Sean Whetstone is well placed as head of IT services at Reed Specialist Recruitment, one of the UK\u2019s highest profile employment agencies.\nHe has a strong sense of responsibility for nurturing the next generation.\nOutside of work, devotes his time to being a school-governor and when we meet in his office, he shows me a Rasberry Pi cut-down PC he has been tinkering with.\nThe device has been developed to give school-kids the opportunity to play with computing and he is putting it through its paces, although I get a distinct impression that Whetstone got hold of the device also because he is fascinated by new technology.\nThe recruitment specialist he works for is also involved in helping many people into the next stage of their working lives and so Whetstone\u2019s sense of social responsibility has a natural home there.\nFounded in 1960 by Sir Alec Reed, the recruitment company is still a family-run business, with his son James now as chairman.\nThe company employs approximately 3,000 staff, over 17 countries in around 300 sites, Whetstone says.\nThe specialist recruitment arm was joined by Reed in Partnership, a business unit that works with the DWP\u2019s Welfare to Work programme, and Reed Learning, a training business unit.\nAlongside these bricks businesses, the company also runs Reed.co.uk, which Whetstone claims is Europe\u2019s largest job board. Officially, Reed claims 2.5 million job applications go through the site each month.\nAlthough it\u2019s a diverse range of businesses, Whetstone says they share a common theme. They are all data-intensive businesses, with a solid data processing requirement.\nHe joined in 1989 as a mainframe operator, when the business operated a centralised ICL IT architecture and Wyse dumb terminals.\n\u201cBy the early nineties, we had perhaps one PC in every office, because they were about \u00a33,500 a piece,\u201d says Whetstone, illustrating the company\u2019s commitment to dumb-terminal computing.\nThat didn\u2019t change until 1997 when the company invested in one PC for every desk. The company\u2019s flirtation with client-server computing was relatively short-lived and it returned to centralised computing, starting with an investment in Citrixdesktop virtualisation in 2005.\nWhetstone admits he is rooted in thin-client architectures, which is fortunate because it is again back in vogue amongst manay IT departments.\n\u201cLike a lot of things in IT, it came full circle,\u201d says Whetstone.\nSo, in 2005 we put in 5,500 Wyse terminals and VMware back end, centralised storage, HP blade centres and as much data as possible secured in the data centre.\u201d\nThe company processes a lot of personal data about prospective job seekers and it\u2019s understandable that it should have a keen sense of security.\nAny high-profile leaks would likely destroy the company\u2019s reputation with job-seekers, not to mention sour its relationship with the DWP. A leaning towards very centralised computing is a natural response to this.\nThe core of the company\u2019s IT, much as any other recruitment organisation, is a relational database that matches job-seekers\u2019 profiles with vacancies as they come up.\nThis is integrated with a workflow application that allocates bookings, as Whetstone refers to specific work matches, to Reed's staff.\n\u201cIt\u2019s the lifeblood of our business and then around that we have enablers like Microsoft Office. Email is another enabler,\u201d he says.\nThere are variations on the model. Reed In Partnership focuses on the journey members as they are called go through in redefining themselves as job-seekers.\nTheir progress is tracked so that they remain eligible for benefits. Hopefully that journey ends with them successfully finding a job.\nAgain in Reed Learning, the same model is adapted so that courses are matched with applicants. A scheduling and booking application is used to make sure that courses are filled to capacity\n\u201cEach of them have got their own requirements in what they need to progress the business. What we do is use the same infrastructure. Virtualisation is a layer that allows them the scale security and flexibility to pull down a particular application for their business, whether it\u2019s in-house or off the shelf.\u201d\nWhetstone believes the architecture he has set up, gives the niche businesses that make up the company the freedom to use the applications that most suit their needs, rather than adhere to a rigid procurement policy designed as a one-size-fits-all affair.\nThere is still a critical human element in the business, as recruitment agents use their skills and experience to secure the right applicant for a vacancy, but as an industry, recruitment has been quick to adopt new technologies as channels to market, primarily with the telephone and more recently through the internet and social media.\nAs the human element is so important and contact with the marketplace is critical, Whetstone likes the idea that Reed\u2019s workforce can work flexibly, not tied to a specific desk or office.