27 Feb Agricover moves IT infrastructure into Azure. Security and flexibility reach an optimal level
Romania, the granary of interwar Europe, needs an agriculture capable to make the transition from extensive to intelligent. Companies such as Agricover have an important role to play by delivering innovative products and services to both farmers and processors. To succeed in this action, Agricover continued the process of technological upgrading, putting the power of the Cloud Azure platform at the heart of the whole business.
Established 15 years ago, Agricover is the most important Romanian-owned company providing solutions for agriculture. The Group carries out two major lines of activity through the Agri-Business division (agricultural inputs, grain trade, etc.) and the Agri-Finance Division (Agricultural Financing Services). As a presence on the market, the Agricover Group employs over 850 people and works with more than 4,500 farmer customers nationwide.
For the efficient management of the entire business, Agricover uses a complex and performance IT infrastructure based on business solutions such as SAP ERP and Charisma, with an intensively virtualized enterprise hardware component. Agricover’s INF (Agri-Finance) division owned its own application for leasing management as well as its own IT infrastructure. “The Agricover Group has never neglected investments in technology, because technology is one of the essential conditions for achieving a high degree of efficiency. Within the Agri-Finance Division, IT systems are enterprise-class, both as applications and as hardware. We use ERP, CRM, Document Management and Business Analytics top solutions, as well as highly virtualized high end servers, “says Ionut Savu, IT Manager Agricover.
Cloud migration, the optimal solution
In 2015, Agricover decided for Agri-Finance to migrate its entire IT infrastructure into the Microsoft cloud. The project originated in financial services market regulations that require a high level of security and availability for IT infrastructure. “Financial sector-specific regulations are firm, with extremely high security and availability requirements. At the level of technology, there is a need for an operational continuity plan, inert gas fire extinguishing systems in data rooms, etc. These are very high standards, and compliance with these rules involves massive investments,” Ionut Savu said.
Additionally, the company pursued to achieve greater flexibility in allocating IT resources to overcome load peaks, and to ensure operational continuity. From an operational point of view, the existing IT infrastructure provided a good level of availability, but did not have the resources to overcome some peaks. “Every business day closes, business colleagues carry out complex calculations on interest rates, loans – operations that require high computing power,” says Ionut Savu. “We did not have a solution to overcome these peaks, and a hardware investment is not justified by underutiling the equipment for the rest of the time.”
Even if he had a data center, Agricover concluded that the investment needed to meet security requirements and achieve the desired level of performance and resilience was not economically justified in the case of an on-premises infrastructure. Thus, the company searched for alternative solutions, and the most suitable option was cloud migration.
In a first phase, the Agricover IT team reviewed the offers of several suppliers, both local and international. Based on a score that took into account technical capability, the Service Level Agreement SLA and the financial proposals, Agricover chose Microsoft Azure through its Crescendo International partner. “We have looked at the market and offers of many players, and Azure has convinced us the most. The decision was motivated by Microsoft’s cloud investments and the use of many other Microsoft products in the company. However, Crescendo’s very competitive offer for the requested service package was equally important, ” Ionut Savu said.
Agricover did not only want a simple migration process, but also an expansion of the IT environment with new business solutions, and Crescendo had the ability to provide all the necessary support. The project involves both moving IT infrastructure into Microsoft Azure and streamlining workflows and deploying an integrated CRM with SharePoint and Charisma Leasing. The goal was to develop a platform to help customers get a quick and easy credit.
“Agricover has a complex and performance IT infrastructure, and the project was an ambitious one, which also required our creativity and technical abilities. We appreciated the customer’s cloud openness and innovative solutions,” said Dan Agache, Executive Director, CRESCENDO.
The migration project started in June 2015, after the Azure subscription and the creation of the virtual machines. At a later stage, the IT team has installed the Charisma test applications on these virtual machines and has run complex tests for several months: functionalities, user rights, back-up, etc. At the same time, the behavior of Internet connections was constantly checked to ensure a normal level of operation at the time of production, which took place in February 2016.
“Microsoft ensures, through SLA, an extremely high level of availability of Azure services. In this project, which generates rather high traffic, our fears were communicating. The Document Management Platform manages large files of 60-70 MB, as well as a large number of users (90), who in the cloud need a different approach to “on premise.” Therefore, we have focused much attention on this issue,“says Ionut Savu.
At the Crescendo proposal, the Agricover team opted for a provider that offered a direct connection between the Microsoft Data Center in Ireland and a local co-location center in Bucharest. In addition, a layer 3 network was developed between this data center and the Agricover group. “The tests carried out showed that things are working normally, and the latency is in a range of 60-100 milliseconds,” Ionut Savu said.
Agricover has acquired a stable and flexible IT environment by migrating to Microsoft Azure, ready to cope with any business challenges. Agricover’s IT system has achieved a high level of security and operational continuity, including during overloading, and users benefit from a new set of business applications. Thus, the Agricover Group reduced its downtime risks and the Agri-Business division helps its clients to obtain a simpler and faster agricultural loan.
Ensuring business continuity through Microsoft Azure’s internal back-up and recovery features. As a matter of fact, Agricover has transferred responsibility for ensuring the dissociation of the entire IT infrastructure to Microsoft and monitors this on the basis of SLA indicators, which provide for a 99.9% availability. From the IT perspective, acquiring the security requirements has become a simple process, and preparing the required documentation and demonstrating technical capabilities is much faster.
“We run annually 7-8 IT infrastructure evaluation processes, specific operations of an IFN (Financial Institution-Non-Banking Institution). This means the time spent preparing documents, tests, etc. After migration to Azure, things have been considerably simplified, because Microsoft offers all the necessary guarantees,“says Ionut Savu.
Flexibility and freedom in the allocation of IT resources to business projects. For the Agricover group’s Agri-Finance division, Azure migration has made it possible to adopt more rapid workflows. Based on the new applications implemented (CRM and Document Management) on cloud infrastructure, the Agri-Business division has shortened credit approval times from 48 to 24 hours. Currently, the IT department has the ability to activate and configure in just a few hours the infrastructure needed to run a new business solution or test new features.
Operational simplification and pressure reduction on IT department resources. The IT team of Agricover has six employees who manage a complete suite of business solutions and support 800 users. Therefore, automating routine tasks and increasing efficiency are key elements. “Previously, 30% of the IT team’s working time was allocated to Agri-Finance. After migrating to Azure, we eliminated much of the routine administration and monitoring tasks, and the allocated time was reduced to 10%. Including recordings in the internal ticketing application were considerably reduced. We have the resources to manage projects with a higher value for business and to increase the efficiency of users,” says Ionut Savu.
Maintaining a single point of contact across the IT infrastructure. Agricover has planned the entire project so that it has one contact point in Crescendo for IT infrastructure – computing, storage, communications and partial software. This makes the requests to suppliers more fluid and better response time.
As a perspective, based on the cloud’s confidence generated by this project, the Agricover Group is looking at 2017-2018 for the opportunity to migrate the entire group in cloud.
Solution: Microsoft Azure
Industry: Agribusiness / IFN
“Azure has brought us a high level of flexibility. We can overtake any peak load, and allocating IT resources for a new project takes place within hours. ”
“Azure migration has reduced the pressure on the IT Department. We eliminated 60% of the routine tasks related to infrastructure management, and now we can focus on activities that bring value to the company. ”
Ionut Savu, IT Manager Agricover