Swimming against the technology tide

When swimwear manufacturer Seafolly decided to expand into the European market, management knew that along with success would come increased strain on its already inadequate manufacturing and accounting systems. Already struggling to meet existing demand, the ageing business systems and computer network would need substantial upgrading. That expenditure, however, would divert funds from the company’s essential export efforts.

The obvious solution: a fork-lift upgrade, out with the old and in with the new and hang the expense. Instead, Seafolly engaged the services of SME specialist systems integrator Correct Solutions. Correct Solutions is an SME itself and is keenly aware that IT can’t be allowed to consume all available resources to the detriment of the core business.

When the integrator arrived on the scene, Seafolly’s IT infrastructure was based on an ageing Novell NetWare server that was randomly rebooting itself, and a flock of PCs that were costing too much time and effort to maintain. The export initiative would require access to the Internet and Seafolly was concerned that the existing infrastructure could not provide the necessary secure connections.

Wayne Small, technical director with Correct Solutions, suggested a cost-effective solution that would cater for the planned growth over the next three to five years, using several pieces of his company’s systems integration armoury. Small rejected suggestions that all desktops be replaced immediately due to the high costs associated with such a strategy. Instead he proposed the introduction of terminal servers based on Microsoft’s Windows Server 2000 platform.

The terminal server solution uses a powerful central file server to provide sessions to each user on the network using its own memory and processing capacity. When a user is working on an application on the terminal server, the application execution takes place on the server, and only keyboard, mouse and display information is transmitted over the network. Each user sees only his or her individual session, which is managed transparently by the server operating system, and is independent of any other client session. This solution also means that software needs to be installed only once, on the server, to be available to every PC that needs to use it, considerably reducing setup and support costs.

This solution would let Seafolly gain access to the latest software to run their business, as well as providing the necessary Internet connectivity. Correct Solutions chose to configure two identical terminal servers to provide a high level of reliability for the database, e-mail and secure firewall, using HP Proliant hardware and “locked down” the desktop environment to overcome the usual minor support issues of lost icons, user-deleted shortcuts and differences between existing PC capabilities.

“The terminal server is great,” Eileen Farrell, Seafolly’s IT manager, said, adding that instead of buying 30 new PCs, making use of the old 386 and 486 PCs worked really well.

“We did get comparative prices to make sure we were getting a good deal.

“From a security perspective we’ve been able to clamp down the desktop without restricting the local PCs. It can be a bit too restrictive if you’re not careful!”

Farrell said it was also good to be able to take control of a session remotely when needed. “I can provide help to users in all parts of the building as well as remote users by taking over their session and showing them what to do.” All Seafolly users now have access to the latest versions of Microsoft Office including full e-mail and shared scheduling and calendaring facilities, which has enabled timely communication within the expanded company as its export initiatives continue to grow.

The terminal server solution provided the required robust access to the new business systems while reducing configuration and support requirements and was easily extended to include the European office.

Using a virtual private network, which is an included component of Microsoft’s terminal server, the Sydney and Europe offices are linked over the Internet. Despite the distances involved the end-user experience from the remote office is almost like being in Sydney.

This is made possible because of the way the terminal server sends only a screen view of the data to the user, rather than the data itself, allowing an application to be used over bandwidth-constrained connections, such as the Internet-based VPN connection between the two offices, as well as allowing remote access via dial-up connections.

“From a remote user perspective the only limitation is bandwidth. If you have ADSL it’s absolutely fine. If you’ve only got dial-up, well it depends on what you’re doing.

“We use software called Apparel 21 which has an Oracle back end, and that can be a bit frustrating over dial-up at times. On ADSL it’s almost like being in the office,” Farrell said.

“We have some heavy-duty graphics users in the design department who have Pentium 4s with lots of RAM of course, but for users who only need access to accounting and Microsoft Office, Terminal Server is fine.”

After three years operation the solution is still working solidly with only minor upgrades being required to stay abreast of the latest technology changes. The anticipated reductions in installation and ongoing support have been realised and continue to be delivered as promised. The solution has provided higher availability than a normal desktop and server network because desktop failure can be quickly resolved by swapping in a spare PC, since all the user configuration is on the terminal server.

Each terminal server is capable of supporting the entire user base, which allows routine maintenance to be carried out with no reduction in systems availability. A Trend Micro antivirus solution has kept Seafolly free of the current wave of Internet-based attacks.

Seafolly has been able to achieve and exceed its planned expansion into global markets without incurring the expense associated with a complete replacement of all its outdated technology. “It was the teaming of Correct Solutions expertise combined with the Microsoft server platforms that has been fundamental to our growth over the past two years,” said Anthony Halas, managing director of Seafolly Australia.

A small business is often caught in the conundrum of not wanting to get left behind by technology, but can’t always afford to pay the price of perpetual upgrades. Using the terminal server approach has allowed Seafolly to take advantage of the latest and greatest software offerings without breaking the bank.

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