thread manufacturer - managed solution

Thread manufacturer spins its future in the cloud

Coats, the world’s leading industrial thread manufacturer, has made the Microsoft cloud the linchpin of its strategy to transform its business for a data-driven age. Coats is moving all its datacenter assets into Microsoft Azure, including its production SAP HANA systems, to gain elasticity, vastly improve performance, and lower costs. Its 7,000 employees with access to Microsoft Office 365 use it to share and make sense of information across different locations and time zones. The technology team supports anywhere, any device productivity by securing applications and data with the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security suite. By adopting Azure and Office 365, Coats can now explore new Microsoft cloud services such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to transform its products, optimize operations, empower employees, and interact with customers.
On the surface, Coats could be mistaken for a traditional manufacturing company. It was founded during the Industrial Revolution and still has factories filled with large-scale thread-making, dyeing, and winding machinery. But you don’t survive for more than 260 years without keeping up with the times. And Coats has proved adept at looking beyond spinning spindles and seeing that its business is about far more than making thread. It’s about using information to solve customer problems.

How to stay relevant for more than 260 years

Coats makes thread. Lots of thread. Every week, 1 billion tea bags are brewed using Coats thread. Every month, Coats produces enough thread to stretch all the way to the sun. Each year, Coats makes enough thread to go into 8 billion pairs of jeans—a pair for every person on the planet. Making that much thread, from a diverse range of materials in every conceivable color, is a huge manufacturing challenge.
Coats can trace its origins back to the 1750s and is proud of its rich heritage, including, for example, the fact that in 1879, Thomas Edison used Coats thread in his experiments to invent the light bulb. The company has grown over the centuries and is today the world’s leading industrial thread manufacturer. It also provides complementary, value-added products and services to the apparel and footwear industries. In addition, it applies innovative techniques to develop high-tech performance-materials threads and yarns in areas such as automotive and fibre optics products.
When it comes to technology, Coats has traditionally focused on keeping its manufacturing equipment and processes up-to-date because, after all, manufacturing was its core business. About five years ago, however, with the rise of big data, a new reality began to set in: Coats was really in the information business. “We realized that our future lay in the smart use of data, to create more-intelligent manufacturing processes, to reduce manufacturing costs, and to provide more innovative ways to meet customer needs,” says Richard Cammish, Chief Information Officer at Coats. “We needed to transform our information intelligence to create customer solutions faster, cheaper, and better than ever.”
Adds Harold Groothedde, Technology Solutions Director at Coats, “We’ve always been very advanced in manufacturing technology but slower moving in IT operations. In 2013, we still used Lotus Notes for email and had a fragmented desktop environment. With 7,000 of our wired employees spread across multiple locations on six continents and some 60 manufacturing facilities, we sorely needed more empowering communications and collaboration technology. We wanted our employees to share ideas and improvements more frequently and very easily.”
The company’s information technology mantra became “invisible technology, visible performance,” meaning, technology that allows people to work more efficiently without getting in the way.
Coats had state-of-the-art factories around the world, but manufacturing was siloed geographically; products that were manufactured in one country were sold in that country. Coats wanted a more unified view and flexible use of its global manufacturing capacity. Although the company used SAP software to manage manufacturing across some 60 manufacturing sites, it could not easily produce reports across factories, which deprived management of a holistic view of the business. Plus, those SAP reports took hours to generate, which created delays of up to 48 hours in business decisions.
Additionally, the company’s datacenter infrastructure was not agile enough to serve the dynamics of modern markets. Coats needed to spin up customer demonstration environments in hours and to launch test environments so that software developers could play with a new application. But it took weeks to order and provision servers, and it was impossible to scale infrastructure selectively in various locations.
For example, the company was experiencing dynamic growth in China but couldn’t deliver enough web performance for web visitors in China to play online product demonstration videos. Expanding in China also meant offering secure e-commerce services, which was difficult to do.

Ally strategically with Microsoft

Coats made a strategic decision to embrace cloud computing so it could gain the infrastructure elasticity and resilience it needed to run a global business and minimize the time its staff spent on datacenter tasks. “Deploying servers and managing email are not our core competencies,” says Groothedde. “Let someone else take care of that.”
Coats evaluated all the major cloud providers—Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—and felt that Microsoft was the best partner to complement its existing service portfolio and strategic technology direction. “The breadth and scale of the Microsoft cloud was impressive,” says Cammish. “It had Office 365 on the desktop productivity side and Azure on the datacenter side. We could use Azure Active Directory Premium to provide single sign-on for all applications, from email to SAP, which would support our ‘invisible technology’ objective.”
On the datacenter side, Coats has a mixed environment, with applications based on both Windows and the Linux operating system. “We wanted a datacenter provider that could support all our systems,” Groothedde says.
Microsoft committed comprehensive support in getting critical Coats applications such as SAP running in Azure. “The support we’ve received from Microsoft has been phenomenal,” says Cammish. “When you move your technology to a third-party datacenter, it is absolutely critical that you have attentive support in the event that something goes wrong. We got that from Microsoft. For me, as the person accountable for all the technology at Coats, this was very reassuring. Microsoft really cared about our success; this is a fundamental ingredient in any effective partnership and something which the technology industry needs more of.”
Cammish and Groothedde also felt that Azure security was superior to anything they could set up themselves. “From the Office 365 perspective, we knew that Microsoft was best qualified to secure its own products,” Groothedde says. “But on the Azure side, we would be running e-commerce transactions in the cloud, and we had to have ironclad security. We felt that Azure had all the security bases covered.”

