Interview with Jo Stanford, IT director, De Vere Group

Data is a big challenge for all businesses that have to consider backup issues such as what data they retain and how long they retain it for

Jo Stanford joined the hotel and leisure chain De Vere Group six years ago as IT director. She says the backup challenges she faces in IT at De Vere Group are not specific just to her business.

“The challenge is what data you retain and how long do you retain it? Backup becomes an issue,” she says. It is an all too familiar problem for IT directors.

Stanford has worked as an IT director for 12 years, at various companies. Her current role at De Vere Group involves managing IT and the e-commerce strategy. The company has begun deploying a private cloud, using its own servers and hardware, all managed by a service provider.

Her IT strategy is concentrated on leveraging the cloud. For anyone looking to build their own private cloud or use a managed service, Stanford says: “Make sure the solution is scalable and fit for purpose.

“I didn’t have any concerns over a public cloud, but it wasn’t the right solution for our business.” 

She opted for a private cloud that has the ability to grow as the business expands. “I felt that, in terms of finance, this was the right solution for us. It is about improving business performance and having access to the right technology resources.”

When she joined, the hotel used a very centralised datacentre – typical of many organisations before the era of server consolidation, virtualisation and cloud computing. Its datacentre was based on 18 racks of servers, islands of technology and a Citrix farm.

“Each rack ran different applications," says Stanford. "The Citrix farm was used to publish Microsoft Office. We also ran our financial systems, revenue management tools, Opera reservation system and Delphi hospitality application.”

Running out of storage

The company had invested heavily in best-of-breed business-critical systems. However, she says: “We had got to a stage where most of the hardware was out of support and we were running out of storage capacity.” This was leading to unpredictable support costs.

Stanford realised she needed to address infrastructure as it would affect the business. Her design objective was to develop a private cloud, using the hotel's own IT equipment, budget permitting, to reduce overall running costs. She also needed a flexible platform to reduce the hotel group's carbon footprint, mitigate risk, and increase security.

“We wanted a system that was fit for our purpose as a fully-managed service where we used our own hardware.”

Even though the hotel group would be purchasing its own hardware, Stanford predicted CapEx would be lower due to virtualisation, which maximises utilisation of servers.

She selected ANS Group to implement a private cloud based on Cisco UCS, Nexus switches, NetApp storage and VMware virtualisation. Through the contract, the 18-rack datacentre facility at TelecityGroup in Manchester would be slashed to three racks – supporting 2,500 users. She said the cloud-based service would create "substantial savings."

UCS is the cornerstone of Cisco's datacentre virtualisation product family, built on high-speed networking components and x86-based servers.

Given the company's business outlook, Stanford needed to plan for future expansion and divestiture. De Vere Group selected ANS' Flexpod architecture. 

We wanted a system that was fit for our purpose as a fully-managed service where we used our own hardware

Jo Stanford, IT director, De Vere Group

“The RFP [request for proposals] process took about nine months because it was absolutely critical to share not only the current capacity in the datacentre, but also our strategy going forward and potential growth in terms of property," she says. "For instance, running 65 hotels will require a certain amount of  IT. 

“Given our growth forecasts, we can grow [our usage] within the datacentre,” she adds.

Infrastructure migration

Through the contract, ANS will build a new Citrix farm to publish the applications to users, and will be responsible for the migration of the current infrastructure onto the new platform. ANS is also providing 24/7 support and security and will effectively act as De Vere’s IT department.

“I run a small team that focuses on enabling the business to maximise delivery of services to the customer. IT is behind every single customer touch-point – whether you are booking a spa or becoming a member of the gym. 

“My goal to aim to have IT as a hidden enabler to allow our teams deliver great hospitality.”

She says the infrastructure refresh will improve speed and customer-facing services such as web bookings and till point transactions.

“By the end of the year, the project will be completed. We will continue to focus on increasing the e-commerce footprint with our web-booking engines. That’s something we’ll be able to do knowing that the back-end infrastructure is fit for our purpose."

De Vere Group also uses a data warehouse, which extracts data from the various business systems, allowing managers to see what customers are doing and where they are spending their money. 

“It is giving us a 360-degree view of our customers' buying patterns and behaviour, which allows us to understand customer demand," says Stanford.


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