The Customer Requirement

Following a comprehensive review of its services, Northamptonshire County Council concluded that it needed to refocus service delivery towards its customers. Every department was asked to improve service delivery and communication, resulting in challenging business changes. At the core of delivering many services, it was quickly realised a dynamic IT platform was the key to implementing these changes rapidly. At the beginning of 2008, the IT department embarked upon an ambitious programme to switch from their mixed Novell/Microsoft infrastructure, to Microsoft/Citrix/VMWare, in order to move them further towards the “Dynamic” end of the infrastructure optimisation model.

Infrastructure Optimisation Model

This would involve moving from a highly distributed infrastructure, where many servers and services were spread around the Council’s various sites, to a much more centralised model, with two main data centres providing the majority of services. Consolidation would reduce complexity, reducing costs and improving reliability. Investment was made in blade servers, virtualisation and centralised storage, to further increase the dynamism of the infrastructure platform.

Two key application platforms were identified to provide services from the dynamic infrastructure platform – Citrix, to deliver desktop services, and SharePoint, to deliver information services, to council employees and citizens.

Realising the ambition of delivering all of these changes at the same time, the IT department engaged with a group of Microsoft Gold Partners in a novel arrangement where all the partners work together to deliver the best solutions to the council. This arrangement greatly decreases the time to deliver any individual project, and by working together the partners ensure there is no duplication of effort – again reducing costs to the council.

One of the first projects the group was asked to deliver was the implementation of the SharePoint platform on the council’s new infrastructure. Fuse Collaboration were chosen to deliver this project, as the infrastructure specialists of the group. The SharePoint platform would need to fulfil a number of key deliverables:

  • A SharePoint 2007 intranet for approximately 17,000 County Council Employees
  • Migration of the County Council’s public website and web applications to SharePoint 2007
  • An extranet for council partners and suppliers
  • A centralised application platform for future integration projects

The council had actually acquired the necessary hardware from Dell, prior to Fuse Collaboration's involvement. What we needed to do was configure SharePoint to use this hardware to deliver the performance and reliability needed with a core enterprise service. As with all of our implementation projects, the approach we took was to team up with the council’s IT staff to ensure they understood why we taking certain design decisions. SharePoint is a highly dynamic platform that would evolve as the council built more and more services on it, so it was important that the IT department had a good understanding of its architecture.

To start with, we wrote a comprehensive analysis of the platform’s requirements and capabilities, and how it would deliver those. This was presented to the project stakeholders to ensure everyone understood what was needed to deliver the project. The next stage involved building a model of the farm within the virtual test environment. This allowed the council to assess the impact of the farm within the environment (particularly for network –wide changes such as the Enterprise Certificate Server we implemented), and also to test SharePoint components such as AvePoint, Trend Antivirus and PMPoint, without impacting the live environment.

Following successful testing of the model, the work began on deploying the SharePoint farm in the live environment. Initially the farm consists of three Dell PowerEdge 2950 servers in the internal network, two 1950s providing services to the internet in the DMZ, and a SQL 2005 cluster using the enterprise SAN for storage. A Dell blade was used for the root Enterprise Certificate server. Software and Services were deployed as follows:

  • Windows 2003 R2 Standard x64 installed on all servers.
  • MOSS 2007 SP1 with the Infrastructure Update installed on the 2950s and 1950s.
  • Two of the 2950s and both 1950s configured as Web Front End Servers.
  • Remaining 2950 configured as Indexing/Query Server.
  • Central Admin load balanced and available on all internal servers.
  • Web applications and top level site collections created for Intranet, My Sites and Records Centre.
  • Internal disk configuration optimised for caching and indexing.
  • AvePoint DocAve deployed to provide document-level recovery.
  • Trend PortalProtect deployed by the Council’s security partner, Secon, to provide anti-virus protection

Security of the platform is obviously of paramount concern, particularly as sensitive applications such as Social Care will be utilising its services. All of the servers are joined to the core Active Directory. Individual low-privilege service accounts are used for each service, while separate shared service providers and application pools ensure auditable segregation of data without duplication of services. SSL Certificates provided by the enterprise certificate server ensure data cannot be compromised as it moves around the council’s own network. Finally, a trust relationship with the DMZ stub AD is used to authenticate external users, ensuring they have no rights in the main AD. 

As the platform grows, performance of the individual SharePoint services will be monitored to decide which components will be scaled out. It is expected the scaling out will be conducted by using VMWare virtual machines rather than physical servers.

The platform’s first use came with the migration of the existing Brightworks PMPoint applications that the council’s various project managers had been using as a hosted service. Following this, the intranet, designed by another of the partners in the group, will be launched on the platform. Other projects scheduled already are:

  • The HR handbook (being developed by Fuse)
  • A Social Care records repository (estimated at around 40 million records)
  • A Waste Management workflow and reporting application.
  • Many of these projects will leverage SharePoint features, but will also utilise complimentary technologies, such as K2 BlackPearl, Microsoft BizTalk, and Oracle ERP. These technologies, together with the integration capabilities of the SharePoint platform ensure the council have a dynamic, resilient infrastructure from which to deliver their services, for a long time to come.