Payne Hicks Beach

Future Proofing & System Upgrade with no business downtime



United Kingdom




  • Future proofed solution from day one of engagement through to upgrade to maintain robust infrastructure for the next 5 years plus
  • Extensive POC and review of upgrade offsite
  • Complex process for upgrade completed with minimal user downtime
  • Maintained record and reputation for uptime
  • Solution delivered on time and on budget

Payne Hicks Beach (PHB) provides specialist legal services to private and commercial clients. Their reputation has been predominantly built on family and private client work and they are highly regarded within these specialist practise areas. Their London presence is set within New Square, Lincoln’s Inn, and the history of the Firm can be traced back several centuries to 1770.

Shift F7’s relationship with PHB started in 2005 when we were awarded the contract to oversee the Firm’s disaster recovery and backup services with the Cerberus solution. This service has evolved over the years and we have also extended the range of services we provide for PHB. In 2007 we were engaged to provide a highly resilient virtual platform of systems and replicated storage.

Business Challenges

Prior to 2007, PHB systems infrastructure relied on separate point solutions running direct attached storage. The IT team were periodically faced with managing problems relating to reliability and performance which, in the main were caused by aged hardware and operating system. Further challenges were posed by user’s need for increased storage and processing power. PHB selected Shift F7 to implement a virtual platform running VMware’s VSphere Enterprise 4.x and Datacore SAN Melody. Shift F7’s design included the processing power required by the applications along with a fault tolerant split cluster between two of their New Square offices, where the Firm would be able to withstand a 50% failure of all the implemented systems and storage.

However storage was their major concern, Michael Leedham, IT Manager at PHB, described the situation, “The IT department juggled storage as best they could, but the underlying design was clearly no longer fit for purpose. We had a lack of it in some systems, but large excesses in others. The inability to share surplus storage was an obvious flaw. We were also keen to use this opportunity to improve our resilience”.

PHB had already made a significant investment to the network between the New Square offices and as a result all users were able to connect to the central systems at LAN speed.

Phil Moore, Technical Director at Shift F7 explains, “Typically, the challenge is convincing a customer that investment in network infrastructure is money well spent. In this case this had already been done so we set about creating a synchronous mirror of data and systems between their locations utilising Datacore SAN Melody and VMware’s VSphere 4.x”.

This platform has been an overwhelming success both in terms of performance and storage availability. Michael Leedham confirms, “Our operation is now almost entirely centred on providing great customer services to our users. We have trust in our infrastructure so that it delivers what the Firm needs and in-line with user expectations. The ROI on this particular solution has been fantastic too. It has run to the point where performance has never been an issue and without any unplanned downtime for more than 6 years”.

In 2012 PHB approached Shift F7 to perform some upgrades of the hyper visor engine and storage software for Datacore. Also included within scope was an update to the underlying server operating systems and Microsoft Exchange Server.

The Upgrade Solution

Downtime, planned or otherwise, is a real issue for PHB as applications are accessed round the clock and users had grown used to their applications always being available. Michael Leedham expands on this, “In many respects the success in increasing the reliability and availability of the network has only served to raise expectations amongst our users. A suitable downtime slot was not going to be easily identified. Whilst as an IT department we generally accept the need for downtime to facilitate upgrades, users typically don’t. We were warned that there was going to have to be some downtime and that there was no way of assessing the time that the upgrade would take”.

Phil Moore explains, “The upgrade process is a destructive one. Updating to the latest supported version of the SAN OS meant that we would have to carry out a controlled break, re-provision and re-install of the data back to the SAN. It was difficult to put a figure on the time that it would take except to say that the investment made in 2007 would help to reduce it significantly during the project. But we had one other ace up our sleeve; Cerberus”.

Shift F7 used Cerberus, our disaster recovery managed service to upgrade and migrate systems in an offline environment within our datacentre as part of a proof of concept. This allowed us to rehearse the process of upgrade for the entire Windows and mail environment.

Once the POC was completed we were able to undertake the upgrade within the live production environment ensuring application and data availability was maintained throughout except for a small window of 3 hours during the early hours of a Sunday morning. Generally speaking the users were unaware of the major upgrade that had been undertaken.


As a result of the planning and proving exercise, and an ongoing investment in a fully replicated architecture, Shift F7 and PHB were able to successfully complete a complex systems upgrade process to a live production environment very little downtime and disruption. The solution attracts the confidence of the IT department and though they might not consciously know it, the users too.

  • “Working with Shift F7 has always meant that we can be sure of the best possible advice and consideration for our business and this latest upgrade with little downtime has proven yet again that we can trust them to provide the most appropriate solution and service now and for the future”

    Michael Leedham Payne Hicks Beach

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