February 2012

Atlanta Technology helps Mainstay Group go Virtual!

Posted by Stuart Prior

Mainstay Group is a property, estates and facilities management group with more than 35,000 residential and business units, distributed nationwide across 350 sites. The company is accredited by the Association of Residential Management Agents and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and was the winner of the Property Management Awards 2009.

Founded twelve years ago, the company has grown organically and four years ago it expanded its services into facilities management, concierge services and energy management. Mainstay Group has a clear business development and improvement strategy that covers human resources, IT infrastructure and the reduction of its environmental impact.

Supporting business growth through virtualisation

Mainstay recently gained the Investor in People accreditation and is committed to developing its staff. As part of the ongoing investment in its 500 employees, the company planned to upgrade its HR and payroll software for the start of the financial year. However, this would have required the installation of two dedicated hardware servers to manage the complex applications.

The addition of physical servers to support the new applications would have brought the total number up to fourteen, increasing the company’s energy consumption and carbon footprint. Mainstay decided instead to bring forward its migration to a virtualised server infrastructure by twelve months.

In addition, Mainstay’s existing Storage Area Network (SAN) was unable to support VMware and so the decision was made to look for a technology partner to assist with the complete migration to virtualised servers.

Head of IT and Corporate Projects, Phil Johns, takes up the story: “Virtualisation was always part of our plan, because it provides us with the flexibility to support Mainstay’s expansion, without being tied to budgeting for, installing and maintaining physical servers. After a recommendation from one of our outsourced suppliers, we selected Atlanta Technology to help us to set up and manage the migration to virtualised servers.”

Atlanta Technology is an IT services consultancy founded in 1996 to provide organisations with technology that facilitates growth. One of its key areas of specialism is in supporting organisations to move to virtualised environments and so it was well placed to support Mainstay through the process.

Working in partnership to meet business objectives:

Mainstay Group reports that Atlanta Technology was fundamental to the timely migration to the virtualised servers and SAN. This allowed the new HR software to be deployed within the twelve week timeframe.

Confirms Phil Johns; “The team at Atlanta worked closely to understand exactly what our immediate needs were. These included the installation of the new HR and payroll system plus the migration to a new SAN. Atlanta’s account management team also explored the longer-term objectives of the business and advised us on the best solution to meet those requirements.”

Then, working closely with Mainstay’s chief engineer, lead engineer and project manager, the engineering team at Atlanta successfully managed the roll-out of the datacentre and SAN migration within the designated three month period.

“Atlanta are experts in their own field and are also very good at understanding our business requirements and the sector that we operate in. Rather than waiting for us to brief them, Atlanta helped us with our planning for the current implementation and also made sound recommendations to support our future business requirements. Where extra work was needed, they were always happy to help,” reports Johns.

“From scoping to completing the migration, took about three months. Atlanta did a great job and its technical team was excellent at specifying the infrastructure that best suited our current and future needs.  We’re delighted with the results”, enthuses Johns.

Increased storage, flexibility and reliability with one sixth of the hardware:

The results and benefits are immediate for Mainstay.  In total, Mainstay has migrated from twelve physical servers to fourteen virtual servers, hosted on just two physical servers. The VMware-based infrastructure also incorporates a new virtualised Storage Area Network, which offers nine Terabytes of storage that can quickly be expanded as the company grows.

“With this new virtualised environment, we can scale up the storage and IT infrastructure as we need to. Mainstay has proved that it’s open to introducing new services, so we need our IT to be flexible enough to respond as the company expands and develops,” explains Johns. “Prior to virtualisation, we would have had to allow time for planning and purchasing new hardware to cope with each new service, and not to mention the procurement costs. Now I can bring a new server online within 15 minutes.”

Johns explains that the new virtualised servers also contribute to Mainstay Group’s focus on carbon reduction targets. The company is aiming to achieve the international environmental management standard: ISO 14001. Reduction from 12 to 2 physical servers has the obvious benefit of reducing power consumption and associated CO2 and heat emissions.

Key Benefits:

The migration from 14 servers to 2 has delivered immediate time and cost savings to Mainstay’s business, while also improving storage efficiency. In addition, the reduced requirement to power and cool a cluster of 14 servers has lowered the firm’s energy consumption and emissions. Phil Johns also points out the increased resilience of the virtualised system:

“Now we’re managing two pieces of hardware instead of fourteen, so we’ve saved a lot of time on server administration. There are also fewer points of failure, which makes for a more robust IT system, with the flexibility to expand as and when required. Using the virtualised infrastructure, we can implement new services very quickly and this helps to keep Mainstay ahead of the game,” asserts Johns.