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YouGov migrates far-flung data centre back home

Archana Venkatraman

When planning a data centre migration between colocation providers, does location really matter? In a word, yes.

The London branch of global research and consulting firm YouGov recently moved its IT infrastructure from a managed data centre in Berlin to a new facility closer to home to save costs and to gain more control over its IT. 

Three years ago, the firm built out its IT infrastructure at a Berlin-based colocation service provider's facility, selecting it over providers in the UK.

“It was YouGov’s first proper European data centre project,” said Nicholas Carter, its director of global systems operations. “The data centre specification went out to tender in UK and Germany. The provider’s original pricing and offering [in Germany] was best and the deal at the time made the most sense for the business.”

YouGov also worked with a third-party IT service provider in Germany as its in-house IT departments lacked skills to manage data centre by themselves. But three years later, the Berlin data centre wasn’t capable of supporting the expanding business.

“Adding new hardware and increasing general capacity in Berlin was difficult and we experienced long delays in getting anything implemented and high additional costs when we did implement anything new,” Carter said.

It was a serious issue – simple tasks such as adding new servers were taking as long as three months. YouGov’s IT team had to go through the service provider’s approval process before adding new equipment, and additional services and capability had to be taken on the providers’ terms. “It reduced our flexibility and locked us into their costs,” he said.

There were other problems too with the Berlin facility. “We had two blackouts in two years -- the first was an air-conditioning failure and the second one was a power outage,” he added. “But the three-month timeframe for adding our fifth physical server to the Berlin data centre was the final nail in the coffin.”  

Meanwhile, the YouGov IT staff had been gaining the experience it needed to manage its own IT infrastructure. “We had a new and much stronger SysOps [systems operations] team in London,” Carter said. “Within a year, the team was ready and we had the skills needed to take over the running of our data centre.” In addition, migrating its data centre to London would help. YouGov would avoid high travel costs to another country.

Mass data centre migration

YouGov opted to rent dedicated rackspace from European colocation and data centre operator Telecity in London. “All the equipment in the racks is YouGov property,” Carter said. “We just get the rack space, power and connectivity from Telecity.” The IT team evaluated other colocation providers such as Equinix, but settled on Telecity because it provided the kind of high-density racks that YouGov needed.

The actual data centre migration was a tough task. Reproducing the underlying physical architecture was tricky because Telecity uses a Dell Compellent SAN which posed significant differences compared to the NetApp storage system used in the Berlin facility. The cost of borrowing equipment to host data during the transfer was high too.

The team overcame the challenge by virtualising the IT infrastructure in Berlin and then replicating the data to the London data centre using Veeam Software’s Backup & Replication 5.0.

YouGov had about 30TB of data and more than 100 VMs to migrate. “We started the process in June 2011 and our London data centre was ready by July 2011,” Carter said. “We worked only during after-hours to avoid downtime for end users.”

The team successfully moved essential applications, such as Sharepoint and Symantec Enterprise Vault, onto the new infrastructure and had them ready with minimum disruption or overtime. “[Veeam] Backup 5 also allowed us to streamline the backup process,” he added. Previously, the IT team relied on two separate tools for backup -- one for Windows and the other for Linux -- both designed for physical machines.

Data centre migration a net positive

YouGov’s migration project has yielded impressive results. Today, adding new servers takes just two days and YouGov’s IT team is able to expand IT easily to support business growth, Carter said.

The firm also benefits from lower hardware costs. “When new hardware had to be purchased in the Berlin facility, the prices were inflated above market rates,” Carter said, but the team is able to procure hardware in London at competitive rates.

All told, the efficiency gains from new equipment save YouGov £10,000 every year, even though Telecity’s data centre hosting costs are the same as the Berlin facility’s, Carter said. Going forward, he plans to apply the lessons learned at the London data centre to consolidate its US facilities, for further cost and IT efficiency gains.


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