Up until recently, Savile Row tailor Spencer Hart was a relatively small, single site business whose operations did not merit large-scale investment in IT, but the firm's ambition to build itself into a global brand forced a serious refocus on its core systems architecture and the employment of a dedicated IT manager to take responsibility for a root and branch upgrade project.
Prior to the revamp, the bespoke suit specialist's IT systems ran on nothing more sophisticated than internet-connected laptops, but the opening of additional stores in London, Manchester, Hong Kong and Japan, and an expansion of product lines from 1,000 to 8,000, called for the installation of server, storage and network resources able to handle increased processing requirements and larger data volumes.
"We have been at the luxury end of tailoring for some years and now we are branching out to build a global brand," said Spencer Hart chairman Gavin Barrett. "Whereas before we could live with bare bones technology in a regional business, now we have a complex distribution and supply chain and need sophisticated systems that can scale up when we open new stores. Anybody not doing business in Asia needs their head examined, but we will need our own datacentre infrastructure to support that."
Spencer Hart spent around £100,000 building what its IT manager says is effectively a private cloud, based in a co-location datacentre facility in Byfleet, Surrey. The new architecture consists of a combination of four HP ProLiant DL380 G7 servers each armed with half a terabyte of RAID 5 storage capacity, E2510 Gigabit Ethernet local area network (LAN) switches with fibre-optic wide area network (WAN) interfaces and Ultrium 920 SAS tape drives for backup.
Because the retailer cannot afford for its tills to go down during shop hours, resilience is everything: the datacentre is a level one, "military-grade" facility powered by a backup generator in case of a power outage, with HP partner LAN2LAN providing maintenance and support on equipment that comes with a three-year manufacturer warranty.
"The kit is as resilient as we can get it – RAID arrays, redundant network interface cards and power supply units," said Spencer Hart's IT manager, Guy Shelldrake. "We have not gone with clustering because there are so few users for the electronic point of presence (EPOS) tills themselves. We use SAP's Business One [ERP] application to manage the supply chain.
"We can expand storage with some form of storage area network (SAN) if we want to, but our data storage requirements are actually quite light," Shelldrake continued. "It is mostly data spread around laptops with SAP Business One deployed via Citrix XenApp Essentials. We need SAP to run on Macs and the easiest way is to do that with terminal services, so that users can continue using the Macs they are used to and concentrate on learning the application itself. We have an agent that picks up stock information and moves it to the web site and back again for billing and fulfilment, and middleware for task scheduling."
Though Spencer Hart expects its server and storage capacity to grow as the company expands, the relatively small number of shop floor staff accessing the company's systems means that Shelldrake can handle things on his own in the short term at least.
"We have an external consultant but otherwise it is just me - it is fairly extravagant to have a dedicated IT person for only five sites," he said. "The next step is [voice/data] convergence and voice over IP. We have the capacity to do that and the kit is already specified."