A leading architectural practice pioneers Cloud migration within their industry
About Stephen George + Partners
Stephen George + Partners (SGP) is one of the UK's leading architectural practices, with offices throughout the UK and Europe. It is placed in the 'Top 100' practices by the Architects' Journal and prides itself on responding rapidly to client requirements, resolving complex site issues and producing innovative designs.
Faced with the relocation of their Head Office in Leicester to a new space they would be designing from the ground up, SGP were not only moving their central hub, but also relocating all their IT equipment. With a refresh of legacy server infrastructure already planned, this coinciding with the relocation prompted the practice to explore alternative ways to deliver apps and design data. Throughout these discussions, the security of devices and corporate data was a concern, since confidential plans and proposals being leaked would be disastrous for the practice's strong reputation.
In modernising how key applications such as Autodesk Revit and other design packages are delivered, the challenge remains regarding where the data resides. Modern visualisations and BIM models are substantial in volume and have their own data gravity, which typically required user desktops to always remain close to the source of data to avoid drops in performance.
For this reason, servers were previously deployed within each office to achieve the desired performance, availability and resilience. However, this was costly to implement and maintain, and required significant resources to manage the infrastructure across these dispersed locations. For example, patching and updating these servers was the responsibility of the inhouse IT team and was always undertaken out of hours.
Furthermore, designing and deploying a server room is costly and the end result has an inherently limited lifespan, when we consider the increasing speed of Cloud adoption. It was clear that this floorspace would be more valuable for a business-generating resource, rather than as an ongoing expense for the housing of IT assets.
Finally, a legacy on-premise phone system offered limited functionality and scalability, which would not support the expansion into new office locations, nor meet the increasing expectation amongst staff for home working options.
The relatively slow uptake of Cloud within the Architecture sector meant SGP soon found there was no pre-existing model for what they required to meet these challenges. As a result, they began evaluating potential IT partners, with a key requirement being that the chosen candidate must be able to deliver all the required services, in order to eliminate the need to manage multiple vendors and ensure an efficient migration.
Following a period of intensive evaluation, including data centre visits SGP selected Exponential-e as their new IT partner. Based on their in-depth evaluation of the project requirements, Exponential-e scaled up a resilient Network solution which connects all of SGP's locations. This was integrated with our secure Virtual Data Centre where a new server infrastructure has been built resiliently. Desktop deployment has now been provisioned using managed Virtual Desktop Infrastructure enhanced with NVIDIA graphics. Our Cisco Broadsoft Unified Communications solution has enabled effortless communication and collaboration between staff across all locations.
Exponential-e also project managed the migration from beginning to end, ensuring it was completed to schedule, with zero downtime. This included regular communication with SGP's IT team throughout, ensuring complete visibility. In the end, the migration was so seamless the users were able to log on and begin using it as soon as launch day arrived, fully embracing the new opportunities available for remote working, which later proved invaluable as the practice adapted its working environment in response to COVID-19. As Senior Partner Michael Barker explained:
"The solution has made remote working work. Previously our people were using a VPN and experiencing numerous problems. Now though, our people can do serious architectural modelling work from a service-station café if they need to. The solution works perfectly, anywhere. This gives our people so much flexibility. And it gives our organisation flexibility, too, as we look to expand."
"The IT investment we made over the previous year or so has proved to be a lifesaver during the pandemic. Not only were we able to move at 24 hours' notice to 100% homeworking without a hitch, but we have demonstrated that we can work effectively anywhere and that our business continuity plan, having now been tested in the real world, is totally effective."
Throughout the project, data protection and compliance with regulations such as the GDPR were key priorities, as SGP works with clients in a number of sectors with extremely specific compliance requirements in this regard, such as healthcare. The rigorous security standards Exponential-e operates to including annual testing of all data centre systems and inbuilt data loss protection measures provides both SGP and its customers with complete peace of mind when storing project files in the Cloud.
All in all, SGP's experience provides an object lesson in how architectural practices can benefit from the Cloud and digital transformation, and a potent illustration of why these technologies are being increasingly embraced by their industry. What digital transformation offers, beyond cost and space savings, is a better way of doing things and a clear path for future innovation. As Michael Barker summarised:
"During the solution delivery, and since then, we have never felt a loss of control from within our organisation. Far from diminishing the practice's control, the technology provided by Exponential-e and Exponential-e's management of it gives Stephen George more control of its current operations and future direction as a practice."
- Seamless Cloud migration, with zero downtime
- Significant increase in online storage space
- Optimal application performance
- A successful move to remote working
- Full data security and compliance
One of the biggest factors in Exponential-e's favour was its Network. Everything we were planning to do relied massively on reliable connectivity. Exponential-e's existing Network was the USP that led us to them. But what convinced us to work with Exponential-e was all their other services and capabilities - there's not many organisations around that can do it allKenji Matthews IT Manager, Stephen George + Partners
"The solution has made remote working work. Previously our people were using a VPN and experiencing numerous problems. Now though, our people can do serious architectural modelling work from a service-station café if they need to. The solution works perfectly, anywhere. This gives our people so much flexibility. And it gives our organisation flexibility, too, as we look to expand."Michael Barker Senior Partner, Stephen George + Partners