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Waterschap Vallei Veluwe operates cost efficiently with secure, reliable remote access

The Dutch water board Waterschap Vallei Veluwe depends on F5’s application delivery platform to deliver remote access capabilities that are fast, reliable and secure.  This business-critical system is used by up to 100% of employees and plays a pivotal role in helping the organisation to operate cost efficiently.

Business Challenges

 

Waterschap Vallei Veluwe promotes itself as an innovative company.  One of 25 water boards in The Netherlands, it is responsible for the safety of watercourses, the quality of surface water and the treatment of waste water.  It serves a population of over a million people and is justly proud of its innovations in areas such as hydroelectricity, sustainable water purification, environment-friendly phosphate recovery and biological water treatment.

This passion for innovation permeates the whole organisation and is as evident in the IT department as it is elsewhere.  The IT team is constantly enhancing and extending facilities for the company’s 600 employees, helping them to become more efficient in their job roles.

Ten years ago, the IT department introduced a secure remote access system, based on F5 technology.  Although not unique, this development was nonetheless ground-breaking for the organisation.  It gave employees remote access to key business applications for the first time and enabled them to start to work more flexibly and productively.  From this point onwards, remote access quickly evolved into a vital business system, used right across the organisation by everyone from administrators to specialist water engineers and senior managers.

While there were no performance issues or other concerns with the original remote access system, Waterschap Vallei Veluwe decided to upgrade it, in recognition of its significance to the business.  Specifically, the company aimed to increase the system’s capacity, to enable it to support more concurrent users, and improve its resilience, by installing more robust back-up and disaster recovery mechanisms.

“We don’t get many support calls from our employees; they are very satisfied.” Simon van Es, System Engineer Waterschap Vallei Veluwe

Solution

 

After considering other products available on the market at the time, the organisation decided to remain loyal to F5.  “We had always been very satisfied with F5,” says Simon van Es, system engineer at Waterschap Vallei Veluwe.  “Our previous F5 product had been very reliable.”

With support from its local IT partner, ION-IP, Waterschap Vallei Veluwe implemented two of F5’s BIG-IP 1600 units, both loaded with F5’s BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) and BIG-IP Application Policy Manager (APM) application modules.  It installed the two products at two separate data centres in an active-passive configuration.

During the implementation phase, ION-IP and Waterschap Vallei Veluwe customised the BIG-IP platform using F5’s iRules programming language.  The IT team created an automated function for backing-up the organisation’s F5 configuration daily and found iRules very straight-forward to use.

Waterschap Vallei Veluwe used F5’s APM module to facilitate a single sign-on facility for employees, together with two-factor authentication.  Employees now receive a one-off pass code (‘token’) via text on their mobile phones, which they enter into the remote access log-in screen with their user name and password.  Once successfully connected, they do not have to enter passwords for every separate application they use, which saves them time.

“F5 is a very stable platform. When employees work at home, their applications are as fast as if they are working in the office.” Simon van Es, System Engineer Waterschap Vallei Veluwe

Benefits

 

By upgrading its F5 platform, Waterschap Vallei Veluwe has strengthened its remote access capabilities.  This vital business system is now more resilient and scalable, delivering the high standard of reliability that the company depends upon to operate cost efficiently.

Reliable remote access

The transition from a single F5 device to an F5 platform comprising two devices in active-passive configuration gives Waterschap Vallei Veluwe greater peace of mind.  The company knows that in the unlikely event of an incident at one of its data centres, the redundant F5 product in the alternate location will now spring into action to give employees a seamless service.  Thanks to its iRules program, the company’s F5 configuration is safely backed up too, further improving the resilience of the company’s remote access system.

In the two years since the company’s new F5 products went live, employees at Waterschap Vallei Veluwe have enjoyed 99.9% availability and consistently fast application performance.  “F5 is a very stable platform,” says van Es.  “When employees work at home, their applications are as fast as if they are working in the office.”

Cost efficient working

Waterschap Vallei Veluwe’s remote access system supports the organisation’s ethos of innovation, by facilitating flexible working. This progressive company now allows up to 100% of its employees to work remotely, some or all of the time, which is not only convenient for employees but also reduces office costs.  “In the future, we will be able to expand and take on more staff, without having to invest in larger office premises,” suggests van Es.

In addition, the remote access system reduces overtime and travel expenses for the company.  If there is an emergency at a sewerage treatment works in the middle of the night, for example, an engineer can switch off systems and valves remotely, from home, to resolve the problem promptly.  Without this remote capability, the engineer would have to drive to the treatment works – an undertaking that would be both inconvenient and costly in comparison.

Robust application security

Whereas Waterschap Vallei Veluwe’s previous F5 device was reaching the upper limit of its capacity, the organisation’s new F5 platform gives it plenty of scope to expand.  Indeed, the platform can support up to 1,000 concurrent users.  “This product will meet our needs for three or more years,” van Es estimates.

Employees use F5’s BIG-IP platform as the gateway to an ever-growing number of business applications, around 90% of which are hosted on the company’s VMware platform, with the remainder being web-based applications.  “We don’t get many support calls from our employees,” says van Es in conclusion.  “They are very satisfied.”