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Piab wants to enable a more mobile workforce

Piab wants to enable a more mobile workforce

Consolidating its applications and SQL servers in the cloud has made it easier for industrial manufacturing product vendor Piab to support mobile employee workstyles, the company’s chief information officer Greg Anderson tells BCN.

The company started shifting to iland’s Cisco and VMware-based cloud platform in 2012 after management took the decision to refresh the company’s hardware. At the time Piab, based in Sweden with offices around the world, lost a very senior internal technical specialist, which had an impact on the decision to move to cloud.

The company doesn’t have a large infrastructure group – about five people based in Sweden, with two people looking after the infrastructure side.

“We didn’t want to have to keep going through the hardware refresh cycle every few years. We’re already big believers in software as a service because – we want to become more mobile – but we don’t have to manage all the patching and upgrades, which would require lots of in-house resource we just don’t have,” Anderson explains.

“At the same time, we were using a DR solution that was too complex to maintain, and was difficult to implement. We also wanted to spend more time working on business processes rather than managing infrastructure,” which lent itself to a “perfect storm” in terms of the factors leading to its move to cloud.

Previously, the company was hosting the majority of its platforms, databases and applications – ERP, CAD solutions, R&D infrastructure, product lifecycle management systems, and financial management systems – in a colocation environment.

The biggest challenge involved with the move, Anderson explains, was migrating its existing virtual machines from its colocation environment into iland’s cloud platform while keeping applications and databases in sync.

“We were shifting our websites – our content management platform requires a SQL database, so we had SQL servers that we had to migrate at the same time as moving our application servers for our content management system. We have operations in eight countries running against these SQL databases.”

“At the same time our application servers, such as extranet sites, partner websites, require connectivity to the ERP system which is another mission critical application requiring a connection to our SQL servers.”

The company used Egnyte’s encrypted cloud gateway to help shift data between its colocation environment and the cloud platform while keeping the data secure, and it relies largely on IPSec tunnels instead of maintaining a costly MPLS setup to ensure tenants can connect to mission critical platforms securely. It also slimmed down its estate from 36 servers to about 18 or 19, or about half.

Anderson says that overall the new solution is cost competitive with alternative solutions considered (buying new hardware; moving to dedicated hosting), and that its shift to cloud allows the company to move onto newer hardware at a faster rate than it would if it were to keep buying and refreshing hardware – which means more frequent boosts in application performance.

It also makes the task of enabling more flexible workstyles for employees much easier, a huge priority at the company, which also has an impact on how the company manages application security.

“A big focus for us is enabling our applications from any location, which is why most of our applications – except for CAD and ERP – are SaaS. ERP is heading in that direction, but we’re waiting on stability improvements before we make the jump. CAD is difficult simply because of the size of the files we’re dealing with.”

“But there’s also the challenge of managing security, which in a multi-SaaS environment is heavily dependent on single sign on (SSO). Users love SSO, but from an admin standpoint it’s also a single point of vulnerability, so we’re constantly reviewing how we can make that more robust.”

He says he’s encouraged by some of the larger cloud vendors like Salesforce that have invested heavily in dedicated security teams that monitor anomalous behaviour on their platforms, but that enabling greater access to applications from a greater range of locations also means Piab needs to do its part to educate users.

“The most important thing is users being smart. It always starts with users – not clicking on things, not going to sites they shouldn’t go to, not using weak passwords or saving those passwords in unsecure locations, and so forth. If you can make users aware you’ve done 80 per cent of the job, and that’s something you need to do as an IT department – it  can’t be replaced by security as a service,” he says.

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