Now the Only Showstoppers are on the Stage
A shimmering curved glass and stainless-steel landmark on the banks of the Tyne, Sage Gateshead is a buzzing cultural and educational centre, home to the Royal Northern Sinfonia and nurturer of all genres of music and performance. The building, which opened in 2004, was designed by Norman Foster and includes three performance areas, the largest seating almost 1,700 people.
The venue and all aspects of its work are managed and programmed by North Music Trust, a registered charity.
High profile equals huge responsibilities
As a purpose-built, 21st century building, Sage Gateshead’s IT infrastructure is its lifeblood. It’s managed by head of ICT, Ian Salt who has been with North Music Trust almost since Sage Gateshead was opened. To help him he has a team of three, backed by Pulsant who started working with the trust around the same time.
Salt is aware of the huge responsibilities on his shoulders: “A major fault could literally be a showstopper,” he says. With large audiences coming to see top musicians any threat to the performance for technical reasons would be embarrassing – and financially disastrous.
He is also mindful that as a charity, the trust needs to always be looking for the best value and absolute efficiency. “We have to show all our stakeholders that we are investing wisely,” he says.
This is why North Music Trust went out to tender in 2014. At the time, the existing contract with Pulsant was just for professional services. The trust conducted an in-depth review of in-house IT and decided it also needed to replace its infrastructure, improve its IT security to PCI standards, outsource desktop support and make out-of-normal-working-hours provision. By doing this the trust planned to reduce costs over a five-year period.
“Although we already had a great relationship with Pulsant, for the sake of fairness, together with the finance team and board members, we designed a scoring system. Pulsant came out with the best scores,” says Salt.
“This is partly down to Pulsant’s impressive spread of expertise and knowledge that covers all areas of IT infrastructure.”
Since then, Pulsant’s support has been ongoing. Over the past year it has replaced the entire network, refreshed the LAN and all desktops and laptops. It has increased the trust’s data lines and redesigned the network to make it faster. It has also added more redundancy making the infrastructure better able to cope with the ebb and flow of demand.
Pulsant has also upgraded the trust’s security, including firewalls and malware detectors, and is migrating employees to Microsoft Office 365.
The show goes on
“We talk on a daily, often hourly basis. It’s like having an extended team whenever we need them,” says Salt. “It’s highly important for us to have that support for our peace of mind.”
Salt recalls a situation where a switch broke just before a major concert. “I phoned Pulsant saying ‘ I need your help urgently’ and before we knew it someone had driven over with a new switch, implemented it and everything was on again.”
He also praises the first line desk support now in place that allows Ian’s team to focus on more high-level tasks and developing strategy.
“Now we have more redundancy built into the system so if something fails, it doesn’t bring down the whole network. I also know that whether it’s late at night, Christmas, bank holiday or whatever, I can have backing and there’s no need for any panic.”
The Pulsant/North Music Trust team is now looking at replicating its data centre as a disaster recovery contingency.
Talking to Salt it’s clear that he appreciates having Pulsant’s breadth of expertise at his disposal whenever it is needed. However it is the trust between the two teams that makes the relationship so successful.
“I no longer have to worry about the upkeep of the infrastructure. If ever I am in a jam, I can ring up the Pulsant team and they get us out of it,” he says.