CIO interview: Betfair CTO Tony McAlister switches datacentre horses

Betfair chief technology officer (CTO) Tony McAlister explains why the gambling company moved all its IT operations to Ireland

Betfair chief technology officer (CTO) Tony McAlister explains why the gambling company moved a critical part of its IT operations to Ireland

According to Betfair CTO Tony McAlister, the company's datacentre migration is the largest infrastructure project in its history. It took months to complete and was the number one priority for the company's IS team.

Completed on 31 January, the datacentre migration is intended to benefit Betfair's customers by increasing the scalability and robustness of its products.

"Calling it a move' is a bit of a misnomer," he told Computer Weekly, "because we could not take parts of our product suite down while we put servers on ships to Dublin.

"We needed to buy and install new kit and then migrate the data, a process that we planned to take 24 hours from start to finish, although we were able to complete it in around 12 hours."

Betfair is now a neighbour to the IT giants with datacentres in Dublin, such as Google, eBay, Microsoft and Amazon. Reasons for choosing Ireland as Betfair's key IT base include a readily available pool of English-speaking talent with the skills it needs.

According to the CTO, other reasons to go to Dublin included good communication and transport links to the UK, and the fact that "the Irish are passionate about sport".

The datacentre setup

The new datacentre is owned by a third party but it is managed by Betfair staff. Betfair employees installed the entire infrastructure at the new site, even down to such details as running all the cabling and sorting out the power.

Betfair staff also racked up machines that the betting company purchased and deployed the code onto the servers. The administration of all IT assets at the new site is also the responsibility of Betfair's staff.

Until a couple of years ago, the betting site's server fleet comprised about 1,200 boxes, supported mainly by Sun Microsystems. Other key suppliers at the firm include Microsoft, Oracle, HP and Dell.

According to McAlister, the migration to Dublin enabled the business to increase its server capacity, as well as use virtual machines.

Betfair's website was unavailable during the migration, but customers of the betting exchange were notified of the service interruption in advance, so there were no surprises.

"Normal exchanges shut down every night for clearing and IS work. We continuously process [data], which is a significant achievement.

"However, we needed to shut down to move the exchange in this instance. Once moved, we started bringing our products back up in order of customer preference, starting with the core sports exchange itself.

"It was a significant project for the business to undertake, but we did so knowing that once it was complete, we would have the best platform for future growth."

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