Major benefits for Ottakars
A major restructuring of the IT environment by specialist retail IT services provider Retail Assist is bringing major benefits to one of the UK's largest book retailers.
Nottingham-based Retail Assist - the UK's only company specialising solely in IT support to the retail sector - was originally called in by Ottakar's, who have around 80 bookstores across the UK, to undertake overall review of all the company's IT systems and provide an IT Service Desk facility.
This involved a detailed three-day assessment by Retail Assist's expert team of Ottakar's IT infrastructure at head offices in Salisbury, Clapham and Gloucester. The assessment equipped Retail Assist with an in-depth understanding of the existing systems and likely future needs, whilst at the same time enabling them to test the resilience of the system. This resulted in them making recommendations to enhance its robustness and stability against likely problems.
Retail Assist provided Ottakar's with a menu of enhancements relating to data integrity and recoverability; IT best practices in relation to housekeeping, PC policies and registers, domain resilience and systems security.
The first step in implementing the recommendations saw Retail Assist installing a new Firewall into Ottakar's Salisbury office, replacing the existing one which was struggling to cope. The new Firewall was specially customised to integrate with the company's existing in situ dial on demand WAN (wide area network) infrastructure and to enable secure internal Internet access; whilst also protecting the internal network from potential abuse or attack from outside users.
Next came a major overhaul of Ottakar's IT infrastructure. Retail Assist set-up the new communications room, re-housing the company's servers, as well as installing state-of-the-art back-up and anti-virus solutions, alongside market leading Surfcontrol- Internet monitoring and email control software.
The installation of these products entailed the enhancement of the existing network to provide a dedicated, fully switched local network and installation of a main back-up network for resilience, able to deliver the fast response times for the client and server architecture on which Ottakar's depends.
The final stage of the process has been the creation by Retail Assist of a demilitarised zone (DMZ). This became necessary when Ottakar's took the decision to bring its customer website in house. This had previously been undertaken by a third party.
Retail Assist was tasked with providing a server to host the website.
The creation of the DMZ saw Retail Assist expand the capabilities of the existing Firewall, which now affords extra protection for Ottakar's Internet- facing servers, as well as the company's new Extranet to which suppliers and store-based personnel have access, as well as HQ based staff.
Richard Wakeham of Aspirata Ltd, which provides strategic management of the IT function to Ottakar's commented, "The enhancements to our infrastructure recommended and provided by Retail Assist have delivered a much more resilient and robust system, far better equipped to cope with potential damage, whether intentional or accidental, internal or external.
"The new infrastructure is also extremely flexible, demonstrated by the extension of the Firewall to create the DMZ to house Internet and Intranet servers."
Retail Assist have been providing Ottakar's with a unique Service Desk facility since February 2001, through which all stores can access first line support from analysts with retail experience when an IT, telecom or procedural problem arises.