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Aiding Compliance and Saving Costs through Virtualisation

Network Housing Group (NHG) provides an essential service to communities across London and the South-East by working with 33 local authorities to provide a range of housing and support services delivered through its locally-based Housing Associations.


Date: 26 Sep 2011

The organisation places an emphasis on supporting and investing in communities, and developing thriving neighbourhoods from a group structure. It does this by combining the financial and managerial advantages of a strong group with the principles of local decision making and local services.

The group was established in 1974, and from its headquarters close to Wembley Stadium, it provides corporate services and support to all members of the Group. In recent years it has grown to include six Housing Associations under the group umbrella, managing 17,000 properties for 50,000 residents. With 500 staff across 6 major and 55 minor sites, technology is pivotal to day–to-day operations and management of this large enterprise-scale organisation.

As a Not-for-Profit organisation, NHG has a number of key considerations that it must combine in order to fulfil the organisation’s public service charter. With around 70% of its funding coming from public sources the Group must fulfil the appropriate compliance and regulation requirements. The IT function is pivotal in ensuring it adheres to legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act.

Value from public funds
Working closely with the IS Director and the Head of Systems Development, Patrick Dawson is Head of IS Operations and shoulders much of the day-to-day responsibility for the smooth running of technology across the organisation. One critical piece of compliance legislation that NHG must observe originates in Brussels.

“NHG’s IT purchasing process must follow the tendering process set out in the EU (European Union) Procurement Directives,” says Patrick Dawson. “As we operate to serve society, we are open to scrutiny and the process must be transparent. We evaluate potential suppliers on the basis of three criteria. These are cost, quality of service and knowledge of NHG’s environment and alignment with what we are trying to achieve.”

“The legislation is about opening up the market and determining value to our organisation. So we purchase commoditised box products and software licences from specialists in volume product sales. Similarly, we take advice and support on higher-end storage and server solutions from Atlanta Technology because we have determined that it offers the best value point against our selection criteria.”

Support and advice
“I manage a team of 10 supporting IT operations across the group. It’s a mixture of skills - help desk, engineers, trainers and a technical architecture specialist. We have 3rd line support capability within the team. But we need to have a clear route to quickly escalate and resolve issues that cannot be fixed internally. We chose Atlanta to provide this service across a number of critical server side services,” says Dawson. Around 10 services are specified including VMware, Exchange Server, the SAN and the back-up solution.

“We have completed a migration to Commvault to handle the data back-up. We replicate 10TB of data on the SAN to our DR site, but to provide further safeguards we run to LTO tape as well. We elected to use Atlanta to help with this because it involved integration with VMware. This involved advanced scripting to co-ordinate the operation of Commvault with the SAN and the virtual machines. Internally the team do not possess this experience.”

“As Atlanta supports a number of other customer sites, their engineers have more ‘combat experience’ - they are exposed to problems regularly, far more frequently than our own team. This means that they are more experienced at server-side trouble-shooting or may even have solved the issue in question elsewhere before. We attach real value to Atlanta being able to help us resolve issues quickly,” says Dawson.

“On major infrastructure projects such as the SAN (Storage Area Network) and the VMware virtual server deployment, we made decisions in-house with the input of Atlanta. Where the performance of the SAN is going to have a critical effect on the performance of your virtual servers, and in turn impact your users, you need to take advice from experts.”

“The clear advantage of using Atlanta is that they run their own business on the same virtual server and SAN solutions that they supply and support. There can be very few things that are as compelling when you are evaluating the expertise, likely performance and value of a service provider.”


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