Management convergence

Monitoring and managing applications across 60 locations was proving to be a challenge for Juma Al Majid. In order to enhance the end user experience, the company overhauled its IT infrastructure.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  July 24, 2005

IT operating costs have steadily increased as organisations struggle to maintain the security and performance of distributed applications with existing tools. Instead of continuing to pour resources on legacy technologies, Juma Al Majid has overhauled its IT platform with new robust applications. “Juma Al Majid has been growing tremendously. We needed a solution that could be deployed quickly, was scalable, had a low total cost of ownership (TCO) and helped us enhance the experience for end users,” says Hussein Ali Ghanimah, head of IT operations at Juma Al Majid. At first, Juma Al Majid was mainly involved in trading activities. The business has diversified, however, into other commercial activities including construction. The company has joint ventures in shipping, food imports, general trading and travel industries. It is also active in financial investments and portfolio management. “With over 60 branch offices and showrooms, Juma Al Majid has an extensive IT environment with over 1600 computer users across the UAE. Huge amounts of data were being collected and processed from different remote locations and the IT division at Juma Al Majid is now well equipped to meet the challenges posed by the growing organisation,” says Jawad Abu Farha, the company’s IT director. For Juma Al Majid, the challenge was to provide fast, reliable access to all the relevant business applications for its remote offices and showrooms. With offices and showrooms being added at a rapid pace, Juma Al Majid was faced with insufficient resources and rising technology. “Initially, we had a small computer division maintaining a vast spread of independent networks with individual domain controllers. We were using a menu-based system, which did not provide key facilities such as e-mail and other desktop applications. It was also difficult to provide centralised access to important applications such as Orion and other localised software. Indeed, it was a challenge to provide error-free, centralised access to remote locations across the UAE,” says Ghanimah. The IT division maintained a domain-based environment where each separate domain had an individual server. However, costs and technology problems were increasing steadily as the number of remote, local networks expanded with each new business venture. Juma Al Majid has now implemented an access suite including Presentation Server, Access Gateway and Password Manager solutions from Citrix and deploying applications such as Microsoft Office and Outlook, Orion, Point Of Sales, RightFax and PrimeLine. The project, which was commenced in 2000, was managed by Beta IT Systems and saw Juma Al Majid move up from two Citrix servers to 14, with 460 concurrent licenses. “With Beta in charge of implementing the access suite, the deployment of the solutions has been smooth and trouble-free. The project took long to complete because of the size of the business — all the different sections of the business gave the project a massive scale,” explains Ghanimah. Juma Al Majid's networking and systems environment includes a Citrix Metaframe Presentation Server, Windows 2000 Server with Microsoft Terminal services, Dell PowerEdge servers 2500 series and 6400 series, along with three HP Compaq servers (DL 380) and client devices such as Pentium PCs with Windows 2000. The users now work on Intel servers connected via frame relay local area networks (LANs) and leased lines at the head office. “The key challenge to overcome at Juma Al Majid was to deploy centralised applications with minimum delay. Through the straightforward implementation of Citrix’s access solutions, we have been able to meet this critical challenge,” says Mamoun Daour of Beta Information Systems. The result has been a fast, reliable and centralised access that is increasing employee efficiency as well as saving Juma Al Majid money. The implementation has been beneficial to the company’s growing IT environment in many ways, having centralised the key business applications and prevented the loss of data within the organisation’s numerous domains. The solution offers security and has consolidated working practices across the company, simplifying and streamlining activities. “We used to have a patchwork of technologies, however, with the access manager we now have a strategic approach that complements and satisfies our growing needs. The products provide security, user mobility and application delivery,” says Malek M. M. Khader, computer engineer at Juma Al Majid. The Presentation Server element of the access solution is helping to free up resources for continued business growth by allowing the IT department at Juma Al Majid to deliver applications as a service to workers across the organisation. The server enables the team to install, maintain and support necessary Windows, Unix, JAVA or web applications centrally while making them securely accessible over wired and wireless networks to users in all locations, using any device. “Now we can deploy any software [across the whole group] in less than a day. Applications are deployed much faster than if installed on the company’s local desktops and users experience better application performance across the network,” Khader continues. Citrix Access Gateway is a universal secure sockets layer virtual private network (SSL VPN) appliance that combines internet protocol security (IPSec) and typical SSL VPNs, to deliver a secure, always-on single point of access to any information resource. Working through any firewall and supporting all of the company’s applications and protocols, including IP telephony, the gateway provides secure access to any application hosted on the presentation server. In addition, the password manager aspect of the solution suite provides a single sign-on facility that eliminates the need to remember multiple passwords. It simplifies and automates the log-on process using Windows- web- and host-based applications, making password management more secure. “Instead of having 18 different passwords, users have just one set of log-in details to remember. This, of course, makes password management more secure,” says Antoine Aguado, regional manager for Citrix. Furthermore, the new solutions are providing administrators with a reliable environment that can ensure high application availability while providing scalability and security. The IT department has granular control over access, allowing for selective access provisioning and maximum security — the team is able to see who is using which resources and when, allowing informed decisions on service level agreements (SLAs) and advanced reporting and auditing. “With so many locations to cover, our IT department was under constant pressure to meet critical technology requirements. Citrix has helped us transform from a domain-based scenario to the improved concept of centralised access with higher reliability, security and efficiency,” says Khader. The expanding IT environment at Juma Al Majid has found a permanent solution to the constant demand for IT resources while reducing technology problems and bottlenecks. Apart from playing a key role in application management, the company has also benefited tremendously from additional features such as load balancing and the ability to shadow users to provide technical support. ”Now, the ready-made access solutions are helping our employees perform better in a more secure, simple environment with minimal support. Through such critical advantages, we are enjoying smooth operations with clear improvements in monitoring and managing the IT environment,” says IT director, Abu Farha. As Juma Al Majid’s business and IT requirements grow and develop, the firm plans to further revamp the existing infrastructure in order to meet the increasing demand for centralised access. “We have a wide and varied business portfolio and technology is the backbone to our business success. We will continue to update and improve the systems to give us the best possible advantages as the different areas of our operation expand and our needs develop,” concludes Ghanimah.

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