Plain sailing

As a system integrator, Elcome is well aware of the technologies available to make its clients lives easier

Tags: CRMMicrosoft CorporationMicrosoft DynamicsUnited Arab Emirates
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Plain sailing The company is more used to implementing marine systems, but found itself tackling its own IT.
By  Ben Furfie Published  May 10, 2011

As a system integrator, Elcome is well aware of the technologies available to make its clients lives easier. Yet when it decided to virtualise itself, it soon found many vendors out of their depth when it comes to actually implementing the technology.

When Marine system integrator Elcome decided to virtualise its IT infrastructure, it found itself in a situation where it knew what it wanted to achieve, but it was struggling to find the necessary expertise within local vendors.

“Essentially, we were upgrading our existing infrastructure,” explains executive director at Elcome International, Jimmy Grewal. “It was part of an effort to make a major shift in the way that we managed our servers and IT infrastructure. We were moving away from a traditional model of one server per service to a virtualised environment where there was no physical link between the number of servers and the number of services that we enabled on our network.

“It was done to make it easier for us to manage our hardware, to optimise on cost, to improve our reliability and disaster recovery,” he adds.

The biggest challenge facing the company wasn’t necessarily virtualising the servers, but the various issues that arose because of that decision Grewal reveals. “We decided virtualising our servers was something we wanted to do, but we had to upgrade a lot of our software in order to be compatible with it.

“It’s something that took about five months in total,” he adds. “First we had to get the hardware and the new version of Windows Server 2008 up and running, and then brought up everything else.

“We took a lot of time really thinking about virtualisation before we went into production, because it’s something that vendors who were working with here didn’t have a lot of experience with virtualisation,” reveals Grewal. “They weren’t necessarily confident that they could take what we had and get it to run in a virtualised environment.”

That led to the company doing a lot of the initial prototyping internally. While it brought a number of challenges with it, it also had a number of benefits, including giving the company the knowledge internally on how to roll out a virtualised environment. “That’s what took time, but otherwise we were amazed at what we achieved using our internal resources to upgrade and implement Dynamics GP in about three weeks,” he reveals.

“We were using an old version of Microsoft Dynamics GP. Two versions old in fact,” he realises. “When we upgraded to the latest version – and I think we were one of their first customers to go live with the latest version which is Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 – we also moved to the latest versions of all the underlying technology. That includes the latest version of Microsoft SQL Server 2010. We’ve also moved from 32-bit to 64-bit servers. Everything is now running on 64bit hardware and software.”

Virtualising the systems though was only a small part of the overall project stresses Grewal. The deployment of Microsoft Dynamics has also had a major impact on the company’s ability to operate. “One big area that we’ve been able to focus on is reporting, in terms of KPIs and business intelligence. There have been a lot of advances in Dynamics and the supporting tools to make it easier to produce different types of reports, and the ability to allow end users to customise, specifically things like SQL reporting services that are part of SQL 2008.

“We have a far larger number of management reports, and MIS, and business development tools that we’ve had in the past. They’ve also been able to create and maintain the individual reports themselves,” he adds.

The introduction of the latest version of Dynamics has also had other benefits. “We’ve also seen the utilisation of our ERP increase markedly since we upgraded,” he reveals. “That’s partly due to ease of use – the newer version has a Microsoft Office look and feel, and it’s partly down to ease of access. The number of transactions per user has increased exponentially since we implemented it.”

The virtualisation of the servers also had the benefit of allowing the company to review and improve other services within the company’s IT infrastructure, not just at its Dubai offices, but also globally. “We’ve been able to centralise everything here in office. Currently, it’s only the head office that has benefited from the virtualisation and the centralisation, but we have branches throughout the GCC and India, and three of those will go live with the upgrades in the next couple of weeks,” Grewal says.

“By the end of this year, we’ll have all of our remote sites doing all of their remote data entry, invoicing and ERP through the new system. We’ve also moved everyone on to a centralised email system, so we have Exchange 2010. That made a big difference, because everyone is on the same email system, they have access to it via their mobile phone using Exchange ActiveSync, so that’s also helped productivity quite a bit.”

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