London private equity firm shifts IT to the cloud to cut office move downtime

London-based private equity fund manager SOF Investments overcame the IT nightmares of an office move by migrating IT to the cloud

A London-based private equity fund manager that advises RBS asset managers overcame the IT nightmares associated with an office move by migrating its entire in-house IT infrastructure to the cloud.

SOF Investments did so primarily to minimise downtime, avoid business loss and make the move seamless.

But the cloud project, which was completed in two weeks, has yielded other benefits for the company, such as overcoming legacy IT challenges, boosting productivity and saving thousands of pounds.

Building the case for cloud IT

The financial services firm’s IT team made the decision to refresh its legacy technology infrastructure with a cloud-based service when the business was looking for a new IT solution that could support the business after it moved away from its parent company, Special Opportunities Fund.

“As we began to look at moving offices, we soon realised that by moving away from our parent company, we would be without its IT system and support, and we would have to do something new,” said Ian Gascoigne, partner at SOF Investments.

“This prompted a number of questions, including what to do with the present data? Where should we house it, and what systems would be required for maximum efficiency at the new office?”

SOF's management had heard a lot about cloud computing services and their benefits, such as agility, scalability, flexibility and savings on capital expenditure, said Gascoigne.

The IT team decided to move to the cloud because the on-premises systems were causing inefficiencies. “There were a number of day-to-day problems, especially with regard to version controls, and limited access,” he said. The legacy system meant collaboration on documents was difficult, and IT had no control over the infrastructure because it was a shared system.

So SOF’s IT team approached IT consultancy TechQuarters, a Microsoft cloud specialist.

“We got in touch with TechQuarters because of its status as the 2013 Microsoft Cloud Partner of the Year,” said Gascoigne.

Price was right

The IT team decided to adopt a variety of Microsoft cloud services based on advice from TechQuarters. It chose Microsoft because the “price was right”, said Gascoigne.

First, it moved email from an on-premises system to Office 365 and collaboration data to SharePoint. It also decided to set up a domain controller to manage the new network in Azure, while providing a repository for legacy data.

Microsoft Office 365 suite is a cloud-hosted, online version of the traditional installed version of Microsoft Office software. It is subscription-based and includes Office, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Microsoft Office Web Apps.

TechQuarters began by auditing the data and systems that SOF was using on its legacy network. “It became apparent that most of the day-to-day data could be moved to SharePoint Online, part of Office 365, so they could collaborate on documents with version control,” said Chris Dunning, founder of TechQuarters.

The IT consultant then migrated SOF’s entire on-premises email system to Exchange online, giving each employee a 50GB mailbox, increasing email capacity and accessibility.

TechQuarters then migrated SOF Investments staff to Office 365 before they moved offices.

The next step was to implement a Windows Azure domain controller server that would give SOF networking control, legacy data storage and flexible access from any location.

Make the move seamlessly

Once the migration was complete and the cloud systems were up and running on the solution in the firm's old offices, the IT team was confident it could make the move to the new premises seamlessly, said Gascoigne.

As part of the IT refresh and to support the cloud platform, SOF also decided to install a new switch and firewall at the new offices and roll out new desktops, laptops, devices and printers.

The whole migration took just two weeks and the new cloud-based systems were in place before the moving day. “This meant that no business productivity was lost,” said Gascoigne. “We kept the business up and running, with minimal impact on day-to-day activity.”

The changes brought other unexpected benefits, such as improvements in staff productivity, with the cloud infrastructure giving employees access to business data any time, anywhere.

Because cloud-hosted IT means SOF employees can work from anywhere, whenever someone is out of the office for the day, they can still get their work done on time, said Gascoigne.

Essential tasks

Before the migration, essential tasks, such as adding a new user, took time and planning, but with the Microsoft cloud solution, this can be done with the click of a button, according to the IT team. This has allowed SOF staff to focus on doing business, rather than contacting IT support staff to solve technical issues.

Most importantly, the IT team can now have complete control over the infrastructure. Previously, SOF's infrastructure was managed by its parent company, leaving it with little control. “The new infrastructure has restored control back to SOF, which means we can tailor the system to our own needs,” said Gascoigne.

Because the system can be managed remotely, a lot of maintenance has been outsourced to TechQuarters.

SOF has also saved £7,000 in IT costs by using cloud services such as Office 365. Not only did its electricity bill shrink because it no longer has to power an on-premise database, but it also saved on the costs of installing on-premise hardware and software.

“It was critical to find a network solution that could offer the data security, business continuity and disaster recovery that are essential to a regulated financial services business, while maintaining flexibility and cost-efficiency,” said Gascoigne.

The cloud gave SOF the opportunity to achieve enterprise-level storage and flexible-working functionality without needing significant capital expenditure on servers, he added.

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