The Project Scope
An existing business based in Derbyshire wanted to open a new branch office on the Wirral to support the growth of its operations. Posted at the new office would be up to 30 on site staff. The customer also required:
- Ethernet cabling of the premises
- An appropriate broadband connection
- Remote connectivity to a centralised database
- Local IT services including
- Active Directory Domain
- File and Print Services
- Email Services
- Remote desktop host (for external clients to connect to)
- A flexible and powerful telephony solution
- Backup/Restore and disaster recovery
The customer also mentioned that additional expansion might take place in the North West region and they wanted the flexibility and capacity built in so that this branch office could provide IT services to any additional branch offices opened in this region.
Deploying an appropriate solution
A building survey was carried out by Forza IT to determine the best location for a server/comms room and to determine cable routes for the premises. It was decided that a total of 45 ports throughout the premises would give the flexibility required in order to change the designation of rooms from offices to treatment rooms and vice versa. Not all of these ports needed to be “live” at the same time because those rooms designated as treatment rooms would not have any computer equipment in them.
Forza IT then project managed the installation of the cabling with one of our preferred cabling suppliers.
Broadband and Telephony
The broadband service at the local exchange was investigated to see what service providers were available. Only ADSL MAX and SDSL were available (no cable, LLU or Fibre services at all!). ADSL MAX with a maximum upload speed of only 448 Kbit/s was not sufficient to meet the customers requirement of hosting several terminal services sessions and VPN connections simultaneously. Therefore SDSL was the only practical choice offering significant upload capacity. Zen were chosen as the SDSL provider.
Since the 2Mbit/s upload capacity of the SDSL connection was ample to provide remote services Forza IT recommended that the spare capacity be used to facilitate a hosted VoIP service. The Babblevoice hosted VoIP service would provide the customer with a flexible, powerful, easy to configure and easy to manage telephony solution for low initial set-up costs and low day-to-day running costs. The other benefit is that Hosted VoIP can be deployed in hours not days and doesn’t rely upon another 3rd party installing telephone lines. Forza IT recommended the use of SNOM 300 VoIP handsets and the Babblevoice Hosted VoIP service.
A Draytek Vigor 3100 SDSL router (with a configured cold spare) was chosen to provide firewall and VPN services to the site (both site to site VPN and end point termination). The customer already had Draytek hardware at other sites, was comfortable managing them and so this was the logical choice.
Local IT Services
Forza IT then began to determine the local IT service requirements in terms of storage, processing power, and expected number of mailboxes and users. Since the bulk of data processing would be input into the centralised database hosted elsewhere (and accessible over the Internet) there wasn’t a large initial storage or processing requirement for IT services on site. At the same time there was still the customer requirement for flexibility and the potential for this branch office to become a computing hub for other premises in the region.
Forza IT determined that an HP Proliant DL160 G6 with an Intel Xeon quad core CPU and 16GB of RAM would be a capable server acting as a virtualisation host. Virtualisation technology would provide the right blend of flexibility and power whilst keeping the hardware costs as low as possible. It also enables a product like Acronis vmProtect v6 to carry out image based backups quickly providing a short backup/restore window. VMware vSphere 5 Essentials was installed on a USB stick within the server and virtual machine files were stored on locally attached storage (4TB) within the server chassis. Some of the local storage would be used as a fast backup location and a Netgear ReadyNas Pro located elsewhere on site would act as a replicated location for backups. In the event of a complete site disaster the Crashplan Pro cloud based storage solution would provide recovery of all company data from anywhere an Internet connection is present.
Windows 2008 R2 as a virtual machine would provide the Remote Desktop Host functionality for remote users and Small Business Server 2011 Standard Edition as a virtual machine would provide the Active Directory, Exchange 2010 email and File and Print Services (for up to 75 users). Acronis vmProtect version 6 was installed as a virtual appliance making 3 virtual machine guests active at present.
How it all works in practice
In a word, brilliantly. Whilst entry level, the DL160 is a capable server for branch office type workloads, and running several virtual server loads proves no problem at all with end users reporting excellent performance both locally and through Remote Desktop (terminal server) sessions.
The Babblevoice hosted VoIP system works as planned with excellent call quality. A few of the call routing rules have been tweaked over time to provide the flexibility the customer asked for and now the system interrogates a Google Calendar for free/busy information to handle out of hours call routing. The SNOM phones are simple to provision against the system, however some of the features of the phone were not as intuitive as they could be and required a degree of end-user training to master.
The Backup/Restore features of Acronis vmProtect v6 are excellent and provide backup to local storage and to the ReadyNas Pro device quickly with a short backup window. End user and company data is also being replicated with Crashplan to the cloud protecting it in the event of a site disaster. Virtual machine restores were tested and proven to work as expected, with complete server virtual machine restore times taking around 10 minutes from start to finish.
File and Print services and email services using Exchange 2010 (part of SBS 2011) all work as expected.
There are several ways for the Acronis virtual appliance to address the ReadyNas Pro device using different protocols. Preparing the storage for use as a VMWare iSCSI datastore seemed to take an inordinate amount of time and in hindsight is probably not the best way to set that up (I believe CIFS or NFS would be the better choice should the ReadyNas be used in a similar project or reconfigured). Once configured though the performance is acceptable.
The Acronis VMProtect product is still relatively new and is being updated quite regularly. The new features and improvements Acronis are making are notable however it requires a good deal of support time to keep it up to date.
Customer Comments on the Project
Kate Colburn, who manages day-to-day activities at the office gave feedback on various aspects of the project. Regarding the Babblevoice VoIP hosted telephone system she said:
“Once the system was set up and running we have found Babblevoice to be good, reliable and easy to use. The unified messaging and voicemail are great assets for us. The flexibility of the system to make instant changes to call rules etc is amazing and the call quality is also very good”
Regarding the overall project delivery Kate said
“The installation was carried in a professional and efficient manner. Forza IT have been professional, friendly, helpful, pleasant and knowledgeable and I have been very impressed with the service from start to finish”
Regarding Forza IT on-going support for the branch office Kate said:
“We have no hesitation in contacting you as you have a friendly approach and respond promptly to the support call. In fact you also give us advice beyond the scope of the call where necessary and that is appreciated”