Pool ideas, help one another

The company’s first step into the Microsoft cloud was its deployment of Microsoft Office 365 for all 7,000 wired employees. Coats gave these employees cloud-based email (Microsoft Exchange Online) and Internet-based telephony, instant messaging, and video conferencing through Skype for Business Online.
It migrated its 400-plus Lotus Notes applications into Microsoft SharePoint Online, which also became the foundation of the company’s intranet. Employees save files in the cloud, in Microsoft OneDrive for Business, rather than on personal hard drives, and can get to them from any location and device.
“With Office 365, employees can communicate with one another instantly, in any way that suits the need,” Groothedde says. “We’ve been able to connect a workforce fragmented across many sites and time zones in a seamless way. It’s fundamentally changed the way our office workers do business.”
Employees can see from the presence icon whether a colleague is available for contact, send that person an instant message, escalate the conversation to a voice call or video call, and share spreadsheets or manufacturing processes by sharing screens. Having a common, rich communications fabric encourages employees to reach out, ask questions, share ideas, and help one another. Employees in one factory can help colleagues in another factory to set up equipment correctly using “show and tell” video calls. By eliminating waits and miscommunications throughout the day, the whole business speeds up.
Plus, “All these capabilities are standard stuff for millennials, who expect capabilities such as chat and video conferencing at work,” Groothedde adds. “Office 365 has opened up more flexible work options such as home working, which is a hiring and retention advantage.”

Create a skinny infrastructure

The next step was to move nearly its entire datacenter footprint out of third-party datacenters into Microsoft Azure. The company is after what Cammish calls “skinny infrastructure”—with as few moving parts on-site as possible.
“We don’t want to be in the datacenter business; we’re in the thread business,” Cammish says. “We plan to move 90 percent of our global datacenter infrastructure into Azure, and we’re at about 75 percent now. The only things we’ll leave on-site are a few domain controllers and file/print servers.”
Coats gets tremendous economies of scale in Azure, which means significantly lower capital and operating costs and unprecedented levels of agility. Software developers, marketing teams, and customer support teams can spin up compute and storage resources as needed. “With Azure, we get storage and processing capacity on demand, something we didn’t have access to previously, and which now gives us much more operational flexibility and responsiveness,” Cammish says.
The company is moving into the services business, advising customers on their manufacturing processes and helping them predict how much thread they’ll need to manufacture particular garments. Crunching massive amounts of data becomes very complex very fast, and the ability to scale Azure resources lets Coats meet more customer needs. “Azure lets us pour on performance for short periods of time, while we’re giving demos or setting up temporary training and test environments, and then release those resources when we’re done,” Groothedde says. “It’s a very efficient way to operate.”
Great performance, on-demand capacity, and security are all important in supporting the company’s global e-commerce engine, which runs in Azure. Coats can tune e-commerce performance selectively in different Azure datacenters around the world, which has been critical in global expansion, especially in China. “We get consistent levels of infrastructure security with Azure, because we can leverage a wealth of security technologies that Microsoft is constantly improving,” says Groothedde. “We also have fewer endpoints to manage. We use Azure Security Center to monitor our environment, and with it we can be much more responsive when threats are identified.”

SAP HANA on Azure: Speeding up the whole business

For years, Coats used the Oracle database with its SAP applications. However, to improve SAP performance, it decided to switch to the SAP HANA database. Coats consulted with Microsoft about running SAP HANA on Azure, because HANA requires a very specialized server. The company was pleased to find out that Microsoft was just putting the finishing touches on a solution called, appropriately enough, SAP HANA on Azure.
SAP HANA on Azure relies on robust (G-Series) Azure Virtual Machines, Azure Storage, Azure Network and, in Coats’s case, Azure ExpressRoute for even higher-performance connectivity between Coats and global Azure datacenters.
Working with two prime consulting partners—Axians, which helped configure SAP HANA, and Brillio, which configured Coats’s SAP HANA on Azure estate—Coats moved its complex Oracle environment to HANA on Azure. “Moving SAP anywhere is difficult,” says Groothedde. “It’s complex software, and we have more than 180 servers in our environment. But the Microsoft SAP Center of Excellence provided exceptional support, both strategically and tactically, as we worked through various hurdles.”
Microsoft took care of problem escalation with SAP, and Coats had peace of mind in knowing that all of Microsoft’s architectural decisions were vetted by SAP.
With its move of SAP HANA to Azure, Coats racked up another distinction: it was the first organization in the world to run its production SAP HANA software in Azure. That includes four separate instances of the SAP ECC for North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, and a consolidated instance of the enterprise resource planning suite.
The performance boosts from running SAP on HANA in Azure have been remarkable. Transactions times have been reduced considerably in many cases. Reports that previously took 6 hours to produce now take 6 minutes. “By moving SAP HANA to Azure, we have been able to speed up planning cycles and accelerate delivery of finished goods to our customers,” Cammish says. “We are now in a position to do same-day factory production planning versus having to run scheduling jobs overnight. We have the ability to insert rush orders into the production schedule the same day versus waiting 24 to 48 hours. Our whole production engine can now speed up and improve customer service and delivery performance.”

