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Paul Smith’s IT Systems Evolve as Quickly as its Clothing

Clothing designer’s embrace of hybrid cloud reduces costs and enhances system reliability

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Paul Smith, a Nottingham, England clothing designer, constantly improves not only its clothing but also its IT solutions. “The role of IT at Paul Smith is foundational, yet transparent. It is behind everything that happens in our retail stores and everything we do to protect the integrity of our brand,” says Lee Bingham, Head of IT at Paul Smith.

Given the dynamic nature of the fashion world, IT’s emphasis has rapidly shifted from virtualization to private cloud to hybrid cloud. The upgrades have improved response time, decreased IT spending, and boosted system availability. 

Paul Smith has 1,200 employees, 14 collections, and operations in 66 countries. The firm’s 15-person IT staff started to move to virtualization with Microsoft’s Hyper-V in April 2008. Currently, 80 percent of all its Windows Server 2012 servers are virtualized, and the upgraded systems support private cloud functions, which offered many benefits.

Microsoft System Center 2012 automates the management of the virtual and the physical environments. The solution supports automation, thereby reducing the maintenance time (and costs) required of the data center personnel. If the company needs to deploy a security update or tweak settings on a host server, the company can failover all the virtual machines running on that host instantly. Before, this process took 30 minutes per server.

A new version of Hyper-V increased the density and performance of the virtual machines. Prior to deploying Windows Server 2012, each Hyper-V server hosted 28 virtual machines. That number increased by almost 200%, to 83 virtual machines per host server. Paul Smith now uses Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 to support up to 64 virtual processors and 1 terabyte of memory for each virtual machine.

By increasing the density and computing power of the virtual machines, Paul Smith reduced its hardware acquisition and maintenance costs. The firm took 40 physical servers off their maintenance contracts and saved £840,000 ($1.4 million) in reduced hardware, maintenance, and power costs.

Business continuity and disaster recovery (DR) planning and testing were another long-standing issue. The company conducted one planned DR drill a year. The test itself required weeks of planning and took six people an entire day to complete. Coupling System Center 2012 R2 and Microsoft Azure enabled the clothing supplier to deploy a hybrid cloud.  Microsoft Azure Site Recovery features a cloud-based administration console where DR plans for specific applications are orchestrated. After Paul Smith IT staffers assign applications a priority level according to their business requirements, Azure Site Recovery invokes automated DR plans that replicate and recover each application at a secondary data center. The process is simpler to plan and execute.

Paul Smith also takes advantage of Microsoft cloud services for its business productivity platform. Approximately 500 employees in office and retail environments use Microsoft Office 365, which provides a single, managed, and highly secure platform to access line-of-business systems and services direct from the retail shop floor. Previously, employees could only work with PCs in sequestered back offices.

Through the years, the clothing supplier’s IT systems have changed, but one constant has remained: a reliance on Microsoft solutions. “Paul Smith’s business rests on Microsoft technologies because they deliver great value,” says Bingham.

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