service from Canada's Radiant Communications. This solution gives the client an entire instance of Exchange hosted on a virtual server in a secure off-site data center. There is no hardware to support, no licenses to maintain, no backups to monitor, no concerns with upgrades ever again and a team of highly certified technicians maintaining the server. Plus, Exchange adds scheduling and shared contacts across the entire company.

Upon completion of a full tech audit, it was clear that each department in the dealership had a fixed set of software needs with little variation from user to user, but each department had some very specific requirements. With that in mind, we determined that a virtualization server connected to desktop terminals would meet the needs of the users while minimizing long-term support costs. A successful terminal server implementation would require strict group policies, allowing each department to access only the software it required. We deployed a Windows Server 2008 running VMWare to create the virtual servers. Initially, we used the company's existing workstations as terminals, but over time each workstation will be replaced with Wyse terminals running Embedded XP.

To add functionality to the infrastructure, SharePoint was included in the setup. SharePoint has allows for custom lists such as vehicle delivery schedules and a sales leaderboard. SharePoint has dramatically improved interoffice communication.

Previously, all 10 sales people had laptops. This meant supporting 10 laptops as well the costs and time involved with frequent changes in staff. In our new setup, we created six sales stations. Since only six sales people work on any given shift, the sales stations dramatically improved access to the information the sales staff needed while providing the flexibility of working from several locations in the showroom.

The total cost of this tech makeover was about CDN$10,000, with monthly upkeep and management costs of approximately CDN$3,000.

The Payoff

The move to virtualization has added a tremendous amount of security and control to an environment that previously had little of either. One challenge faced was the need for a domain while not having users Remote Desktop into a Domain Controller. We solved this by setting up a virtual machine running inside the terminal server acting as the domain controller. This saved the cost of purchasing and supporting a second server, while ensuring maximum use of available resources. One of the side benefits of having the terminal server was the establishment of the sales stations.

The other major improvement with the virtualization solution was the ability for management and select users to work remotely, dramatically improving productivity. Because many of the users interact with clientele, productivity improvements were very important to customer service.

Clarkdale expects to save more than CDN$15,000 per year on IT salaries and benefits that will be eliminated due to third-party support at a fixed monthly cost. For longer-term savings, thin clients will not need to be replaced and less likely to need repairs. Due to the extended life span of a thin client versus a desktop computer, plus the lower initial purchase cost, Clarkdale expects ongoing savings of $9000 CDN per year on hardware costs, plus an additional potential of CDN$4000 per year on power consumption savings.

Chris Aconley brings 10 years of business experience and 15 years of IT experience to the task of improving technology solutions for his business customers.
Meet the Pro

Computer Troubleshooters is a worldwide computer support franchise. They solve clients' tech problems, manage their IT Infrastructure, and find solutions that will improve their business. As National Director for Computer Troubleshooters Canada, Chris Aconley brings 10 years of business experience and 15 years of IT experience to the task of improving technology solutions for his business customers. Computer Troubleshooters Canada is a Microsoft Gold Partner. Its location in Vancouver focuses entirely on Managed Services and enhanced business solutions. Chris Aconley can be reached at 604-639-2667.

If you're an IT solutions provider serving the small to midsize business market, and you'd like to learn how you can contribute to PC World Tech Audit, send mail to techaudit@pcworld.com. We're always looking for more talented pros.

Tech Audit is written and produced in cooperation with IT professionals in the field. All recommendations and opinions expressed represent the independent judgment of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of PC World or its editorial staff.

Subscribe to the Power Tips Newsletter

Comments