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How Forest Holidays migrated its hosted website to a managed service

Holiday firm Forest Holidays switched from Rackspace’s SME hosted service due to fast business growth, with new UCS hardware now living at Node4

Forest Holidays has migrated its website from Rackspace to a fully managed hosted service from Node4 to ramp up performance.

The company, which offers woodland holidays across multiple UK locations, relies extensively on its website to provide customers the information they need to choose and book a holiday. However, as the business grew, Forest Holidays found it was facing problems with the site and the back-end SQL Server database.

The company found its previous Rackspace service for small businesses was becoming too restrictive. The web servers were hosted through Rackspace’s small business package, with Rackspace-supplied standard servers. As the company began growing rapidly, it found the small business package did not have the redundancy or the service levels it required.

According to Nick Danson, IT systems manager at Forest Holidays, moving up to the next level of performance and reliability – Rackspace’s enterprise level –  was a much larger step up than the company actually needed. Instead, the company decided to take a different approach and switched over to a Node4 managed service.

Danson joined the company in 2016, a few months after Forest Holidays took the decision to migrate its website onto Node4.

Describing the reasons for the migration, Danson says: “We didn’t have our own kit to Rackspace, it was on a hosted server. Node4 suggested a hosted rack, with our kit, offering us the flexibility to grow.

“Since the company was growing rapidly, the predictable costs of owning the hardware was more appealing compared to a usage-based price, where the company’s web server costs are more directly related to the volume of customers visiting the site. A completely self-contained setup seemed easier and more flexible,” he adds.

Forest Holidays chose a Cisco UCS chassis installed at Node4’s Northampton datacentre to run its website. The UCS chassis hosts a VMware vSphere cluster to run Microsoft SQL Server, the website running in its domain, and NetScaler virtualised load balancers.

Node4 was able to deliver robust support, flexibility, scalability and significant return on investment (ROI) to Forest Holidays, as well as the ability to provide more products and services whenever it was needed, according to Danson.

“The managed service provided by Node 4 covers every part of the IT for the website. We can put in a request to have anything changed such as firewall or adding more memory to SQL Server. If we have issues with SQL Server, Node4 can have a response in a few minutes. A service request will take a couple of hours,” he says.

Migrating to another service provider

Danson joined Forest Holidays a few months after the company began the project to switch hosting service providers. Describing the migration process, he says that all the systems were built and configured by Node4.

Once the website was rebuilt, the back-end SQL Server database was then transferred over to Node4. Finally, domain name server (DNS) was updated to point to the IP address of the new web server. Danson says the whole process went without any issues, adding that there was “less than an hour of downtime”.

Danson puts the success of the switch down to the planning. “We spent plenty of time on testing. Node4 gave us access to the test scripts well in advance of the system being ready,” he says. This meant it was possible to check what was being tested, and more importantly, what tests were being missed by the scripts.

Comprehensive documentation was another factor that helped Danson get up to speed on the project, given that he joined a few months after it started. “We had comprehensive documentation of what we were putting in place. I just needed to get up to speed. If I asked why we were not doing it a different way, there was always someone there who was able to explain,” he says.

Thanks to the extensive project documentation, the migration was completed in under three months, says Danson. “I joined at the end of August 2016, and we migrated by the end of October 2016, which is quite quick. We delayed the switch-over by a week, because it landed during the half-term holidays, which is a busy time for us,” he adds.

Forest Holidays used BaseCamp as a project coordination tool. Danson says the team got Node4 on the phone every couple of weeks for five to 10-minute calls to check on the status of the project. As the deadline approached, these calls became weekly.

Planning ahead

Node4 has been running Forest Holidays’ website for almost two years. Discussing how the site coped with the August 2018 bank holiday weekend, Danson says the website was able to support the level of interest the company received during the peak holiday season.

“The business has 10 sites and 560 cabins. August 20 was our best weekend, and we ran 100% occupancy across all sites,” he adds.

Now that the website is hosted at Node4, Danson says he is confident the website and equipment can scale as the business grows, adding that he will be looking at moving other applications to Node 4 in the future.

“We have typical IT comms at our HQ, so we are looking at whether to move some of that to Node4 to remove as much IT equipment as possible from the head office,” says Danson.

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