National Rail Enquiries puts web services on the public cloud

National Rail Enquiries is migrating applications that power its home page, online journey planner service and real-time service updates on to AWS cloud

Train information service National Rail Enquiries (NRE) is migrating business-critical applications -- that power its home page, its online journey planner service and its real-time service updates – on to the public cloud.

The website offers journey planning and fares information, ticket purchase and on-the-day train running alerts, and provides a range of rail-related information to rail passengers.

It handles more than two million enquiries each weekday for more than 16 million customers.

But for National Rail Enquiries’ IT team resource provisioning with the in-house infrastructure was becoming tricky. This is because, the website sees substantial load during weekdays, particularly during rush hour, while on holidays and weekends the number of enquiries will drop away to a fraction of what they are at peak times.

The IT team had to provision large amounts of technology to prepare for their weekday peaks, a lot of which would be idle at all other times. This lead to cost inefficiency and the team decided to opt for Amazon public cloud for its scalability features.

“The large variation in demand for travel information, over the internet and via mobile devices, is a great use case for cloud computing,” said Neil Miles, managing director at Smart421, the IT service provider that will integrate and manage the cloud service for the train information company.

Cloud technology will help the IT team scale the infrastructure up when it needs it and down when it does not, enabling it to maintain customer service levels but only pay a fraction of what they had to pay previously, Miles said.

National Rail Enquiries began the cloud migration this month and is planning to move three main business-critical applications to AWS, called Knowledgebase, Online Journey Planner and Darwin.

The application Knowledgebase provides the NRE's home page and manages and publishes information displayed via the online services. Meanwhile the journey planner service allows customers to find the best journey options between any two National Rail locations, based on their individual preferences.

Its service Darwin relays real-time train information to the site such as train arrival and departure times at about 2,500 stations across the National Rail network.

“In 2012, we launched our app which was downloaded by 2.5 million customers by the end of December,” said Chris Scoggins, CEO at NRE.

The team is migrating to a public cloud platform to support this kind of growth well into the future, added Scoggins.

By moving to the cloud, NRE hopes to become more efficient, and cut costs, compared with current arrangements.

NRE’s website will be fully supported by Smart421 and will involve a range of technologies in the AWS cloud. Smart421 will manage the scalability features within AWS and deploy tailored automation scripts to match peaks in demand.

“Rail passengers are looking to get the information they need, when they need it and through their preferred communications channel,” said Jason Durk, NRE’s passenger information manager.

“We already supply customers with information via apps on multiple platforms, social networks and mobile websites and moving to the cloud gives us the option to expand this further as we strive to offer passengers multiple ways to access the most up-to-the-minute information about their specific train journeys."

National Rail Enquiries’ move to the public cloud comes just two months after Rail Settlement Plan (RSP), the company that provides IT and retail services to UK rail operators launched a public cloud project to provide a next-generation ticket issuing systems for customers.

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