Evalueserve: Journey from a Cloud Adopter to a Cloud Innovator

by Vivek on June 23, 2016


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Evalueserve, a global professional services provider offering research, analytics, and data management services was incorporated in the year 2000. Evalueserve is powered by mind+machine™, a unique combination of human expertise and best-in-class technologies that use smart algorithms to simplify key tasks. This approach enables them to design and manage processes that can generate and harness insights on a large scale, significantly cutting costs and timescales and helping businesses that partner with them to overtake competition. They work with clients across a wide range of industries and business functions, helping them to make better decisions faster, reach new levels of efficiency and effectiveness, and see a tangible impact on their top and bottom line.

Sachin Jain, CIO (Global IT Operations) and CISO at Evalueserve, has been instrumental in transforming Evalueserve from a newbie in Cloud computing to a Cloud innovator. In his current role, he is responsible for all aspects of strategic IT planning, implementation, support, and information security worldwide as an integral component of business plan. Jain comes with close to two decades experience in the IT industry and has been associated with Evalueserve since December 2000. Apart from setting up an IT group, which includes a software development team, and information security practice at Evalueserve, he has been credited with converting the internal software team from a cost center to a profit center. Winning awards for his role as CIO for successive years and leading his team to innovate has become second nature for Jain! Adept at implementing Cloud technologies, Jain talks about what drove their Cloud adoption in 2001 from a humble co-located virtual server to their current model of Microsoft’s Cloud services and solutions. He highlights how the adoption of Cloud has changed the very framework of how Evalueserve operates.

 

Recap of the first decade of Evalueserve’s Cloud Journey

Data Center Transformation

Evalueserve started out with humble beginnings in 2000, with the intent to reduce the footprint of the client-facing servers maintained on premises. This was achieved by moving all client-facing applications to co-located servers in the US and eventually ended with the transition to Microsoft Azure in 2014. Says Jain, “With co-located data centers, we needed to take care of managing day-to-day operations, hardware and software licenses, capacity planning etc. including patches and overall security”. The transformation started with the in-house data center where the Evalueserve IT team moved 150+ physical servers to just 4 physical servers by using virtualization in 2011. The prudent move to using Azure as IaaS (Infrastructure as a service) in 2014, besides creating efficiency in the in-house IT service management operations, has also yielded far reaching results. Apart from saving costs on hardware investments, maintenance, and licensing, it has helped bring down the time required to respond to the business. What’s more, the pay-per-use model as against a fixed monthly payout has helped the company’s bottom line. This has set the tone for the next step of transformation – desktop virtualization.

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Desktop Virtualization

In 2012, Jain’s vision was to virtualize the desktop environment within the organization to create an always available, anytime anywhere secure access to a virtual desktop. With this goal in mind, a virtual desktop infrastructure was put in place. This led to improved availability of end user systems to process client data for research by their then 2000+ strong workforce. The solution provided scalability to their IT operations, flexibility of configuring based on business needs, improved costing, and thereby improved overall productivity. Jain puts all the change in a nutshell, “In last four years, the situation has completely changed. Earlier the majority of workload was running on the on-premises servers, whereas now, the situation is totally opposite. We now have most of the workload shifted to the Cloud.” The above changes in data center management and desktop virtualization paved the ground for the next set of major initiatives.

 

Meeting business expectations all year through: Office 365

Office-365

Jain explains the reasons that prompted them to consider using Microsoft’s Office 365. “Interestingly, a business impact analysis done as part of designing controls for disaster recovery (DR) conducted across the organization globally, showed chinks in the emailing service, which we needed to be up and running always”. Allocating storage to end users was another big issue. It was a tough balancing act, having to allocate storage quota to individual users (as the number of users was increasing) while accepting the limited availability of storage. The cost of maintaining a high-availability cluster and huge storage were critical driving forces in adopting Office 365. Additionally, Evalueserve had over a dozen tools running on top of its Exchange server that were locally managed to ensure compliance, security, and monitoring. The combined cost and effort involved in maintaining these individual tools and their individual licenses worked out to be very expensive. Office 365, in its earlier avatar as a BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), was pilot tested at Evalueserve a couple of times. Jain found that Office 365, with its bundled Cloud-based email, collaboration tools, web conferencing, telephony, and other services, in addition to Office Professional Plus, SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync Server was all that Evalueserve was looking for to power their business. Adoption of Office 365 at Evalueserve helped in more ways than one. “Firstly, Office 365 helped us meet business expectations of high-availability by having multi-geography redundant setup. From a technology and IT perspective, it helped us converge all the disparate tools into one single tool, allowing us to manage all the features from a single console. The Office 365 offering was apt for our business and IT needs, and investing in the Office 365 bundle helped us save money for the organization”.