See the business in real time

The reporting speedup has been particularly impactful. Managers can push a button on a tablet computer and use Microsoft Power BI and SAP Business Objects to instantly see data from multiple sources as graphical dashboard-style reports. For example, at a glance they can see current sales order lead times and shipment status across all the company’s factories and deliver the service that customers expect.
Crunching data at Coats involves taking into account hundreds of thread materials, more than 150,000 colors, some 60 manufacturing sites, diverse customer requirements, and many other variables. “Being able to crunch massive amounts of data across dozens of variables requires monstrous processing power, and Azure gives us high-performance virtual machines customized for HANA,” Groothedde says.

Protect mobile data

To keep data safe as it travels from the Azure cloud to Office 365, SAP, and other applications on mobile devices, Coats uses the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security Suite. The suite’s Azure Active Directory Premium service provides single sign-on for some of the company’s applications, to simplify and speed work throughout the day. And Microsoft Intune provides a cloud-based console that will ultimately be used to manage the company’s 7,000 desktop computers, 2,500 mobile devices, and the applications running on them.
“We wouldn’t feel good about displaying SAP data on mobile devices without Intune protecting our data,” Groothedde says. “Our users can access reports on Windows-based devices, iPads, iPhones, or any other device without complicated procedures for signing in to a virtual private network and with complete security. Intune opens up a whole new world in how we manage applications in diverse device environments.”
Coats has also created virtual desktops in Azure to give employees personalized desktops on tap from any device, which is especially useful in factory environments where PCs are shared by multiple employees. “Virtual desktops give us an easy, secure way to give factory floor workers, mobile employees, and contractors access to needed applications without deploying dedicated devices to each person,” says Groothedde.

Looking to the future

As it looks ahead, Coats is excited about the many new Microsoft cloud services it can use to transform its business. It’s experimenting with Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite to add predictive analytics. For example, based on past manufacturing histories, weather around the world, and other factors, Coats can predict inventory costs, demand for various types of thread, manufacturing volumes, and more.
“If we can better predict all these factors, we can better order the right inventory, manufacture the correct volumes, and deliver exactly what our customers want, even before they know they need it,” says Groothedde.
Coats is running a pilot project focused on operator and machine efficiency in the final winding thread production process. The company has applied sensors to the final winding equipment and made use of a control and feedback system to monitor and control this process. Coats pushes this data into the Azure IoT Hub for reporting with Power BI and then into the Azure SQL Data Warehouse and Azure Hadoop for processing by Azure Machine Learning.
“The potential for using data in smarter ways to operate more efficiently, save money, and satisfy customers is immense,” Groothedde says. “Azure gives us integrated tools that let us fully integrate and exploit our data.”
Adds Cammish, “By using the Microsoft cloud, we’re transforming for a digital age, where information is king. We are excited about using data to power our business into its next 260 years.”
As written on

MARS sells a lot of M&M’s and other confections in 78 countries around the world, but that’s not all there is to the company’s success. To meet audacious goals that include 100 percent growth in 10 years, MARS has adopted Windows 10 Enterprise, Microsoft Surface Pro devices, Microsoft Office 365, and Microsoft Azure to increase employee effectiveness, enhance mobility, streamline collaboration, promote data security, and reduce IT costs. Now MARS can deliver continuous innovation, empower its Associates, and meet its business objectives.

"This company will continue to accelerate growth organically and through acquisition, and we’re using Windows 10 to build the flexibility and capabilities we need to get there."

- David Boersma: Senior Manager for End User Technologies

Offering products that customers genuinely love is an old recipe for sweet success. But that’s only part of how MARS has turned iconic brands such as M&M’s, Snickers, Pedigree pet foods, and Wrigley’s into a global enterprise with USD35 billion in annual revenue. That is a lot of M&M’s, but MARS is a lot more than candy treats. Pet care products account for almost half of annual revenue at MARS.

In fact, MARS markets more than 60 brands across six business segments, from food products to biomedical research. Since the early 2000s, this privately held, century-old company has grown 100 percent, and it expects to continue to accelerate growth organically and through acquisition. MARS is justly proud of business practices that include zero waste to landfills, fair and sustainable cocoa production, and wind farms that generate enough electricity to offset all corporate operations in North America and the United Kingdom. In 2014, MARS launched an industry-leading labeling initiative that encourages portion control and other smart snacking decisions.

“We run MARS with an extremely long-term view,” says Joe Carlin, Technology Service Delivery Director at MARS. “We try to do business in a way that benefits our customers, our Associates, and the communities we work in.”

That long-term view includes a commitment to product, technology, and workplace innovation. MARS has audacious business goals and expects to meet them by using Windows 10, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Azure, and other key Microsoft services and devices to boost employee effectiveness, enhance mobility, streamline collaboration, promote data security, and reduce IT costs, ultimately transforming the way people work at MARS. “Through digital innovation, our business has the fantastic opportunity to get closer to our consumers and provide and even better value proposition,” says Vittorio Cretella, Chief Information Officer at MARS.

