British fashion house Paul Smith has claimed to have saved more than £840,000 in IT costs in one year after launching a hybrid cloud solution using a combination of Windows Server, Hyper-V and Microsoft System Center.
The Paul Smith chain includes shops in London, Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo.
Its global IT infrastructure is managed by 15 people in its Nottingham head office. The centralised IT model works on a multi-tier structure, with three Tier 1 data centres; two in Nottingham and one in London. Tier 2 sites are branch offices based in other cities outside of the UK, and the company's 35 retail stores form Tier 3.
With the firm opening three new stores a year on average, the demand for IT services from the business growing and the different fashion seasons affecting that demand, the business was struggling to keep up.
"We have to keep up with fluctuating demands for IT services depending on the time of year and profile of users," says Lee Bingham, head of IT at Paul Smith.
"Our goal is to manage costs and improve service delivery, but we are challenged by an IT budget that doesn't keep up with expectations from the business."
To address this, the firm wanted to reduce server and data centre costs, provide global services from a central location, simplify data centre administration and automate manual tasks such as the provision of test and development environments. The retailer was also looking for alternative methods to accommodate fluctuating demands for compute and storage requirements, rather than just adding more servers to its infrastructure.
Paul Smith also wanted to improve its business continuity and disaster recovery planning processes. Testing its service was a lengthy process, and there was always a possibility of service outages.
"We could fail over the entire data centre between our Tier 1 sites, but the process wasn't granular enough to give us the ability to define automated processes for individual applications," says Bingham. "We wanted to classify our applications according to their relative importance to the business, and design our failover plans accordingly".
In an attempt to achieve these targets, Paul Smith partnered with Microsoft. In 2008 it began using the Windows Server 2008 operating system, and it continues to work with Risual, a Microsoft partner to build its IT infrastructure.
Bingham states that Microsoft offers the retailer "an interoperable suite of foundational server and data centre technologies that we trust".
"Microsoft products are interoperable and they are always developing. We have done very well aligning our IT strategies along with their evolution," he adds.
Paul Smith eventually upgraded to the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system and Hyper-V virtualisation technology. It used Windows Server 2012 to build private clouds and deployed Microsoft System Centre 2012 to manage them.
Bingham believes that private clouds mean that IT staff can enable a more "responsive, on-demand allocation of pooled IT resources" such as applications, networks, servers, storage and services.
"We can be more agile in responding to increasingly sophisticated end-user requirements through self-service capabilities and automation, delivering IT services in a dynamic, proactive way that aligns with business needs," he argued.
The retailer worked with Risual to introduce global disaster recovery capabilities using Windows Server 2012, and will use the orchestrator and service manager components of System Centre 2012 to introduce a self-service portal for IT services.
This spring, Paul Smith will be deploying Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 at its Tier 1 data centres in the UK. It will use the products to introduce hybrid cloud computing to the business.
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