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Ballard Chalmers moves to the Cloud

Practicing what we preach…

It is only right that a company selling and delivering particular services also uses those same services internally. After all, what would you think if Jaguar managers all drove BMWs, or, 20 year old Jaguar models instead of the latest kit…?

We have of course had many business applications running at offsite data centres for a long time now, with business critical software such as our online Support Management System and others hosted by external partners for over a decade in some cases.

Our own journey to what is commonly considered the cloud proper - i.e. Microsoft Azure and competitors - began in earnest in 2012 with the moving of our Exchange Server to Office 365. Upgrading Exchange meant no more local server backups and maintenance; or forgetting to do backups and maintenance and then discovering it too late… again.  

Exchange was probably the single biggest cause of IT systems overhead in the business, and it was a great relief when we made the switch. All our users and all email history migrated very easily and it is fair to say the entire transition was painless and relatively seamless.

Our next target, as a software development and integration company, was using Azure for continuous integration deployment and development, with Azure VMs for production test servers, stress testing servers, and for dedicated client user acceptance testing servers. This of course makes them readily available to distributed development teams, and clients with multiple locations all requiring access for testing and UAT activities.

The plusses include no back-ups (as it is done automatically) no internal HyperV/VMWare infrastructure to manage, and, you can switch them off whenever you don’t need them running, keeping the costs to a minimum.

After this we set up Visual Studio Online, which is based on the capabilities of Team Foundation Server with additional cloud services. Again this meant we could decommission our locally hosted Team Foundation Server VMs and further reduce our internal server hardware requirements. Visual Studio Online connects to Visual Studio, so all of our engineers and consultants can work locally, and connect seamlessly to the online shared services.

We now have fully synchronised Single Sign On via AD across these systems for our widely distributed staff, with many now working from home across the country, as well as on site at many of our clients for variable periods of time.

Our most recent step has been moving our own SharePoint intranet from a data centre hosting provider to Office 365 on Azure.  As well as freeing up dedicated computing resources, this has now meant that we no longer have to patch and upgrade SharePoint or deal with backups any more. In addition should there be a data centre failure then it will all be taken care of, which was not the case with the dedicated environment.

With this, the only remaining business systems not in the cloud are Sage for accounting, a resource management system used to coordinate our freelance staff resources and Microsoft Dynamics CRM for our customer relationship management.

And CRM is our next objective, moving from the current on-premises deployment to Microsoft’s CRM Online solution.

From a hardware perspective, with all staff now working on laptops (including all developers who have server-grade hardware on a laptop so they can work anywhere) we can truly ‘pick up and go’ almost within hours.

And given that our office building is scheduled to be knocked down for new flats this year, this is very comforting to know!

By Andrew Chalmers, Managing Director

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Ballard Chalmers is one of the UK’s leading enterprise software engineering companies, specialising in development for the Microsoft Enterprise Application Platform. We are principally dedicated to software development and integration for the Microsoft Cloud, as well as on-premises and hybrid systems. Our expertise is in Microsoft .NET, SQL Server, BizTalk Server and SharePoint Server.

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