$4 million upgrades vs. an evergreen estate

As MARS accelerates its growth and adds new products, services, and business units to its existing operations, its Information Services (IS) department is committed to adopting new digital capabilities that will help the company continue to expand and diversify, organically and through acquisition. “We have to drive technology as a business enabler, but remain efficient,” says Carlin.

With 400 locations in 78 countries and more than 80,000 Associates, MARS wanted to avoid the cost and time of repeated operating system upgrades. Previous enterprise-wide upgrades had gaps of up to four years and had cost more than $4 million, plus the operational overhead of managing multiple systems during the long transition. “It made more sense to spend our time and money on optimizing our work environment, finding new ways to safeguard high-value corporate data, and delivering other strategic contributions to the business,” says David Boersma, Senior Manager for End User Technologies at MARS.

Yet MARS still needed an up-to-date operating system and productivity tools. In February 2016, it began to roll out the Windows 10 Enterprise operating system and Microsoft Office 365 across the global organization, to help give all its Associates the mobile, social, analytical, and cloud-based tools they need to perform effectively in today’s connected workplace. A small number of mobile Associates were given Microsoft Surface Pro 4 devices.

“We want to drive the right digital behaviors,” says Jonathan Chong, Digital Workplace and Corporate Systems Director at MARS. “So we’re using Windows 10 to build a technology environment that is comparable to or better than what our Associates use in their personal lives.”

To avoid the effort and expense of future upgrades to its very large Windows environment, MARS subscribed to the “Windows as a service” model from Microsoft and receives automatic web-based operating system updates. The incremental updates will help MARS improve platform stability, enhance security for thousands of devices, and introduce a constant flow of new tools and capabilities. “I told my team that I never want to do a big-bang operating system migration again,” says Paul L'Estrange, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Core Services at MARS. “Windows 10 will allow us to maintain a truly evergreen estate.”

Traditionally, MARS Associates often stay with the company for 25 years or more, but the company knows that to stay vibrant it must recruit millennials—and retain them. MARS invests significantly in recruiting and training new Associates. It wants value back, but it understands that young, digitally native talent expect easy access to knowledge, and that to retain new talent, MARS needs to deliver access to data with smart, simple, flexible tools. “To get and keep the best people, we want to offer the best work environment,” says Boersma. “With an advanced, nimble, easy-to-use, self-service, always-current technology environment, MARS IS will deliver a robust Windows 10 experience with Office 365 to empower and enable all our Associates.”

An enterprise digital workplace

The MARS IS team worked with Microsoft Services to help architect the solution and with VDX, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to help prepare the MARS infrastructure and roll out Windows 10. By September 2016, 5,000 MARS Associates were using Windows 10 and Office 365. More than 500 field Associates and high-level mobile executives had Surface Pro devices.

“Our Associates appreciate the familiarity, reliability, and ease of use of the Windows 10 experience,” says Boersma. “The Surface Pro users love the flexibility to switch from desktop to tablet mode and enhanced mobility features such as the touchscreen and Surface Pen.”

As a global enterprise, MARS has always valued human interaction and high-touch collaboration. With tools like Yammer social networking and Skype for Business messaging and video conferencing, MARS Associates can bridge geographies and time zones to take down barriers, engage in real time, and connect with people, knowledge, and resources. Almost 4,000 MARS Associates are already using Yammer to post subjects, canvas for feedback, and collaborate live every day. Global teams use Skype for Business to meet and communicate meaningfully without flying halfway around the planet, reducing costs and helping people spend more time at home—and still do what needs to get done.

With Windows 10, cloud-based Office 365, and an early evaluation of Windows Intune, MARS intends to expand its on-premises capability for mobile device management in the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite to manage mobile devices and applications. MARS Associates can choose between using Surface Pro devices, PCs, tablets, and smartphones, or easily move between devices, locations, and even regions across the whole company. Field teams can connect with each other to be more productive and improve customer engagement. “With Windows 10, MARS Associates finish things on the road instead of waiting until they get back,” says Carlin. “For example, field associates use their Surface Pro devices in store walk-throughs, and if necessary, use Office 365 to connect with other team members and resolve display issues in one day instead of a week.”

New safeguards and a cloud transformation

After MARS IS prepared every device for a 64-bit version of Windows 10, the MARS security team recommended replacing an existing legacy security solution with Windows Defender endpoint protection. This will save the cost of a third-party solution and avoided the hassle of moving the legacy technology to the upgraded operating system. Windows Defender has since passed two MARS security audits, and to help further safeguard all the company’s devices and reduce risk to its corporate data, MARS intends to combine existing BitLocker Drive Encryption with other Windows security features such as Windows Information Protection, Credential Guard, Device Guard, and Windows Hello biometric multifactor authentication on its Window 10 devices.

As part of its transformation to a new digital workplace, MARS is also aggressively expanding many line-of-business and other workloads to the cloud. The company manages two datacenters, one that is almost 25 years old. To reduce the associated capital and maintenance costs, promote efficiency, and increase reliability, MARS has moved more than 100 workloads to the Microsoft Azure enterprise cloud platform, including a critical SAP retail application solution. The company expects to transfer up to 500 workloads to Azure over the next year.

By early 2017, the company had deployed Windows 10 to 12,500 seats, adding Associates through device attrition. Boersma estimates enterprise-wide adoption before the end of 2018.

