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Softcat Improves Its Business Agility with the F5 Application Delivery Platform

Softcat a leading reseller in the UK, also provides managed IT services. Flexibility and scalability are of paramount importance for the company to adapt and expand its IT infrastructure instantly to respond to changing customer and market needs. Softcat relies on F5 Application Delivery Controllers for this critical business agility.

Business Challenges

 

One of the leading resellers in the UK, Softcat delivers IT solutions for more than 5,000 customers. In 2010, the company started to offer a range of managed IT services using a purpose-built IT infrastructure at two separate data centres. These services were an instant success, and ever since, Softcat has been developing its infrastructure to grow and enhance the quality of its services.

As part of this process of continuous improvement, Softcat decided to strengthen the load balancing capabilities within its data centres. It shortlisted a number of potential solutions from vendors, including F5 and Citrix, and called upon its IT partner COMPUTERLINKS to help it evaluate them.

Two criteria drove the selection process: flexibility and scalability. Nick Barron, Pre Sales Manager at Softcat explains why. “Our customers use our IT infrastructure for anything and everything,” he says. “We don’t always know exactly how existing and new customers will be using our infrastructure in the future, so when we buy new products, we have to make sure that they offer a degree of flexibility to adapt to new requirements, as well as scalability to respond to business growth.”

“When we attract more customers or our existing customers want to do new things, we can now adapt our resources and grow our IT infrastructure very quickly.” Nick Barron, Pre Sales Manager, Softcat

Solution

 

With COMPUTERLINKS’ support, Softcat selected four F5 VIPRION units, each running F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM), and two BIG-IP 1600 units, both running BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager (GTM). It deployed these solutions across both its data centres, creating a single, integrated platform for application delivery and control.

Softcat’s selection of F5 was influenced by the fact that F5 solutions are compatible with VMware technology. It was therefore very straightforward to integrate the F5 platform into the company’s existing virtualised IT environment.

Another factor that influenced Softcat’s decision was ease of management. The company found that F5 Application Delivery Controllers were very straightforward to administer and maintain on a day-to-day basis. “The ability to manage network products is as important as the products themselves,” Barron observes.

COMPUTERLINKS assisted Softcat with the installation and configuration of the F5 platform and delivered training for the company’s in-house IT team. The comprehensive and professional support provided helped to ensure the success of the implementation project.

Currently, the F5 platform supports a total of 60 physical blade servers across the company’s two data centres. These blades are subdivided into around 3,000 virtual servers and they, in turn, deliver a wide range of email, web, remote desktop, and enterprise application services for more than 75 customers. Softcat estimates that as many as 100,000 users regularly use IT applications hosted on this IT infrastructure.

Benefits

 

The F5 application delivery platform has helped Softcat to improve the reliability and performance of its IT infrastructure and therefore deliver a higher quality of service for its customers. “The availability of our managed services for customers has improved through the use of F5,” Barron says.

This improvement in application availability benefits not only Softcat’s customers, but also Softcat itself. The company uses it’s managed services IT infrastructure to support its own Microsoft Exchange email system, and there has been a significant improvement in the reliability of this critical business application. “Our business relies heavily on email for customer and supplier communications,” notes Barron. “Since the F5 platform has gone live, email downtime has been reduced by around 30 percent.”

Most importantly, the F5 platform gives Softcat all the flexibility and scalability it needs to adapt and grow its business in the future. No matter what new business opportunities or challenges arise, the company has the necessary agility to respond. “When we attract more customers or our existing customers want to do new things, we can now adapt our resources and grow our IT infrastructure very quickly,” says Barron.

Softcat can easily reconfigure its network operations using the F5 iRules programming language. “The IT environment that we have now is probably not what it will be in 12 or 18 months,” says Barron. “iRules enables us to bend and refocus our F5 platform over time, and this flexibility is critical for our business.”

The modular nature of the F5 VIPRION solution makes it very easy for Softcat to ramp up its services in the future. At present, each VIPRION unit installed has just one blade in it. Over time, the company can add up to three additional blades into each unit to quickly increase network capacity, without having to make costly and disruptive network changes.

The F5 platform also offloads processor-intensive tasks from Softcat’s servers, freeing up capacity. Consequently, the company can now support additional customers on its existing infrastructure. It is able to defer capital expenditure on new server blades and grow its business more cost effectively.

Finally, Softcat believes that its use of market-leading products gives its managed services proposition added credibility. “F5 has a good reputation in the industry and that is really important for us,” explains Barron. “Having F5 in our network helps us to demonstrate the quality of our IT infrastructure to prospective new customers.”