Investment management firm JM Finn is using Nutanix’s HCI platform to power its Private Cloud infrastructure, which it credits with assisting the organization to adapt to the COVID-necessitated shift to remote working.
Given the nature of the firm’s business, many of its employees are power users, such as dealers and traders, who require high-performance machines, with multiple screens and great connectivity. COVID put the firm’s IT infrastructure to the test when it had to switch to remote working for all employees due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Supporting that transition was challenging enough – but JM Finn also had to ensure its employees could work securely from afar while meeting the stringent compliance regulations of the highly-regulated financial services industry.
Jon Cosson is Head of IT and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at JM Finn, having joined the firm back in 1999, when he first introduced virtualization into the business in the form of a Citrix deployment. Over the past 20 years, the business has grown significantly – the firm now holds more than £10 billion in funds in the UK – and its use of technology has evolved alongside with the company’s operating model.
Today, Cosson’s team looks after 50 key enterprise services or systems across the organization and these are spread across 300 virtual servers. Communications technology is crucial to JM Finn’s day-today business operations, with the firm delivering secure systems to its 20,000-strong high-worth clients. When the lockdown started in March last year, the firm was forced to change its operating environment from six geographically disparate offices to just under 350 home-based offices within five days, he recalls:
That was a challenge and a half. We had to set up 350 remote logins, we had to set up security, and we had to do that right from the start. We have dealers in London that operate on eight-screen environments, and we had to transform them to a similar environment at home.
A recent upgrade to Nutanix was a key factor in helping the business cope with new infrastructural demands:
The great news is that we had just upgraded our infrastructure to Nutanix, so we knew the solution was tried and tested. We managed to roll everything out in five days; nobody really noticed that much difference. Our concern was how would that run over a virtualised network – and I will be honest with you, we were absolutely shocked. It worked so well.
We'd worked with Nutanix over the past couple of years and we'd refreshed our infrastructure and realized very early on that hyper-convergence was the way forward. We can take three different technologies, combine them into one, make it very cost effective for the organization, and actually, if you combine the solution, you have very good support and you reduce the risk.
Telecommunications presented another challenge. Prior to the pandemic, the firm was already a heavy user of Cisco video-conferencing technology. As people started working from home, Cosson and his colleagues recognized that employees weren’t keen on using ‘soft phones’ to make calls on a computer over the internet. The answer was to roll out 300-plus physical IP phones to users, with Cosson suggesting the mix of phone and video has worked well for the firm’s employees.
While the pandemic has created challenges for JM Finn, it’s also given Cosson the opportunity to think about changes in other areas of IT provision. The focus this year will include shifting the firm’s data centers, which are being relocated because the firm is moving its London HQ. As part of this move, the company started considering whether it needed to maintain its expensive City of London data center:
This is expensive real estate. It limits where we can relocate the office and the decision was made – and I put this forward to the board – that we relocate the data centre to our own properties outside of London. Previously the challenge of doing this would have been the size of the data center and the heat, power and environmental requirements, but implementing Nutanix means our data center is now a third of the size it was.
In practical terms, that means the total size of the data center has been reduced by about 17 racks. This contraction means it’s possible to push the infrastructure from the City into the firm’s remote sites. The result of this shift will be two data centers held in remote buildings that the company owns, a shift made possible because of the downsizing that Nutanix delivered.
Cost savings over a 10-year period will be “phenomenal”, says Cosson. This new data centre arrangement will go live during Easter and May this year, with the aim of avoiding any downtime. The new head office in London – which will be home to a small IT team rather than a data center – is due to open in September. While the firm remains committed to Private Cloud, Cosson says there might be an opportunity to explore public provision in the future:
I'd say 90% to 95% of our services are private - and that's by design because it's so cost effective to do it that way. We've looked at the costs and I think we're going to explore this in the future. One of my biggest issues with cloud has been the ability to move out of it as quick as I can move in. The ability to use the Nutanix wrapper to allow us to expand when we need to is something we're looking into for the future.
And the firm’s tech decisions will also be shaped by client needs, he adds:
We are now looking to the future and what we need to deliver on the digital experience and how we deliver that to our clients. That’s about how we use all the benefits that we've seen during this lockdown period and how we incorporate those into our organisation. It's all about service delivery for our clients – they're going to want to use Zoom and they're going to want to use other video and recording services, so we have to develop a strategy around that.