\nHe cites the disruption last winter when a lot of the country was snow-bound but a third of Reed\u2019s workforce was able to log in and work from home. It\u2019s a good example of the contingency opportunities the virstualised architecture brings.\nDoubtless as the Olympic Games gets into full swing, some branches may have need to use those contingency functionalities.\nThis flexibility is mirrored by a simple supplier portfolio. Whetstone uses NetApp for storage over the company\u2019s three data centres.\n\nHP provides the tin, as he calls it, in particular blade servers. LAN infrastructure is provided by Cisco, with 10Gbps throughput. Azzurri provides the company\u2019s comms, through IP telephony, internet connectivity and Wide Area Networking.\nCitrix and VMWare provide applications delivery. Database muscle is provided by Oracle and Microsoft. Wyse provides end terminals.\nMost of these relationships date back at least as far as 2005 when the company started to centralise its data, Whetstone recalls.\nHis relationships with his suppliers are strong and Whetstone believes he is dealing with best of breed providers.\nAzzurri he singled out as a good illustration of the sort of service he likes from suppliers as a channel partner, because it has been able to provide access to different Vendors most suited to Whetstone\u2019s needs of the day.\n\u201cAzzurri [allows me] to pick the best of breed from their suppliers. So when I built my first network it was based on broadband services from Verizon. Now this time around, it\u2019s a whole different group of people.\u201d\nWhetstone has an IT team of just over 100 people and like the data, they too are now in a central location. He recalls how years ago, he spent most of his time in traffic jams travelling from one branch to another to fix IT issues.\nHe recalls how he used to get to know internal customers very well that way, but for him that doesn\u2019t offset the days lost in travelling to each location.\nNow he has a virtualised infrastructure, patches and software updates are performed centrally in the company\u2019s Raynes Park, London site, where all the IT team are now located.\nIt has reduced application deployments from weeks to a matter of seconds, he says.\n\u201cWithout a doubt, I\u2019ve got fewer people, more highly skilled, centralised, focused on providing a more efficient IT service,\u201d he says.\nWhetstone explained that all of his employees wear a number of hats and they are not restricted to a particular IT functionality. Team leaders may be heads of more than one ad-hoc team, made up of experts who are also in other teams.\n\u201cI don\u2019t want to have one storage person or one blade person,\u201d he says. \u201cThen you find that you have people backing each other up and you have this matrix of skills.\u201d\nWhetstone is more concerned that he has a sufficient skill-base, acquired through training, across the IT department rather than domain experts.\nThat way if one person is unavailable, others can step into the breach and the human element of IT provision has just as much resilience as the network.\nFor in-house development, Whetstone is a firm devotee of Agile and Scrum methodology. Waterfall developments have no place in the flexible world he has created at Reed.\n\u201cNo longer do we start a programme and only nine months later do find out if it works or not. We have to respond to business-critical issues," he says. "All for a better world I think.\u201d\nIt\u2019s a practical approach to aligning IT with the business that he extends to his supplier relationships. He refuses to accept SLAs defined in terms of technical performance. The key is usability not network availability. An application can be available but so slow as to be useless to the business.\n\u201cWe want an SLA that has a metric based on end-user experience of the application and you will pay us a penalty when you discover you are out of SLA, not whether the application is up or down. It\u2019s about the supplier talking in terms that mean something to the end users.\u201d\nFor end users, application performance is the critical factor and that is reflected in the uptime Whetstone demands from suppliers, which is on the scale of five nines.\n\u201cThat\u2019s about sixteen minutes a year or something\u201d, he says.\nAs we talk with the Raspberry Pi in the background, the question of blue-horizon technology is bound to come up.\nNow he has the infrastructure capability for it, Whetstone says his is very interested in the application of video conferencing within the business.\nFor management coordination across the company\u2019s international points of presence, rather than for job interviews, although he admits the familiarity with video communications applications like Skype make that prospect more likely too.\nAs a Reed veteran of 23 years, he is well placed to guess what will become critical technologies for the company in the future.