Keeping the lights on whilst managing large scale change
The YMCA Fylde Coast (FCYMCA) is a diverse charity supporting the needs of the communities it operates in, across 4 key areas – Young People, Housing, Physical Activity, and Outdoor Activity. Whilst independent, it is fully aligned to and embraces the values of the worldwide YMCA movement and its focus on helping young people ‘belong, contribute and thrive’. Whilst its origins on the Fylde Coast date back to 1922 as a single site operation, the organisation as we know it today began its transformation in the late 1990s, and now sees it based in 18 predominantly North West locations, have 600 employees, £9m turnover, 17000 members, and via the breadth of services provided touches the lives of 10,000’s service users every year.
Throughout its journey of growth and expansion, FCYMCA has been supported by String Systems. Initially, whilst the organisation was simply looking for a reliable local supplier for a handful of PC’s, they quickly saw a small but ambitious company with the ‘can do’ attitude and desire to go the extra mile, with whom they could work in a more holistic way. As FCYMCA’s IT needs and requirements developed, so did Strings own journey of growth and capability.
The IT environment went through multiple iterations between 2004 and the last previous significant upgrade in 2014 as the business grew both in user numbers and locations, with each instance delivering value. But come 2017/18, the key characteristics of the ‘older’ system design, based on each location having to have a local server, regardless of the size of the site, together with expensive MPLS connectivity to facilitate access to key centralised applications delivered via Terminal Services, were no longer appropriate for a growing, dynamic organisation, with an increasingly mobile and often home-based workforce. What was needed was a system that delivered flexibility to accommodate an ‘anytime, anywhere, on any device’ secure access policy, lower cost of ownership, improved management, reduced cost of expansion and enhanced user experience, without the need for wholesale replacement of end user devices.
The proposed solution
The senior team at String met with their counterparts at FCYMCA and their key application partners to design a solution which would meet all the key criteria around scalability, flexibility and cost control. The solution comprised a number of key components
- Implement Office 365 with all the associated benefits for email and productivity tool access from any device and location, and the peace of mind arising from a secure by design environment.
- Migrate the on-premise core line of the business membership application to its cloud equivalent, immediately increasing flexible access for all users, ease of management and updating
- Introduce a centralised powerful server environment to provide ‘hosted desktop’ capability, enabling the large estate of thin client devices to continue to operate very effectively and further enabling increased adoption of tablets and smartphones as a means of system interaction
- Remove the expensive MPLS requirement for connectivity and implement cost-effective fibre-based alternatives
- Office 365 E3 and E1
- Fujitsu Primeflex Cluster in a Box, offering multiple high availability servers, shared storage and networking in a single chassis
- Microsoft Windows Datacentre
- Microsoft RDS
- Fibre based connectivity
This was a major project impacting on 100’s of end users with a number of significant interdependencies. Key to its success was the detailed project planning and oversight which supported the phased execution. The project execution comprised
- initial core infrastructure deployment to run in parallel with the existing system
- fibre migration at all sites (a process owned and managed by BT)
- core line of business application migration to the cloud (owned and managed by Gladstone)
- mailbox migration for over 250 mailbox users
- final applications and services migrated to new environment
- Improved performance and user experience
- User mobility greatly enhanced
- Easier distribution of new applications
- Enhanced interaction with external service users
- Hugely reduced cost of adding new site saving £££’s
- Significantly reduced power consumption across the server estate both saving £££’s and environmentally friendly
- New users can be added inexpensively saving £££’s
- Data protection increased
- Printing made simpler and more responsive to a mobile workforce
We have worked with String for a number of years and have never failed to be impressed by their honest, pragmatic, professional and importantly for us, their values based dealings with us. This recent project was the most significant of all they have undertaken for us, requiring detailed planning, working with multiple external partners with a potentially disruptive impact during go live which we were keen to avoid. Whilst we encountered some challenges along the way particularly around the deployment of the fibre connectivity into all locations where it was needed, the solution design meant the delays did not impact on end users ability to do their job which was vital. We now have a modern, flexible and scaleable IT platform to support us not only for today but to take us forward as continue to grow and seek to deliver a growing range of services to a growing number of communities. String have played an integral part in our journey and I would heartily recommend them to other growing organisations
John Cronin – CEO