Orange Digital, the subsidiary of Orange that manages digital services for EE, had a legacy physical infrastructure that was inadequate to offer scalability at low costs. Its IT team has adopted cloud services, not just for high scalability, but also to cut infrastructure hosting costs by £2m over three years.
The digital services company’s legacy infrastructure was a result of mergers and acquisitions and hence was non-standardised.
“Our infrastructure was expensive to run and time consuming to maintain. Our traffic profile is variable in nature, which resulted in an oversized infrastructure 90% of the time,” said Neil Jennings, lead enterprise architect at Orange Digital.
As broadband traffic patterns vary, Orange Digital also faced scalability challenges in its old infrastructure. For example, it could not cope with the peak Saturday traffic on the Orange sports channel sites when sports fans frequently checked scores and results on their data-enabled mobile devices.
It was also supporting many EE microsites and applications that needed rapid and temporary hosting.
Besides, EE (formerly Everything Everywhere) also runs seasonal campaigns, such as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards and summer music festivals, which require short-term capacity that can be quickly tested and deployed for the duration of the campaign and then scaled down just as easily.
“We became limited by our fixed infrastructure at a time when traffic on Orange and mobile homepages rose to four billion requests monthly,” said Neil Jennings.
Scaling up the existing physical infrastructure would involve a massive upfront cost and a long time to market for deployment, he said.
Beating legacy infrastructure woes with AWS cloud
So the IT team sought alternative solutions such as cloud-based services to replace its aging physical infrastructure and for flexibility. It then selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its scalability features.
Today, it uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for hosting servers in various functions such as load balancing, reverse proxies, web servers (Apache) and as database servers – split across three availability zones for high-availability and security.
It also uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for static content hosting and Amazon Route 53 to build Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) and for internal scripts to share snapshots and software deployment.
These AMIs, as well as Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) snapshots, are used for testing and development. This has allowed Orange Digital to replicate a production environment on development laptops to ensure consistency throughout the development lifecycle, Jennings said.
“Basically our environment now is a resilient standard n-tier [multiple tiers] architecture built on Amazon EC2,” said Jennings.
“The cloud-based service’s application programming interfaces (APIs) gave us granular control over the virtual infrastructure, supported with solid documentation,” he said.
Reducing hosting costs
But most importantly, the IT team has estimated that moving from its existing infrastructure to AWS will reduce Orange Digital’s hosting costs by approximately £2m over the next three years.
Adoption of cloud computing brought other efficiencies too. The IT team can now focus on more strategic IT issues such as software development.
“Our infrastructure and support team has gone from nine people to four, freeing up the other five to spend their time on developing software and adding value, not just operational maintenance,” said Matt Deal, lead operational architect at Orange Digital.
Moving to AWS has also reduced the time-to-market for new products. “Previously, this process took at least three months. Today, time-to-market is dependent almost entirely on developing software and deciding what we want to do.”
The company is now looking to take its cloud computing project to the next level and is evaluating at cloud monitoring tools. It is also considering moving to Amazon CloudSearch to improve its application search capabilities and considering Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) for network flexibility.