Shearings Leisure Group are the UK’s number one coach holiday tour operator. Based in Wigan and with a heritage stretching back to 1903, the company offers coach, air, rail, cruise and hotels breaks to more than 170 destinations in the UK, Europe and worldwide.

Although best known as a coach tour holiday operator, over recent years the company has expanded to incorporate several well known travel brands and also owns 44 hotels in the UK, which all come together under the Shearings Holiday brand.

The breadth of the organisation, part of which has come about via acquisition means that the IT estate is both large and complex.

Mark Williams, IT Director explains. “As a business with a number of individual brands, we’ve inherited various legacy systems over the years which means we have our fair share of challenges to ensure that we can deliver customer satisfaction.”

As a fellow Wigan based company, Shearings had met with K3 Starcom to discuss whether there was the potential to work together. As Mark puts it, “they were just across the road and that can be very handy…”

Although the two companies didn’t start working together straight away, a few months down the line, Mark and his IT team hit a problem they couldn’t solve.

Mark continues, “one day we had an issue with an Exchange server. It lost all its security settings and no matter what we did, we couldn’t recover anything from it. We also couldn’t reboot it for long enough to make any changes.”

By 8pm that evening, Mark’s team had run out of ideas and still not solved the issue, so he decided to call on K3 Starcom to see if his neighbour could find a solution.

An engineer was dispatched to fix the problem and by 2am had identified it as a software issue and reported it to Microsoft. By mid-afternoon the same day, Microsoft had provided a fix for K3 Starcom to apply and the server was back up and running.

For Mark, the experience highlighted a skills gap which K3 Starcom were well placed to fill. If there was an issue that the in-house team couldn’t resolve or project work that was outside the scope of the team’s experience, Mark had confidence that K3 Starcom could provide the necessary people.

Over the course of the next 12-18 months a number of call outs revolved around server issues and for Mark the problem was worsening.

“It had reached the point where we were having issues almost day and night. Sometimes we were able to resolve them, sometimes we called K3 Starcom, but it was becoming unsustainable. It was then that we began talking about consolidating our servers.”

When the idea was first put on the table, Shearings operated a large number of servers, each one dedicated to an individual system. As some were coming to the end of their useful life, a radical overhaul was required.

K3 Starcom suggested virtualisation which enabled the total number of on-premise servers to reduce from 40 down to just three.

For Mark, this had a number of positive impacts; saving money on new equipment, saving time on maintenance and support, and critically, improving the service delivered to end users while simultaneously reducing the burden on the IT team.

Mark explained, “the change in how we can do things now is incredible. For example, if we need to spin up a new server, then we don’t have to spec it and wait for it to be built, delivered, installed and provisioned. We can simply create a new one using VMWare.”

With more than 70 physical sites accessing one or more of the services running on the new infrastructure, flexibility is important to Mark.

“We’ve had a number of occasions where users want to look at new software to further improve the service they offer. In the past, if that meant new server hardware, then there would be an inevitable delay, whereas now it’s virtually instantaneous which is what users have come to expect.”

As part of the server consolidation project, Shearings also opted to use K3 Starcom’s cloud storage offering, by backing up critical data on a daily basis.

Beyond server infrastructure, Shearings continue to call on K3 Starcom, but the relationship has changed from reactive to proactive.

“Prior to the server project, we relied on K3 Starcom to fix things, now we can do more strategic work, it’s not just firefighting. We can take a step back and work out how best to plan and use our resources. That planning includes K3 Starcom, they are an extension of our team and will continue to be so.”

“Prior to the server project, we relied on K3 Starcom to fix things, now we can do more strategic work, it’s not just firefighting. We can take a step back and work out how best to plan and use our resources. That planning includes K3 Starcom, they are an extension of our team and will continue to be so.”