Sweet business value

By eliminating future full-scale upgrades, MARS will save millions of dollars that it can spend to transform MARS IS into a strategic center of innovation and business value. It will save $250,000 on third-party licensing and maintenance each year. As MARS continues to build its digital workplace and offer professional tools such as Office 365 and advanced devices such as the Surface Pro, it will attract a new generation of Associates, help them serve customers more effectively, make their careers at MARS more rewarding, and preserve the human, employee-centric culture that MARS is so proud of—and that it is convinced has contributed to its long success.

“Initiatives like Windows 10 and our new digital workplace help MARS direct IT investment dollars toward unlocking greater potential across our organization,” says Chong. “Rather than tying up investment and time to just get through the next product release, we can focus on enhancing key aspects of our culture at a digital level, across divisions, borders, and time zones—so we can preserve what is special about MARS and help all our Associates be more productive and agile.”

When it adopted Windows 10, Office 365, and Azure, MARS streamlined IT management, made it easier to safeguard all its devices and data, and took some of the guesswork out of its IT spending. As MARS expands its cloud environments and decreases its on-premises IT footprint, it can focus on solving business challenges and using data to generate insight—and value. It can support ongoing innovation, streamline processes and access to information, empower MARS Associates, and meet its ambitious business-growth objectives.

“At MARS, we meet our goals,” says Boersma. “This company will continue to accelerate growth organically and through acquisition , and we’re using Windows 10 to build the flexibility and capabilities we need to get there.”


Mitchells & Butlers boosts service with managed mobile platform

Mitchells & Butlers wanted to deploy iOS, Android and Windows devices that run service-enhancing apps to its staff at 1,600 establishments. Before doing so, it needed a mobile device management framework to remotely manage 15,000 devices. The company subscribed to Windows Intune, integrating this with Microsoft System Center 2012 R2. Using the devices and apps, it expects to improve customer service, increase site managers’ efficiency, and reduce costs.


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new belgium brewing co - managed solution

Craft Brewer Reduces Costs and Increases Availability with Hosted Messaging Solution

New Belgium Brewing is the third-largest craft brewery in the United States. Founded in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1991, the brewery produces 29 varieties of beer and distributes across 26 states. About 1/3 of the company’s nearly 400 employees work at remote locations, so New Belgium deployed a Microsoft Unified Communications solution to ensure that employees have the latest capabilities without sacrificing reliable, available service.


New Belgium Brewing was founded in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1991 by husband and wife team Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan after Lebesch traveled through Belgium on a brewery tour and came home inspired. He named the company’s flagship beer, Fat Tire, for the fat tires on the mountain bike he rode to tour the European villages that inspired him to begin brewing beer. Employee owned, New Belgium Brewing emphasizes ecologically friendly practices. Today it is the third-largest craft brewer in the United States. New Belgium produces 29 varieties and more than half a million barrels of beer per year, which is distributed across 26 states.
Of its 385 employees, about one-third work at locations across the United States as sales people, field quality specialists, and event coordinators. New Belgium relies heavily on a Microsoft unified communications solution to keep its workforce connected. For messaging, it recently upgraded to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 on-premises, and it uses a third-party product for spam filtering. It also deployed Exchange Unified Messaging so that employees can receive and manage both voice mail and e-mail messages in a unified inbox.
New Belgium also recently upgraded its collaboration and document management solution to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Its company intranet, known as “the Mothernet,” is built on SharePoint Server technology. Through the Mothernet, employees can access company information, project sites, cross-team sites, document libraries, and company wikis. They can also collaborate on projects and documents in real time.
For communications, New Belgium plans to upgrade to Microsoft Lync Server 2010, which provides enhanced versions of the communications capabilities provided by Office Communications Server 2007 R2—presence, instant messaging, robust conferencing, and enterprise voice—in addition to improvements in topology, deployment, and management tools. It also plans to use Lync enterprise voice as its primary voice solution. “We have used some version of Microsoft enterprise voice since Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007,” says Travis Morrison, Senior Systems Administrator at New Belgium Brewing. “We had it connected to our Cisco Call Manager. With Lync Server, we plan to retire our private-branch exchange telephony system and use Lync enterprise voice.”
Although New Belgium was happy with the way its unified communications solution helped to keep employees connected to each other, it still saw room for improvement in the areas of availability, storage, and reliability for its messaging solution. Some employees who work in production do not have dedicated computers to access email; New Belgium wanted to provide an easier way for them to manage email. Employees who use email on a daily basis have mailboxes with a size limit of about 7 gigabytes (GB), and as the company grows, its messaging solution requires more storage on its storage area network (SAN). Finally, New Belgium wanted to ensure that its remote employees could always access email, even in the event that the corporate servers were unavailable.


