No More “Red Panic Button”
- From The Confident SMB, March 2010 Issue (Download This Entire Issue in PDF)
The roots of entrepreneurship run deep in the history of Cambridgeshire, England (the County of Cambridge). When a group of scholars left Oxford under the threat of hostile townspeople in 1209, they resettled in the township of Cambridge. The refuge became a permanent home with the appointment of their first Chancellor in 1226, one that developed into one of the most renowned educational institutions in the world today—the University of Cambridge.
Entrepreneurship forms part of the fabric of Cambridgeshire, the founding of the University of Cambridge being just the start—from Silicon Fens, the high-tech area on the outskirts of Cambridge, to Cambridge University Press, the world’s oldest continually operating book publisher, to the many small businesses scattered across the county. Counted among the latter is Sandcroft Management Services Ltd., which was started in 1990 in a downstairs room in the home of founder Billy Wilson.
From large to small
Billy started his career working for several large United Kingdom-based firms. About 10 years later, he was recruited by a small accounting business to manage its operations. And he quickly learned what he wanted to do with the rest of his career. “With this move, I discovered that I enjoyed working in a small business versus a large business,” he says. “And I never turned back.”
After a few years he determined to start his own small business, having identified a need for one-stop accounting, bookkeeping, and consulting services for small businesses and the self employed. Always looking for new opportunities, Billy added payroll services to the business’ portfolio in 1991 under the name of Sandcroft Payroll Services Ltd.
Sandcroft Management Services grew very quickly during its first several years. “We more than tripled in size,” Billy remembers. And though there have been some unexpected bumps in the road, the company has sustained its early success; its offices are a flurry of activity. Technology has been a key part of the success. “Beyond a lot of hard work and long hours, a key enabler of our growth has been technology,” Billy notes.
An important hallmark in the expansion of the business was the addition of Billy’s son, William Wilson, in the late 1990s. “Unofficially, I joined the company a few weeks after its founding, posting invoices for a pound an hour,” he jokes. “However, officially, I have been with the company for about 13 years.” In addition to his accounting responsibilities, he oversees IT strategy and decision making for the firm.
Adoption of computer technologies by Sandcroft Management Services was hastened in the mid-1990s when one of the largest Internet companies in the U.K. at the time became a customer for its payroll services. “We had to conduct business with them over the Internet,” Billy explains. “This actually expedited our reliance on IT.”
Prior to 2008, Billy and William managed their IT environment with supplemental support from a local IT provider. However, day-to-day IT management was consuming valuable billable time, not only for Billy and William, but for the entire staff. “We would spend two hours trying to fix a problem and create another one that took four hours to sort out,” William explains.
“There were really two primary business issues when Sandcroft Management Services approached us,” remembers George Ilko, chief technology officer and founder of Vitality Consulting Services Limited. “Spam was the first one.” Specifically, the staff was expending valuable energy on deleting spam each morning and then throughout the day, time that could be spent on billable projects. The second was related to business continuity; data retention requirements as specified by insurance and regulatory bodies such as the Accounting Standards Board. “We must maintain successful backups every day,” Billy says. “I cannot count the number of times when I’ve arrived at home and realized that I’d forgotten the backup tape at the office and had to drive back to the office to retrieve it (an insurance requirement).”
They began looking at different options and settled on a managed services model. “IT is not our area of expertise, it’s accounting, bookkeeping, consulting, and payroll services,” William observes. “The reason we turned to Vitality Consulting Services was to stop the worry,” Billy adds. “We sought someone we could trust to manage our IT for us.”
Sandcroft Management Services signed a managed services agreement with Vitality Consulting Services in early 2008. “The solutions from Vitality Consulting Services allow us to avoid pressing the ‘red panic button’,” Billy quips. “When a PC went down before, or something else happened, we lost valuable staff time remediating. Now we simply call Vitality and know the problem will be resolved.”
Managed services equation
A Symantec Silver Partner, Vitality Consulting Services worked with the Sandcroft Management Services team to conduct an audit of their existing IT environment. The audit included an assessment of network, security, and business continuity requirements compared to the organizational status quo in each of these areas. Vitality Consulting Services then mapped several different technology solutions to meet these different requirements.
The annual managed services agreement with Vitality Consulting Services, which Sandcroft Management Services renewed for another year in early 2009, includes a four-hour service-level agreement (SLA) response time, though Ilko notes they aim for one hour. Using Symantec pcAnywhere, the team is able to remediate many problems remotely. “Remote access decreases the interruptions to our staff,” William relates. “However, when needed, the Vitality Consulting Services’ team will come out on site—24×7.”
Vitality Consulting Services pinpointed several technology solutions as a result of their initial audit. These encompassed three different business areas. For the network environment, Vitality Consulting Services worked with Sandcroft Management Services to implement various Cisco technology components. To address security and business continuity requirements, Vitality Consulting Services relies on various Symantec technologies that are used to manage the Sandcroft Management Services IT environment. These include Symantec Backup Exec and Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery for backup and recovery, Symantec Endpoint Protection for endpoint security, and Symantec Mail Security for Microsoft Exchange layered with MessageLabs Hosted Email Security for messaging security.
Accruing the results
The results of the different solutions are impressive. Employees no longer spend valuable time sorting through spam every day, sometimes up to 30 minutes daily per employee. Billy no longer needs to manage daily backups, which consumed as much as 30 minutes of his time every day. System recovery time has also been slashed. A recovery with the previous infrastructure and processes—locating the tapes in the offsite facility, retrieving them, and then restoring the data—would have taken up to two days to complete. However, under the managed services SLA from Vitality Consulting Services, a one-hour recovery window is stipulated, though Ilko notes that they can usually complete a recovery in 20 minutes.
