Best of VMworld 2017 Europe User Awards: The winners

The winners of the Best of VMworld 2017 Europe User Awards have been announced at VMware’s annual European user conference in Barcelona, with the top prize going to Wirral-based Claire House Children’s Hospice.

The awards, organised by Computer Weekly and SearchServerVirtualization.com, are held each year to highlight some of the continent’s most innovative cloud-, mobility- and virtualisation-related IT projects.

As is the case every year, the entries were judged by a panel of independent cloud and datacentre experts, who chose the winners based on the business benefits, levels of innovation and best practice their projects demonstrated.

This led to 15 projects making this year’s shortlist across three categories: Best Cloud Project, Best Desktop Virtualisation or Mobility project, and Best Data Security and Data Protection Project.

Such was the high quality of this year’s entries, the judges have opted to name both a winner and a highly-commended nominee in each of the three categories.

All of the celebrated projects will receive a certificate, while the winners will also have their projects profiled in-depth by Computer Weekly in the weeks that follow.  

Best Desktop Virtualisation and Mobility Project and Best of Show: Claire House Children’s Hospice

Highly commended: Airbus

Claire House Children’s Hospice is a healthcare provider focused on providing support for seriously ill kids suffering from life-limiting conditions.

Spurred on by a push to help even more families across the North West of England, the ICT team embarked upon a major overhaul of the organisation’s IT and telecommunications infrastructure to extend the reach of its service provision through digital transformation.

Through the introduction of remote desktop, video conferencing, productivity and collaboration tools (including Office 365 and Sharepoint), has eradicated the need for the children and families it helps to travel long distances to access the care services it provides.

“Through technology, we will enable our teams to bring our services to their homes, wherever possible,” the organisation said, in its award entry, by making it possible for its staff to access the resources they need to do their jobs from any location.

“We have worked with partners such as Cisco Meraki, Dell, Microsoft, Nviron, Unify and others to build the best solution possible for telecommunication and IT deliverables,” with Shop Direct also providing sponsorship support for the project.

“Not all families want to come to the hospice, so our team goes out to visit them in their homes and we put on regular trips for brothers and sisters to ensure they don’t miss out on having fun,” the entry said. “Whether they are spent at home or in the hospice, we ensure a child’s final days are memorable and special.”

Adopting a shared infrastructure approach

Overall, the organisation has adopted a shared infrastructure approach across several of the sites it operates from to deliver on its vision, which – the ICT team says – will provide the backbone for all future IT provision, while providing it with better disaster recovery capabilities than before.

“If one site [goes] down our staff can still access our IT service from any location with an internet connection, ensuring our client services are maintained and our families do not suffer as a result,” the entry continued.

“The end result will mean the support services we currently offer will have greater reach to all the children, young people and their families of the North West region.

“It will reduce the burden of travel and allow access to our shared resources from our Bebington and Liverpool sites, irrespective of geography or ability to travel,” the organisation said. “The infrastructure also positions Claire House so that it will be equipped to cope with the changing demands of its users well into the future.”

“As the organisation grows, so will the demand and scope of our digital services. This infrastructure will be designed to easily meet these organisational needs for the coming years,” it added. “With a mixture of onsite and cloud provision we aim to attain the perfect mix of security, ownership, and accessibility.”

Best Data Security and Data Protection Project: Gleadell Agriculture (nominated by Zerto)

Highly commended: Intesa Sanpaolo

After realising its existing backup system was putting the company at risk of suffering a data loss incident that it would struggle to recover from, commodity trading firm Gleadell Agriculture knew it had to take urgent action to ramp up the resiliency of its IT systems.

The company, established in 1880, is an independent trader of grains, oilseeds and pulses to markets, and is reportedly responsible for purchasing 2.5 million tonnes of produce from UK farmers each year.

The trading floor is, therefore, where the bulk of the company’s business gets done, with its trading applications and transactional data considered by the company to be the lifeblood of its operations.

“Changes to data happen every minute, making it one of the business’s most valuable resources, and without round-the-clock availability there would be a tangible impact on revenue,” the company said in its VMworld Awards entry.

With 140 employees working across five sites, internet connectivity has emerged as a source of service interruption for the company in the past, and prompted the firm to reconsider how it safeguards the data it relies on each  day.

Introducing a block-level system

Gleadell enlisted the help of its IT partner Think S3 who decided the Zerto Virtual Replication (ZVR) would be the best fit for its business requirements, with the setup able to cut its recovery point objective time down from 14 minutes to 14 seconds by swapping its old snapshot-based replication technology for a block-level system instead.

“For business confidence, our business continuity infrastructure and the integrity of replicated data is the one thing we check above all else, everyday. After all, backups are useless until you test them and prove they’re not,” said Tristan Hargreaves, IT infrastructure and support manager at Gleadell.

“Over the years, I’ve seen so many problems caused by snapshots. Having a solution that doesn’t use them means I can go to bed without worrying about whether things will still be there in the morning.” 

The adoption of Zerto also coincides with the adoption of a cloud-first strategy at Gleadell, with the company in the throes of building a bespoke ERP and CRM systems to run in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

“When this goes live, the remaining production applications will also move into Azure,  with their availability during migration protected with ZVR,” the entry added.

Best Cloud Project: The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (ICSA)

Highly commended: Synlab UK (nominated by Ancoris)

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was established in March 2015 to investigate if more could have been done to protect children from institutionalised abuse over the years, and to establish how best to protect other young people from similar experiences in future.

The inquiry is the largest of its kind in the world, and its ultimate aim is to determine whether public bodies and other non-state institutions in England and Wales have done all they can to protect children from sexual abuse.

This will see a wide range of organisations, including local authorities, public broadcasters, the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as hospitals, schools, and religious organisations across the UK subjected to its scrutiny.

As such, the inquiry is responsible for managing and sourcing the testimonies of thousands of child abuse victims and survivors through a part of the inquiry dubbed the Truth Project, which invites individuals to confidentially contact the inquiry.

The IT portion of the project is being overseen by Chris Price, who submitted the nomination, and is resolutely cloud-first in its focus because of the efficiency and collaborative benefits using off-premise technologies can provide, he said.

Collaboration is an important part of the project, as the IICSA needs to constantly and confidentially liaise with partners, victim and survivor groups, charities, various legal teams and those supporting the investigative part of its work.

To avoid any criticism of “undue influence”, as he terms it, his technology strategy for the inquiry was drawn up to ensure total separation from any incumbent Home Office systems.

The end result was a “customer-centric roadmap” that made use of cloud-based, “core building blocks”, which include a secure productivity suite, and systems to help make the process of evidence recording and management easier.

“With digital technology now established as a board-level priority, and with a greenfield site not requiring legacy application integration, I focused on implementing a simple, consolidating IT infrastructure, and investments in cyber security, data and analytics, and emerging technologies,” said Price.

With the technology side of the project now in order, the organisation is now on course to deliver an interim report, charting its progress to-date, before a final summary of its work is submitted to Parliament in 2020.

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