To complement its current on-premises messaging solution, New Belgium decided to consider a cloud-based email service. It joined the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program to evaluate Microsoft Office 365. Office 365 combines the familiar Office desktop with the next generation of cloud-based communication and collaboration services and includes Microsoft Exchange Online, which is based on Exchange Server 2010 technology. New Belgium wanted to understand how Exchange Online and Exchange Server 2010 would work together in its environment to help it reduce administration and increase availability for its employees. “We feel very comfortable moving our messaging solution to the cloud with Microsoft, because we feel like it is a very mature, stable service with all the latest capabilities,” says Morrison.
With Exchange Online, New Belgium can ensure that remote employees have access to their email as long as they have access to a computer or mobile device with an Internet connection, because Microsoft guarantees 99.9 percent uptime. “A third of our workforce is remote, so fault tolerance and high availability are things we have been expanding. As a smaller IT shop, we have looked for ways to facilitate that,” says Morrison.
With a hybrid solution, New Belgium can move mailboxes to Exchange Online at its own pace. It will begin by provisioning mailbox accounts for production workers in the cloud. New Belgium used Office 365 Directory Sync to maintain user and group configuration information between its on-premises environment and Office 365. The brewery also deployed Active Directory Federation Services to enable single sign-on, so that employees could maintain a single set of credentials. The IT staff can perform administrative tasks for both the online and on-premises environment through the Exchange Management Console. “Email is not where my time as an administrator is best spent,” explains Morrison. “With Office 365 and Exchange Server 2010, I can manage on-premises and off-premises mailboxes through a single console, which is very efficient.”
For employees without a dedicated computer, New Belgium will create kiosk subscriptions, so that employees can manage email through Outlook Web App on any computer with a broadband connection. Morrison explains, “Office 365 was intriguing to us because of the licensing model for kiosk workers versus [the licensing model] for office workers. [We] can provide kiosk workers who do not have a dedicated work area with the full functionality available in Exchange 2010.” They will have 500 megabytes (MB) of email storage available in the cloud, and they can also access many of the same capabilities as employees who use the Microsoft Outlook 2010 messaging and collaboration client.
“One of the things we have struggled with is mailbox size growth,” explains Morrison. With Exchange Online, remote employees with dedicated computers who use email more frequently will have larger mailboxes with 25 GB of storage in the cloud, and they can manage email and voice mail through Outlook Web App or the Outlook 2010 client. Whether their mailboxes are on-premises or in the cloud, employees share the same email domain name and can view the same global address list. They can also view each other’s calendar and free and busy data. In addition, they can move messages into a personal archive for long-term retention. They can easily search both their inboxes and their archives when they need to find something. “What we like about the larger mailboxes and the personal archive capability is that we can both reduce the amount of storage on our SAN and let employees manage their own email rather than applying more IT policies,” says Morrison. In addition, they can use Conversation View, which groups together messages from a single conversation, so they can quickly and easily identify the most recent messages, view the chain of responses, and see a preview of each response in a conversation when they open individual messages. With MailTips, employees are automatically alerted—before they click the Send button—whether a message recipient is out of the office, an attachment is too large to send, or a distribution list contains external recipients.
Because of the interoperation between Lync Server 2010 and Exchange Online, employees can continue to see rich presence information through Outlook Web App or Outlook 2010. They can also start chat sessions with available colleagues, and they can escalate to a voice call or online meeting with a single click of the mouse.


By implementing a hybrid messaging solution with Exchange Online and Exchange Server 2010, New Belgium can better address the needs of its employees without sacrificing any of the unified communications capabilities they need to do their jobs. Production workers will have ready access to email through kiosk computers, and it can ensure that remote employees have stable, reliable service. It can also reduce costs and reduce administration.

Helps Reduce Costs

With Office 365, New Belgium can easily provision accounts for new employees in the cloud, so as the company grows, it can avoid additional software and storage costs as it adds people. In addition, after it has moved most of its mailboxes to Exchange Online, it can guarantee email availability without taking on the additional cost to maintain the solution on-premises. It can also retire its third-party spam filtering product. “It costs us a considerable amount to guarantee 99.9 percent uptime for our Exchange servers,” says Morrison. “With Exchange Online, we can reduce those costs, and we gain time to perform other tasks.”
New Belgium can also reduce hardware costs as it transitions more mailboxes to the cloud, because its on-premises solution will require fewer servers. Because most of the messaging data will be stored in the cloud, it can also reduce storage costs because the solution requires less storage overall. For messaging data stored on-premises, it can use less expensive SATA disks.
With Exchange Online, New Belgium can also ensure that employees have access to the latest technology without incurring the cost of upgrades that might require more hardware or storage. “We like to be on the leading edge,” says Morrison. “With Office 365, we will always have the latest version. We do not have to worry that cost will prohibit us from giving employees access to the latest capabilities.”

Reduces Administration

As New Belgium transitions to the cloud, it can gradually reduce administration tasks. “Because we can rely on Microsoft to manage maintenance for our mailboxes in the cloud, we can spend our time working on business projects instead of managing email servers,” says Morrison.
The IT staff especially appreciates the larger mailboxes and the personal archive in Exchange Online. “Because we will not have to worry about storage, we can allow people to manage their own email,” says Morrison. “For us, it alleviates the headache of enforcing quotas and applying policies.”

Enables Scalability

When New Belgium adds new employees, no matter where they are located, it can quickly provision new accounts. “Planning for growth is much simpler with a hosted service,” says Morrison. “We can add people without having to worry about whether we have enough licenses or storage to support them.”

Increases Availability

For its remote employees, New Belgium can ensure that service will be consistently available. With Exchange Online, it can expect disaster recovery through continuously-replicated, geo-redundant data centers that are third-party certified to international standards. The brewery can also take advantage of premium antispam and antivirus protection, 24 hour a day, seven days a week IT-level phone support, and a financially backed, 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement.


