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IT operations at UAE's Al Naboodah Group Enterprises 99.8% virtualised

The construction giant's work with Swiss technology provider, Veeam, has resulted in benefits such as capital expense savings worth $180,000, group chief information officer, Mario Foster, reveals

The Veeam Availability Suite was deployed by the UAE's Al Naboodah Group Enterprises, resulting in immense savings for the construction giant's IT operations.
The Veeam Availability Suite was deployed by the UAE's Al Naboodah Group Enterprises, resulting in immense savings for the construction giant's IT operations.

An investment made by the UAE's Al Naboodah Group Enterprises (ANGE) in a new platform helped the company to meet the goal of virtualising its IT operations.

ANGE's aim was to completely virtualise its information technology (IT) environment, in a bid to meet sustainability goals set by its management, increase the utilisation of existing IT investment, and reduce capital expenses. 

The firm, which employs 16,000 people and has more than 100 construction sites and offices across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, uses various applications that have to be continuously available to allow intra-company collaboration.

Eventually, Swiss technology provider, Veeam, delivered the availability platform that helped ANGE virtualise 99.8% of its IT operations, offering the construction company backup cycles shortened by 60%, and saves the construction giant 1,000 man-hours each year. Availability, in the IT environment, is a measure of a user’s ability to access data in the location and format it is expected in.

In the following pages, Construction Week outlines ANGE's requirements for an IT system that could cater to its large-scale construction operation, and details of the Veeam platform that was picked by ANGE.

NEXT PAGE: The business challenge

The business challenge

ANGE's existing technology investments include those in systems such as SharePoint, as well as platforms to deliver enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), email, data analytics, and web servers. 

Moreover, the company operates up to 20 specialised construction and commercial applications, including AutoCAD, computer-aided design (CAD) and drafting application that is used daily by its architects, project managers, and engineers.

As the IT team scaled its operations in line with sustainability key performance indicators (KPIs), it was keen to utilise a virtualisation platform and reduce its carbon footprint.

However, the firm's existing backup system was unable to meet the IT department’s three key objectives: virtualisation advanced support; backup verification, and rapid recovery. 

Mario Foster, group chief information officer (CIO) at ANGE, explains how this was a challenge for the company: "With our existing solution, we were only able to back up our mission-critical applications and data, and that too, outside of working hours. 

"We generate tremendous volumes of data every day, pertaining to designs, project management, supply chain and logistics, and other critical functions. 

"It is important there are no interruptions to this data, which could have a negative impact on the group’s productivity," Foster adds. 

The group CIO says he realised that, with new applications being added to the IT environment every day, managing the high volume of data would require an alternative. 

"We were in the market for an ‘availability’, rather than just a backup, solution," he explains.

“[The new system] had to enable us to meet our sustainability KPIs, safeguard the data being constantly generated by the business, and ensure applications were always available to employees who relied on them,” Foster adds.


NEXT PAGE: Vendor picked 


Vendor picked

To implement an appropriate system, ANGE evaluated proof of concepts (POCs) from multipoint vendors. Foster says that of all the platforms it reviewed that support virtualisation, Veeam “had the best overall package and by far the most dedicated local support”.

ANGE deployed the Veeam Availability Suite as a single platform for its backup, replication, recovery, and reporting needs. In addition, the suite’s deep integration in the IT environment meant it also offered monitoring capabilities.

Upon implementation in July 2016, the company is said to have noted immediate improvement in its IT performance, with backups now completed in minutes, and recovery time objective (RTO) reduced by 60%. RTO refers to the target duration within which a company aims to recover its IT and business operations after a disruption has occurred. 

Additionally, even while ANGE’s data increased by more than 200%, the IT team is able to back up all applications in real time, on a daily basis. This continued backup and application availability is highly beneficial for ANGE, given the number of construction and commercial applications it uses. 

“These apps enable everything from design, collaboration, and communication, to customer management, logistics, and other mission-critical operations, thereby playing an essential role in all the operations of our organisation,” Foster explains.

Details of data backups and data recovery revealed 

Another advantage for ANGE is the Veeam SureBackup feature, which eliminates the need to manually verify backups, Foster explains: “We are now assured that every backup is always taken correctly and can be used in any event or emergency.

“We can thus guarantee up-to-date information is always available when and where it is needed, which his a vital requirement for an organisation with more than 100 offices and sites across such a vast area.”

Foster says the company’s construction operations necessitate constant backups and easy recovery, and Veeam’s system provides reliability in both areas.

“Because a lot of the work our employees do requires collaboration and the involvement of contractors, it’s very important that we have reliable backups at every stage of the process, in case there is a miscommunication or a need to refer to previous versions,” the group CIO explains. 

“Whereas file recovery could take up to a day, with Veeam, we can resolve these issues in under five minutes. This means that employees are not inhibited, but rather empowered by IT.”

Additionally, while many of ANGE’s applications weren’t designed for high availability, Veeam’s platform addresses this through the increase of virtual machine (VM) restore speed by more than 10 times. A VM is a programme that works like a separate, independent system within the main computer. According to a definition provided by Microsoft, the VM is “sandboxed from the rest of the system, meaning that the software inside a virtual machine can’t escape or tamper with the computer itself". This partitioned setup is ideal for, among other uses, “creating operating system backups”.

Commenting on this aspect of the system, Foster adds: “We have achieved 99.8% virtualisation, and Veeam offers us in-depth monitoring of 170 VMs, [as well as] very limited physical servers.”


NEXT PAGE: The results 


The results

Through the utilisation of existing IT investments, Veeam has reduced the organisation’s need to procure additional storage by 50%. This has been done by using Veeam’s compression and de-duplicate technology, saving roughly $180,000 (AED661,100) in capital expenses. In turn, this allowed ANGE to achieve returns on investment (ROI) on its Veeam deployment in less than two years.

Veeam’s roll out allowed ANGE to implement a comprehensive virtualisation of its IT environment without downtime or data loss, and helped the firm achieve its sustainability objectives, Foster explains. Greater speed and efficiency of IT systems means ANGE now backs up data from all its applications, instead of only the mission-critical ones.

“This eliminates business risk and makes us far more resilient to data loss or application failure,” he says.

“Veeam gave us the confidence to carry out the complete virtualisation of our environment. We know our VMs can be instantly recovered, and we have the tools needed to closely monitor our entire virtual environment in real time.”

Moreover, the installation of Veeam’s systems has shortened backup cycles by more than 60%, automated the backup and verification process – using the company’s SureBackup feature – and increased the speed of full VM recovery by more than 10 times. Foster estimates that his team now saves 1,000 man-hours each year, which, in turn, contributes to annual savings.

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Construction Week - Issue 730
Feb 21, 2019