South Australia Tourism Commission takes pioneering trip to the cloud

City of Adelaide

On the day that the South Australian Tourism Commission moved into its new digs it pulled the plug on its servers and network. Its 150 staff barely noticed.

They were able to work from home without any interruption, because just ahead of the relocation the Commission had completed a lift and shift of most applications to the cloud – the one of the first agencies in the State to successfully transition to Microsoft Azure.

The South Australian Tourism Commission’s (SATC) journey to the cloud first started in 2016 when it worked with Microsoft partner Satalyst to deploy its Tracker solution for the Tour Down Under cycling race. Satalyst Tracker took information from a smartphone mounted on a bike, transmitted it to Microsoft Azure and then made that available for analysis and broadcast.

A year later Satalyst developed another Azure based solution for SATC, this time to streamline the collection of jerseys by riders taking part on the 2017 BUPA Challenge tour. Instead of waiting up to an hour for the right jersey, riders got them in 10 minutes.

So, when SATC decided it was relocating to premises which wouldn’t have space for an on-premise data centre, cloud computing had already earned its stripes. After testing the market, SATC worked with Satalyst to deploy Azure and begin a wholesale migration to the cloud.

ICT manager, Michelle Stokes and ICT Operations Officer, Sam Mountstephen, outline the transformation journey they have begun.

SM: We had six months to decide what to do and run a comparison between buying new hardware – our infrastructure was about six years old – and compare that to migrating to a completely virtual infrastructure.

We contacted our vendors – Dell, Satalyst and NEC and gave them the opportunity to show what it would look like with physical hardware or to migrate to the cloud. It was quite an involved process.

The ‘aha’ moment was when we worked with Satalyst and found we can migrate to Azure and it will work.

Besides the office relocation were there any other drivers for the transformation?

MS: You can’t work if you can’t access IT and in the past we have had interruptions when servers are down. .

When there’s a problem you hear about it; when there’s not you don’t. The only feedback we have had so far is that it’s great. If the end user sees and feels no difference with the quality of connection, and can continue to work, that is proof in the pudding that we have done the right thing.

How did you go about the process of transitioning to Azure?

SM: Prior to moving we had two physical hosts with about 16 or 17 virtual machines. We had to do quite a bit of work to get to 12 VMs and virtualise SQL, SharePoint, Dynamics CRM, Applications Server, Microsoft Systems Server and Config Manager.

We already had some experience with Azure as our digital marketing team uses Azure already for Sitecore to manage our public and private web sites, and there are the applications developed by Satalyst for the cycle tours. We’re also doing more with Office 365.

MS: We have a good relationship with the Microsoft team in South Australia. If we do have an issue we’re able to reach out to them, not just Satalyst – and we have monthly and quarterly catch ups. This is a long-term investment and we also feel a bit more comfortable using something that people around the world are comfortable with.

SM: We were able to do migration with no downtime, no data loss. We had one day where we shut down everything at head office – but people who were remote could still work as though nothing had happened. It meant we could continue the business even though there was no infrastructure in our physical premises.

What is the transition to Azure allowing you to do that was challenging beforehand?

MS: Well, we don’t have any room in our new server room – we literally have a small box – so we were restricted. But cloud also helps future proof ourselves, and reduces risk – especially around business continuity.

SM: Comparing the cloud with physical hardware there was a big tick for how much risk we can mitigate by moving to the cloud rather than relying on physical hardware that can just go pop. Risk is way more mitigated in the Azure data centre rather than our own little data centre.

Also in the future we want to do more with Office 365 and see Azure as the gateway to SharePoint and Dynamics 365. This is the first step in the journey.

Has there been an economic benefit from the cloud?

SM: Cost is comparable from an ongoing point of view – but the benefits and risk mitigation are better far and away. We are getting more value compared to previous environment.

Azure is always delivering new VM types, new storage tiers that we can take advantage of instantly – we can just migrate data to faster disk. There are all those intangible things that come from moving to cloud where we will take advantage.

MS: We can also consolidate a lot of systems. We have lots of events – it was confusing when you had to have six different systems. Now with this environment we can start building platforms using Power Apps and so on. It’s just the start of more to come

What are the big learnings from the transformation?

MS: When we first started thinking about this it was overwhelming. You have to trust in the vendor to support you on the journey. And have a strong business case so the executive team is comfortable – that’s the number one piece to the puzzle. Then invest time in staff and proper training so that everyone is on board and can see the future benefits.

What’s next?

SM; Dynamics 365 is the next one we’ll tackle. We use CRM and would like to migrate to Dynamics 365 to take benefit of internet-facing updated portals. Then migrating SharePoint to Azure.

We’re also hoping we can use artificial intelligence for image and video recognition across our marketing content imagery for smart searching and video tagging.

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