Friendly neighborhood pet store opens hundreds of new locations with the support of Dynamics AX

As written on
Almost a year ago, Pet Supplies Plus had 300 stores across the United States and was planning aggressive store growth in the coming years. Decision makers at the company knew they would need a strong technological backbone to support such an ambitious expansion, so they chose Microsoft Dynamics AX to replace the company’s disparate ERP systems. Now that Pet Supplies Plus has begun deployment, the company is beginning to see the fruits of its labor—and the validation that it made the right choice.

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Brown recommends LCS to help reduce deployment times as well as lower costs, and she says, “we now have a better understanding of how to implement Dynamics AX across our stores and how to scale up more quickly utilizing the different tools and services in LCS. If you start with LCS and work your way through the cloud deployment, it’s your one-stop shop and your entry point into developing your Azure environment.”

Empowering employees to provide better service

Since Pet Supplies Plus deployed Dynamics AX to its stores last year, the decision makers at the business have heard lots of feedback from employees who are very happy with the change. “I’ve asked on a number of occasions if they’d like to go back to the old system and, across-the-board, nobody wants to,” Tedder says. “They are very pleased with the features and functionality of the Dynamics POS application and the future ability to evolve the POS application even further.”
The company is still in the early stages of its deployment process and the few dozen stores that are up and running with the new system are only a small sample size of the overall implementation. But Tedder says that he’s already seeing improvements in the time it takes to train employees on Dynamics AX. He explains, “Reducing training time for new team members is going to be extremely important and will result in a material ROI for any retailer using Dynamics AX.”

Taking care of neighbors and their pets

Pet Supplies Plus is also using Dynamics AX to help standardize its data, streamline its workflow, and standardize business processes across all its locations. “Dynamics AX is fulfilling our wish to have one system of record, one version of the truth, and a simplified applications portfolio, especially for the corporate office environment,” says Tedder. “The combination of those things coupled with business intelligence and reporting will yield efficiencies and improve our ordering in the ongoing months—we planned for this; it was part of how we made the decision to go with Microsoft Dynamics AX.”
The most important benefits, however, will be for the neighbors who come in and shop at Pet Supplies Plus locations. Tedder says, “We want to make sure that we provide a convenient option for our customers to purchase supplies for their pets, at a great value. Our goal is to make sure that we capitalize on that magic moment between team members and neighbors when we’re helping them select and purchase the products they need for their pets.”

kroton-managed-solutionKroton does its homework and chooses Office 365 over Google Apps for Work

As written on
When Kroton merged with another company to become the largest private educator in Brazil, it embraced the enormous responsibility of providing the best possible education to more than a million students across a large and vastly diverse country.
With the merger, Kroton found itself divided between two cloud environments, Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Work. It had to choose just one, to help unify the company, reduce costs, and provide students with the very best experience.
So, Kroton did its homework. Its IT team spent three months evaluating the Microsoft and Google cloud offerings, resulting in a 50-page report of findings. In the end, Office 365 made the grade. “We performed a very deep analysis,” says Mauricio Oliveira, the IT Infrastructure and Technology Manager at Kroton. “It was clear that Office 365 met all our requirements and in many cases delivered far beyond them.”
With the start of the 2015–2016 school year, 1.4 million Kroton students, teachers, and staff throughout Brazil are using Office 365, and the company has ambitious plans for things like an innovative job placement service, virtual team assignments and projects, and new operational efficiencies—all to make Kroton the best it can be for its students.


Before & After: Server Room Refresh

Everyday our field engineers and technical support specialists face both challenging and rewarding experiences out in the field.  Recently, our team gave one of our clients, a Biotech & Life Sciences Company, a complete server room refresh.  Between untangling cables, figuring out the most optimal (and personal) color coding system, and configuring servers to meet the clients' business needs, our team was hard at work and now have the results to prove it! Check out the Sway below to see behind-the-scenes before and after shots of this server room makeover:

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Learn more about professional services provided by Managed Solution


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Tokyo University of Technology Implements Futuristic Environment Using Cloud-Based Solutions

As written on
To produce qualified students based on international standards, the Tokyo University of Technology (hereafter referred to as TUT) has always taken an active approach to ICT investment. However, the 100 or so servers that the university currently used as part of its ICT assets were rapidly becoming obsolete. The system needed to be updated. After a year’s worth of discussions, plans emerged for building a university-wide, cloud-based system and a core database that would cut operating loads to the lowest possible level.

Thus, TUT chose Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and other services and technologies offered by Microsoft.