In addition, the new security measures and infrastructure reduces Sandcroft Management Services’ risk exposure and enables the organization to maintain compliance with PCI standards and other regulatory requirements. “We’ve passed PCI audits and penetration testing with flying colors,” Ilko reports.
Sandcroft Management Services gained unexpected value from their Symantec investment when they were recently faced with the need to migrate their practice management software to dedicated hardware. “Without Backup Exec System Recovery, it would have taken us days to complete the migration,” Ilko says. “And the staff would have been without access to the practice management software during this timeframe. However, we were able to complete the entire migration in about 20 minutes using Backup Exec System Recovery to image the existing server and redeploy the practice management software solution to the new HP ProLiant server hardware.”
Time for rugby and gardening
Despite the economic downturn, Sandcroft Management Services continued to see year-over-year growth in 2009. “We’re quite proud of our success this past year,” William touts. “And IT has become an increasingly important growth enabler for us.”
“Vitality Consulting Services, along with the software tools they have deployed, give me peace of mind at the end of the day,” Billy adds.“We have highly confidential client information such as employee addresses, insurance numbers, and banking details, and we simply cannot lose any of that information.”
The “red panic button” is no longer to be found on Billy’s—or William’s—desk. Billy even thinks he might be able to take a little time off, concluding: “Now that I have all of the IT systems set up just the right way, and William heavily involved in the business, I plan to take a little bit of time off—perhaps watch some rugby or do some gardening.”
When Sandcroft Management Services turned to Symantec Partner Vitality Consulting Services Limited for help in gaining tighter control over its IT environment, the company had high expectations—and those have been either met or exceeded. The success is a mix of the right IT governance and business management processes and the deployment of the right technologies. The managed services model from Vitality Consulting Services was precisely what Sandcroft Management Services needed.
No spam at last
For messaging security, Vitality Consulting Services implemented Symantec Mail Security for Microsoft Exchange layered with MessageLabs Hosted Email Security. The solution stopped the incoming spam “dead in its tracks,” according to George Ilko, CTO and founder at Vitality Consulting Services. “We have great confidence that whatever the messaging security solution from Symantec—whether it is Symantec Mail Security for the very small business or Symantec Brightmail Gateway or MessageLabs Hosted Email Security for the larger small business or midsize business—that it will resolve the message security challenges of our clients.”
The benefits of the deployment are dramatic. “Our employees previously spent as much as 30 minutes each day managing spam,” says William Wilson, account and IT strategist at Sandcroft Management Services. This time has been recaptured and is being spent on billable or other business-critical initiatives.
Tallying endpoint security
For endpoint security, Vitality Consulting Services rolled out Symantec Endpoint Protection. “Locking down the network is typically the first step we take with clients,” Ilko says. “Getting a comprehensive set of endpoint security checkpoints, from antivirus and antispyware to network intrusion prevention, is critical. With Symantec Endpoint Protection, we have one console from which to manage all endpoint security.” This not only improves operational efficiencies for Vitality Consulting Services, it reduces the overall risk exposure for Sandcroft Management Services.
The integration of Symantec Endpoint Protection and Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery allows Vitality Consulting Services to deliver added value to its clients such as Sandcroft Management Services. “We are able to initiate off-site system backups based on threat levels identified by Symantec Endpoint Protection,” Ilko says. “This is a huge selling point for us. We can sell a robust disaster recovery solution to small businesses that they previously could not have afforded.”
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Numbers are in data protection
Backups to a virtual server at an off-site location hosted by Vitality Consulting Services are scheduled daily. “We get an email notification that each backup was successful,” Ilko says. “And in the case of system failures at the Sandcroft Management Services’ facility, we are able to redirect to the virtual infrastructure. Email, the practice management software, and other applications continue to run.”
Of course, successful backups are only as good as the ability to recover the data. “Testing of most backup-and-recovery solutions is typically a very time-consuming process,” Ilko notes. “With Backup Exec System Recovery, we are able to test data restore in real time using the virtualization feature.”
Vitality Consulting Services Services maintains a virtualized server environment, using HP servers and VMware, at its client sites as at it’s hosted data center. The built-in virtualization support in the different Symantec software tools, from Backup Exec and Backup Exec System Recovery to Endpoint Protection, is important to Vitality Consulting Services, as well as it’s clients such as Sandcroft Management Services.
For Sandcroft Management Services storage infrastructure, Vitality Consulting Services maintains a tiered storage model. The first tier consists of using Backup Exec System Recovery to back up systems to a Seagate Maxtor disk device. (For larger clients and infrastructures, Vitality Consulting Services performs disk backups to Cisco or HP NAS devices.) After 30 days, the data is then moved to an HP StorageWorks tape library. Then, for additional business continuity protection, Vitality Consulting Services uses Backup Exec to replicate data from its data center to the Lloyd’s of London data center location in London every 30 days. “We are able to offer our clients an enterprise-class business continuity solution on a small business budget,” Ilko proudly states.
Returns keep coming
Just as the releases of Symantec Endpoint Protection and Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 2010 added to Vitality Consulting Services’s toolbox, the recent release of Backup Exec 2010 does so as well. “The addition of the deduplication technology is going to be a big plus for us,” Ilko says. “We are able to reduce our storage requirements, including energy costs and rack space, which means we can deliver more competitive solutions to our clients like Sandcroft Management Services. Our benefit becomes a shared benefit with our clients.”
Patrick E. Spencer (Ph.D.) is the editor in chief for The Confident SMBand CIO Digest and the author of a book and various articles and reviews published by Continuum Books and Sage Publications, among others.