Making Cloud First a Reality

Atkins uses ThousandEyes to seamlessly
transition IT systems to the cloud.

About the Company

Atkins is a leading design, engineering
and project management firm, employing
over 18,000 people in 300 offices
across 29 countries.
Industry: Professional Services Headquarters: Epsom, UK Use Case: SaaS Monitoring
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A Cloud First Strategy

With a large presence in the US, Middle East, India, Hong Kong and Mainland China, Atkins is a truly global organization. To support global operations, Atkins is moving to a 'Cloud First' strategy, with a goal of moving all IT systems to the cloud.

One of Atkins' first steps was to adopt Microsoft Office 365 in Summer 2015, encompassing the online versions of Exchange, Office, Sharepoint, OneDrive and Skype for Business. As a design and engineering firm, collaboration and file sharing are the most important applications that flow across the Atkins network. The rollout started with Yammer, followed by Exchange Online and then the rest of the services by Fall 2016. All of these services are hosted in Microsoft data centers, enabling a central cloud-based location for the company to collaborate. Atkins connects to the Microsoft cloud to its worldwide offices over their own private MPLS cloud as well as VPN over the Internet.

"When there is a systemic issue that is not readily apparent, I look for
the ThousandEyes reports. It has a great ability to break a problem down
on a segment-by-segment basis."

Nick Bellenbaum
Director of Network Communications

Monitoring Office 365

As part of the 'cloud first' strategy, one critical component was understanding performance and user experience. As Nick Bellenbaum, Director of Network Communications at Atkins, asked, "now that we're going to go to a PaaS, how do we monitor this? How do we know it's working? How do we understand SLAs?" From the perspective of the operations team, "If there are complaints, we want to know objectively if they are user-specific or represent a broad problem with the network or application."

Atkins leverages ThousandEyes to monitor and understanding the Office 365 network dependencies and optimize performance. With Atkins' global MPLS cloud and Internet-based VPN, ThousandEyes can trace the network paths no matter how traffic is routed to cloud services. For Atkins, ThousandEyes provides "performance monitoring for Internet-based resources. While existing solutions showed what this would look like across our own network, they do not show the perspective from the end user or a view across the Internet."

Understanding User Experience

Although Office 365 provides up/down monitoring, "user experience is what we were more interested in." To understand user experience, the Atkins team started with Page Load Tests that track service availability and page load times. They further track experience with Web Transaction Tests for each Office 365 application. These transactions provide performance data on how Active Directory (ADFS), the Office 365 service and the network are functioning. The Atkins team can easily tell whether any one, or multiple, part of the service delivery chain is broken.

The Atkins team uses ThousandEyes data on a weekly basis, reviewing performance metrics and discussing aberrations using data from Scheduled Reports. In addition, the team troubleshoots specific issues using Web and Network Layer views in ThousandEyes to quickly locate a problem and its root cause.
ThousandEyes Network Path Visualization
Connectivity from selected global offices to Microsoft Sharepoint Online services.

Getting a Global View

Atkins collects user experience data from around the world with Enterprise Agent, software-based vantage points, in each office of strategic importance. Offices with large user populations or ones located in regions with persistent performance issues are prioritized. This includes their headquarters, data centers and offices in locations such as Australia. From these agents, Atkins can test numerous services, not limited to Office 365. Collecting data and creating tests were easy. The Atkins team worked with ThousandEyes to build out Web Transaction Tests over the course of a few weeks; data immediately started flowing in.

Solving Global Connectivity Issues

As the Office 365 rollout progressed, the Atkins team found that performance around the world was not as consistent as expected. They ran into lots of maintenance windows, Internet Service Provider issues and even performance degradation on their own WAN.

In one scenario, offices in the Middle East experienced a connectivity issue to Office 365. Nick explained that "with the Path Visualization we were able to find that our firewall was a bottleneck and causing issues. When there is a systemic issue that is not readily apparent, I look for the ThousandEyes reports. It has a great ability to break a problem down on a segment-by-segment basis."
ThousandEyes Network Jitter report chart
A report on the jitter of Skype for Business from a remote office.
As the Cloud First strategy continues, the Atkins team is planning to utilize their ThousandEyes investment to manage performance of Skype for Business and tie performance data into operational processes in ServiceNow. Putting an understanding of user experience at the center of Atkins' Cloud First strategy will continue to make the IT transition a reality.

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