Case study: Global IT architecture at Knight Frank

09 Jun 2009 View Comments
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Owen Williams
Williams: On-premises software needed tinkering

Owen Williams, head of IT at global property consultant Knight Frank, is charged with delivering an IT infrastructure capable of meeting the IT requirements of 196 offices, in 38 countries across the globe. Understandably, flexibility and ease of management rank high on his priority list.

“I look at the IT architecture in the context of Knight Frank being a federated global organisation. Some parts of the organisation are reasonably self-sufficient in terms of the services they consume. Others take services comprehensively,” he says.

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To meet such diverse needs, Williams needed to find a repeatable method of delivering IT services to users wherever they were in the world. He saw such an opportunity in cloud computing.

“We have built a global virtual private network (VPN) over the public internet that connects all our offices so there is the opportunity for offices to take common services, lightly or thoroughly, from our own cloud, via our intranet,” says Williams.

“The attraction of cloud computing is that irrespective of internal architecture, it is possible to subscribe to services. This means there is no need for extra investment in any other architecture.”

Williams says the strategy has the benefit of not requiring high IT spending during the current economic downturn.

“The architectural approach we have taken means we have services in the pipeline we can deliver that do not demand a huge technological investment, so we can continue to meet business goals,” says Williams.

With a variety of IT architectures in various offices, Williams says the ease of consuming cloud computing applications is an advantage.

The company relies on security-as-a-service vendor ScanSafe for web security for its UK offices and elsewhere, since ditching its on-premises security system. This reduces the management overhead significantly, says Williams.

“It gives us more choice over how we use what resources we have. With the on-premises solution we were spending a lot of time tinkering with it to get it to work,” he says.

Knight Frank also connects to cloud-based services from Mimecast for email management, which requires no hardware or software set-up, and it integrates easily with the company’s Microsoft Exchange system with Outlook plug-ins.

“We have moved to standardisation on Exchange. From a disaster recovery position, by connecting our email server to the Mimecast service, we can continue to give employees access to email during an email server outage and do not have to rely on our own architecture,” says Williams.

While some services can be delivered via the cloud, Knight Frank will necessarily retain some IT infrastructure. Here Williams’ goal is standardisation.

“We want to achieve as much standardisation and de-duplication of record keeping as we can,” he says. “We will deliver more services through our global intranet and into our cloud. The more standardisation you have, the easier it becomes to share information.

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