Essex-based Higgins Group consists of Higgins Homes and Higgins Construction. Higgins Homes PLC is a residential house builder specializing in the construction of high-quality new build units and conversions, ranging from starter apartments through to bespoke detached houses. Higgins Construction PLC is one of the leading names in community regeneration and affordable housing for London and the south east.
In 2012, the Group had a turnover of £202,9 million, reporting a satisfactory profit before taxation of £2.4 million.
The Business Challenge
Higgins Group approached Transputec for help and advice about corporate disaster recovery and business continuity planning. “Companies are more reliant on their IT than they realise,” said Martyn Waller, Director of IT at the Higgins Group. “Protecting yourself is crucial – it is not an option.
“Events such as the Buncefield fuel depot disaster, which obliterated the data centre of one software provider and left a Cambridge hospital without a patient information system, made everyone in the company realise that a cast-iron disaster recovery plan was essential.” The company wanted a clearly-defined recovery strategy to cope with any situation that resulted in loss of data or IT capacity. According to The Definitive Handbook of Business Continuity Management (Hiles and Barnes), between 60 and 90 percent of companies that don’t have a proactive disaster plan find themselves out of business within 24 months of experiencing a major incident.
Transputec sent a consultant to the Group’s Loughton, Essex headquarters to report on the current position.
Transputec proposed a highly cost-effective disaster recovery plan using virtualisation platform VMware and Double-Take. Within the month, Higgins’ new business continuity strategy was operational. “What this means for Higgins is that one server at their disaster recovery (DR) site can be set up to run lots of operating systems,” said Mark. “If, for instance there were usually 30 servers running, VMware allows for this to be replicated across five or six remote servers, sharing CPU, memory, hard drives and other resources. “In a disaster recovery situation Higgins would have access to everything that they needed – at a fraction of the cost involved in doubling-up on everything.
“The other, less cost-effective option to using virtualization, would be doubling up on expensive servers.”
Running on a single Windows server in a virtualised environment, Double-Take allows administrators to centrally manage and monitor multiple virtual machine protection jobs from any Windows desktop using the client management console.
Double-Take captures changes regularly, keeping the target virtual disks up to date and ready for recovery and backup at any time. During an outage, the replicated virtual machine can be started on the target server with the latest replicated data available.
“We specified real-time data replication software,” said Mark. “If you change a file, it changes at the disaster recovery site at the same time. The result is that if your system is rendered inactive for some reason, you can be up-and-running, using servers at your DR site, within an instant.”
Traditional disaster recovery is expensive as it involves exactly duplicating resources over more than one site.
Before the advent of virtualisation solutions, disaster recovery relied upon identical hardware configurations at the DR site, necessitating not just expensive new servers but also the increased costs of maintaining another large site. Virtualisation, as achieved by Transputec using VMware, saves time and money and maximises the efficacy of computer resources.
“Transputec supported and worked with Higgins to implement the solution and the day-to-day operation now pretty much looks after itself,” said Martyn.
“They also provided the initial training that has allowed Double-Take to seamlessly protect our business.”
Talking about training, Mark said: “We showed Higgins’ IT administrators how to monitor replication, how to connect to virtual machines and how to fix basic issues and they’ve had no problems adapting to the new set-up. “Higgins no longer runs the risk of downtime in the event of a major incident,” he added. “An exact copy – 100 percent up-to-date – of the company’s entire IT system is now instantly accessible from the DR site.