Case Study: Zaha Hadid Architects opt for private cloud

London-based international architecture and design practice Zaha Hadid Architects has deployed a private cloud infrastructure to cut IT costs and improve delivery and availability of applications.

London-based international architecture and design practice Zaha Hadid Architects has deployed a private cloud infrastructure to cut IT costs and improve delivery and availability of applications.

Rapid growth of the business – handling more than 900 projects in 44 countries with offices in four countries outside the UK – had put the architectural firm’s IT infrastructure under significant stress.

The architect practice – which designed the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 London Olympics – seized the opportunity to upgrade its IT infrastructure, when it opened a second London site in 2011.

A 10 Gigabit link between the main office and the new site made it possible to establish a second datacentre in London to improve support for disaster recovery and application availability.

At the time, automated data replication of key business project data, to reduce dependency on multiple tape and direct-attached storage devices, topped the list of IT priorities.

“It was also important for us to achieve a greater user density per server,” said Simon Johns, head of IT at Zaha Hadid Architects.

"We wanted to offer our architects application deployment through a self-service portal and give them a centralised infrastructure in which to work, with broader access to media rich applications,” he said.

From a management point of view, Johns says virtualisation was an obvious way to reduce the time and associated costs of overseeing maintenance and backups.  

An existing Microsoft Services Enterprise Agreement for low-cost volume licensing of software made Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualisation technology an obvious choice.

Zaha Hadid Architects also had a long-standing relationship with Microsoft partner Fabric Technologies, which replaced the old core infrastructure with Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, which includes Hyper-V at no extra cost.

For application deployment and management, Fabric Technologies implemented Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 and Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2.

“Using Virtual Machine Manager, it is now easier and quicker to deploy new servers,” said Simon Kentish, chair, Fabric Technologies.

To encourage self-service by key staff in uploading new software, Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self-Service Portal 2.0 was included.

To replace the existing Microsoft distributed file system for replicating key project folders to head office, the architectural firm deployed Dell EqualLogic virtualised IP storage at the two London sites to provide 90 terabytes of storage at each.

This ensures that the firm can take full advantage of the high availability features of Hyper-V, said Kentish. “A key element of the project has been to consolidate five different kinds of existing systems, which meant that keeping up to date was a constant battle. EqualLogic is more scalable and the Hyper-V functionality means the practice can hold a lot more data,” he said.

In the quest for improved call quality, the existing Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 was replaced with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Enterprise communication and collaboration server and Microsoft Lync 2010 for unified communications.

Following the upgrade to its infrastructure, Zaha Hadid Architects is able to ensure business continuity, better equipped to store data and has a scalable infrastructure capable of deploying new servers and applications faster, without risk of downtime.

“In one case, the provisioning of six servers for a new accounting system took just two days. And with new automated operational management technology for the datacentres, the IT department is more productive,” said Johns.

Within months of getting the systems up and running for testing, the disaster recovery ability was tested to the limit, he says. In mid-2011, the main site was hit by unplanned electricity outages, but the firm emerged from it with no downtime.

“Without the new resilience, architects would have spent four days in the dark twiddling their thumbs,” said Johns.

With virtualisation, many routine maintenance and backup functions are no longer necessary, he said, freeing IT staff up to do higher value work. Server deployment is more efficient, as are requests for software updates through the self-service portal.

“Using Microsoft System Center tools to service requests for updated versions of computer-aided design software has reduced the demand on the IT team and helped us ensure licensing compliance,” said Johns.

Lowering costs was not the main driver for the infrastructure refresh, but the architectural firm’s partnership with Fabric Technologies enabled significant savings.

Johns explains that, as the firm had adopted Office Communications Server 2007 early on to enhance communications with its overseas offices, it was able to avoid incurring capital expenditure in upgrading to Lync 2010 by making use of its existing Enterprise Agreement.

The datacentres, with their improved and simplified systems for storage, are helping to future-proof the business against sudden increases in demand, and with Hyper-V, it is much easier to bring in additional storage space using Dell EqualLogic, said Kentish.

Microsoft’s private cloud solutions, built with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center, offer deep insights into applications, cross-platform support, and the ability to extend workloads between private, public and hybrid cloud environment, said Lucas Searle, virtualisation and private cloud lead, Microsoft UK.

“Our span of private cloud offerings has provided Zaha Hadid with a scalable infrastructure capable of deploying new servers and applications faster with no risk of downtime. This allows them to focus less on their infrastructure and more on the needs of the business,” Searle said.

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