Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) is a governing body for Northamptonshire. It serves a community of approximately 692,000. NCC provide over a hundred different services and it is essential for the council to provide fast, up-to-date web services that are easily accessible.

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  • Sector: Local Government

As part of their Customer Relationship Strategy 2012 – 2015 NCC continue to identify services from across the council where the first contact can be supported through web and digital channels. This enables the Customer Service Centre staff to devote more time to focus on supporting more complex and sensitive services where customers need to talk to someone.

Organisational challenges and impacts

Northamptonshire County Council were reviewing their current hosting arrangements. Already utilizing SharePoint 2007 for a number of its websites and staff portals, NCC were keen to create new sites on the most recent version of SharePoint.

SharePoint 2013 has many new features which Northamptonshire County Council were looking to benefit from for any new sites created.

These include:

  • Improved accessibility and design features for internet sites
  • Improved content editing and management features
  • Cross-site publishing – sharing content across sites
  • The ability to quickly engineer search and catalogue driven websites
  • Enhanced social and audience features
  • A new Search engine providing much improved search and refine capabilities
  • Improved cross browser and device support using latest HTML 5 technologies   

Challenges Summary

  • Aging Platform
  • Flexibility of platform resources
  • Increasingly costly
  • Annual fixed contract would be detrimental
  • Ability to move hosting back on-premises as and when they choose.

NCC were therefore looking for a hosting company who would manage their SharePoint 2013 sites, along with the 2007 sites whilst migrating them to 2013. In addition, as a long term plan, LGSS (Local Government Shared Services, who NCC are part of) are looking to build their own hosting environments and move their hosting back into an on-premises environment. This needed to also be considered when deciding on a hosting provider.

With the current provider, NCC would be required to commit to an annual fixed contract with an increase in resources to support the SharePoint 2013 farm, and this was seen to be prohibitive with the many changes due in the coming months/years.

Within the NCC’s Budget Book for 2013-2014 Value for Money is highlighted. This is ‘the delivery of better public services in the best way in line with the priorities of local people using the resources available. Value for money is about ensuring an appropriate balance between Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness.’

Taking this into account, it was recognized that Fuse would need to look for a much more flexible provider who would allow for resource usage to grow or shrink depending on the needs of the business.

The Chosen Solution

Choosing a hosting solution suitable for NCC’s needs was quite a simple task. Being a Microsoft Azure partner and having worked successfully with other customers to build large-scale SharePoint farms on Azure, we found the reliability, features and flexibility surpass that of any hosting environment we had come across. We were therefore able to advise the customer why it may be beneficial to switch to Azure.

Microsoft Azure is a cloud based platform that provides on-demand infrastructure and services. The platform can scale and adapt according to the business’ changing needs, providing best-in-class price-performance and end-to-end support.

Azure gives customers the option to create additional servers that can be switched on and off and payment would only be required for servers which are running. Another attractive feature is the ability to resize servers and increase resources quickly and easily whereas increasing resources in a traditional setup would be time-consuming and costly.

Azure’s VPN gateway and virtual networking have also enabled Fuse to build the internet environment as a virtual extension to NCC’s own datacentre, adding further flexibility and ease of deployment.

Microsoft Azure delivers a 99.95% monthly SLA allowing less focus on infrastructure when building highly available applications.

From a cost perspective, Azure provides a pay-as-you-go cost solution but also allows pre-pay for monthly and annual periods which are discounted as compared to the payas- you-go model. Customers also enjoy the benefit of only paying for the resources their application uses, where they can change their virtual machine configurations at any point.

Benefits Summary

  • Speed of delivery
  • Limited upfront costs / investment
  • Enterprise Level Uptime and Availability against a 99.95% SLA
  • Easy Remote Access
  • Familiar support environment
  • Manageability through the online portal
  • The total cost is for all servers/ services running per month – this can be reduced as and when the 2007 servers are no longer needed

Results Achieved

By choosing Azure, Fuse have been able to migrate the 2007 site across and launch the 2013 site on Azure. The platform was designed with high availability in mind by the use of availability sets, multiple instances in each service tier and load balancing. This has helped ensure service continuity in the event of failure or maintenance windows.

When NCC set up a subscription with Microsoft, improved pricing was given, along with access to the Azure super-portal. The Microsoft Azure platform Northamptonshire County Council’s platform has now become more cost effective with its ‘pay for what you use’ scheme. The solution has been found to be highly flexible.

NCC can now look to start migrating their 2007 farm to 2013 and when ready, they will also be able to move the solutions in house with no penalty costs to them.

Fuse were able to deliver a solid platform which in turn has saved a significant amount of public money and enabled NCCs digital team to continue delivering award-winning services to the public.

The platform is fully monitored and supported by Fuse using Microsoft System Centre Operations Manager.

NCC are one of the first public sector organisations to have taken the step from what was a rigid, traditional outsourced managed service and moved to a leading edge hosted environment in Microsoft Azure that combines flexibility, cost effectiveness, selfmanagement and ownership.