 

Security and Licensing: Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility and Cloud Suites

Jain is well-known in the industry for his know-how on Software Licensing, and it comes as no surprise that he has put his knowledge to good use at Evalueserve. With many organizations going the hybrid way in allowing users to access the office network via both the corporate and employee-owned devices, it was important to secure the critical client data. Looking for a win-win solution, instead of picking and choosing from the security management tools, Evalueserve went for the comprehensive solution provided by Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS). The EMS comes bundled with the following key features:

Azure Active Directory Premium (Identity and Access Management) Delivers robust identity and access management by centrally managing identities across the datacenter and the Cloud with a mobile device management software solution. It supports single-sign on to 2500+ SAAS apps, multi-factor authentication, self-service password reset, group management, and security reporting.

Advanced Threat Analytics Is a network security software with sophisticated and automated behavioral analytics. It identifies suspicious activities and advanced threats in near real time with simple, actionable reporting.

Intune This Cloud-based enterprise mobility management solution helps control employee access to corporate applications and data on virtually any device.

Azure Rights Management Provides comprehensive encryption, identity, and authorization policies designed to secure corporate files and email across phones, tablets, and PCs.

Next came the move to Microsoft’s Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS), a new licensing offering, which is quite different compared to the traditional licensing mechanism. Jain demystifies it for us: “The ECS is a bundle of bundles. Compared to the existing model of licensing, the ECS allows for simpler and discounted licensing based on users as against devices. With employees accessing the network in multiple ways via desktops, tablets, and smartphones, this licensing model makes better sense.”

The ECS bundle comprises of Office 365 E3, Enterprise Mobility Suite, and Windows Software Assurance per User.

 

Innovating on the Cloud: Multi-tiered Disaster Recovery (DR) platform

It’s been a long-term quest at Evalueserve to find a solution to their Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) for many critical client projects. Jain was on the hunt for a solution that struck the right balance between the manageability of complex and time-consuming data recovery process and a cost-effective model for a global DR framework for client/project data.

 

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But necessity is the mother of invention! Under Jain’s leadership, an industry-acclaimed and award-winning DR solution was developed in-house by innovating on the Cloud. Evalueserve decided on using Microsoft’s Azure StorSimple, a complete enterprise hybrid Cloud storage solution that provides primary storage, backup, archive, integrated data protection, and connects to the Cloud seamlessly. The solution capitalised on StorSimple’s capabilities to automatically archive cold data from on-premises to the Cloud, provide cost-effective backup, and reliable disaster recovery. While it was normal practice to use StorSimple as a primary storage solution, their inventive solution used a combination of primary storage (NAS) and StorSimple as a secondary multi-tiered storage both on-premise and Azure Cloud. Jain explains, “We have two secondary storages (StorSimple – one in India and another one in the US), on which all our global locations are replicating the data. The snapshot of data from secondary storage is further going to the Cloud. In the event of failure of primary or secondary storage, the data can still be accessed in real time with same access privileges as on primary storage. This can be done without using the traditional tape-based backup, which is a time-consuming process and may not be a fool-proof solution.” The benefits accrued from this implementation have not only met their RTOs, but also reduced the cost of manageability for the IT team and increased the efficiency of recovery, by enabling automated layers of recovery through multiple layers. The robust solution has also enabled enhanced real-time data recovery capabilities, covering all possible failure scenarios at facility, city, and country levels. All this has been achieved without modifying the end user experience and without any additional workload to the data recovery process. A pictorial representation of the recovery architecture is depicted below:

architecture

 

Economics of Cloud technology: Multiple perspectives

Evalueserve’s informed and strategic decision to partner with Microsoft in implementing Cloud computing has paid rich dividends across all facets of their business. Be it in the form of Azure for Data Centre, StorSimple for Data Management or Disaster Recovery, and ECS for Software License Management, there have been significant cost savings in the range of 10- 15% on Office 365, and roughly 30% due to Azure. The storage costs have also come down. Apart from monetary benefits, the business has become agile in adopting changes in business models supporting anytime anywhere access and a faster time to market. With an easy to manage IT organisation, shrinking data centers, and no hassles of asset depreciation or license renewals, Jain has successfully implemented technology decisions that have not only benefitted the business but also made his CFO happy! Given that Jain is not only the CIO, but also wears the additional hat of CISO at Evalueserve, every strategic IT decision is taken only after due diligence is done on security and performance fronts. In Jain’s opinion, evaluating Cloud performance based solely on the speed of response of the applications is passé. To get greater benefits such as availability, scalability, and ease of deployment of Cloud computing, a slight delay in performance or response times of non-critical applications is something that the end users will eventually adapt to, as per Jain. On the aspect of security, he strongly feels that features provided by well-established market players in Cloud technology far outperform what an organization can provide on-premise, both in terms of maturity of technology and sophistication. Be it adoption of Cloud technology or the latest fad in the industry, he warns his peers not to join the bandwagon without being convinced about the same. Jain’s word of advice to his industry peers mirrors his own mantra in life — to take decisions only when you are completely convinced about them!

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