Business Needs

Turning away from aging ICT assets and conceiving the best, most up-to-date system environment
Since its establishment in 1986, the university has promoted three particular aims: training in use of technologies and expert scientific theory for the betterment of society, engagement in advanced research and passing research findings back to society and creating an ideal educational and research environment.
The school takes an active approach to investing in its ICT environment. For instance, when it set up the School of Media Science in 1999 (the first one of its kind in Japan), it required students to have a laptop. The school also actively promoted use of the internet. When the School of Computer Science and the School of Bionics (currently the Department of Applied Biology) were set up in 2013, as a result of the School of Engineering’s reorganization, the requirement that students have laptops was applied university-wide. At the same time, to enable students to use the internet freely, the school implemented a wired ethernet environment university-wide.
However, Kazuya Tago, Head of the Media Center and Professor at the School of Computer Science at TUT, realizes that the network environment reached its zenith more than 10 years ago. It has now become obsolete from a technological perspective: “What the university asked for most urgently was a wireless network. To meet this need, each university institute created wireless access points of its own motive. This solution met local demands, but we still had not achieved the comfort of being able to connect to the internet throughout the whole campus.”
Some 100 servers installed for administrative systems had also started aging. The expenses necessary for maintaining the system started to cut into budgets for equipping students with the latest IT environment. Current students use thin notebooks without ethernet ports, and in their daily lives they have acquired a good command of smart phones. However, no one would have predicted such a state 10 years ago. We then decided that we could not afford to continue with a “maintenance” approach to our existing assets; we had to come up with a future-oriented concept for the best and most up-to-date ICT environment. Thus, since April 2013, TUT has been undertaking bold innovations; what we call the “university-wide full shift of the ICT environment to the cloud”.
The university-wide full shift to the cloud at TUT was based on conclusions gathered during discussions of various options over the course of one year. These discussions began in 2012. Professor Tago said that during this discussion period “we realized that various technologies that would be necessary suddenly appeared right before our very eyes.” These were technologies and services that Microsoft offers; like Microsoft Azure or Microsoft Office 365 or Microsoft Dynamics CRM.


The new solution for a full shift to the cloud at TUT combined usage of cloud services for PaaS and SaaS and effective system operations thanks to building up the school’s core database (hereafter referred to as “core DB”). TUT asked suppliers to conceive the system such that it would plan for the school’s needs 10-15 years ahead and deliver the best possible system environment as concerns functionality, expansion, flexibility, costs, etc. TUT administrators decided to use a combination of three types of cloud services: “Platform as a Service” (PaaS), “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS) and “Software as a Service” (SaaS).
Information entered from all systems will be stored in a newly created core DB; and through a redeveloped, university-wide, wireless network, it will be possible to use data extensively for CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and for university administration.
Existing solutions can be utilized in their current state. However, in order to reduce workloads (when building the system), it was important that the PaaS, where the OS environment and security are guaranteed above certain level, become our cloud-based ICT infrastructure. We also considered IaaS services like Amazon Web Services (hereafter as AWS) but abandoned this idea at early stage.
Using Microsoft Azure for IaaS and building and operating Oracle database
Professor Tago now recalls that “only Microsoft Azure and Office 365 services matched all university-determined criteria.” Moreover, as work proceeded, the both of services were rapidly evolved and inadequate features disappeared.
Another critical event involved work with the university’s Oracle database. It was a big moment when Microsoft announced Microsoft Azure’s compatibility with Oracle. “TUT had used its Oracle database for a long time to support existing administration systems. Now, thanks to the compatibility, the database could be easily moved to the cloud,” explains Yuzuru Kimura, CEO of Page One Co., Ltd., who was in charge of designing and building the system. Microsoft Azure is now used both for the PaaS and Iaas.
Using Microsoft Lync Online innovates the communication environment for TUT faculty
TUT uses Office 365 for mail or portal sites in the faculty/staff-oriented ICT environment. Through authentication infrastructure using Active Directory, it is possible to access to the system from within and from outside the university. Lync Online offers new functions that were lacking in the previous environment; i.e. information on whether faculty members are present. Lync Online also allows a choice of multiple communication tools for instant messaging, for emails or for web conferences.
Flexible system by end user computing (hereafter as EUC) uses Microsoft SharePoint Server and Microsoft Dynamics CRM
TUT has the highest expectations for use of SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It also has high hopes for Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a data viewer that enables the extraction of data entered into and stored in the core DB. Data also remain anonymous and can be sorted and read based on various criteria. The web template is customized in several ways and works together with SharePoint; enabling fluid use of data within the university.


Even better achievement by promoting the EUC and rational systems that can also be diverted to companies
Even though TUT has started its trial efforts to use a full shift to the cloud to reduce workloads for system operations to the lowest possible level, professor Tago gave a small warning: “We have only taken the first step. From now on, the quantity of internal university data that is processed by any university in the world will continue to grow at a fast pace. Given this fact, we feel it makes sense to accumulate databases in the cloud. We also came to the conclusion that the intermingled use of clouds, from PaaS to SaaS, is more rational in terms of operations and costs.”
Mr. Kimura as an IT vendor also agrees with the new system concept:

“Even in the case that EUC at TUT moves forward and the quantity of data in the core DB swells, as long as it is managed using Microsoft Azure, no problems will rise. The expenses for data accumulation will be surprisingly small; even in comparison with AWS, running costs can be reduced.”

Professor Tago concludes with the following expectations:

“This is our first effort to make a full shift to the cloud at our university. As for quantity of data and operational rules, we have started from scratch. However, we ultimately succeeded thanks to a wide range of affordable and flexible cloud services provided by Microsoft Azure. Thanks to solutions like Dynamics CRM and SharePoint, information analysis is proceeding well and sophisticated IR could be realized. This achievement will become evident after further use. Personally, I think that the structure that we have put together could also become a useful model for businesses.”

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