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London Capital Group improves service deployment with SDN

Online trading firm has revitalised its service delivery after switching a legacy physical network for VMware NSX SDN

Online trading firm London Capital Group (LCG) has ditched a legacy physical network that was causing it serious problems in favour of a software-defined network (SDN) deployment built on VMware’s NSX platform.

When LCG CIO Blair Wright joined the business in 2015, he was charged with reducing the company’s datacentre footprint and costs. As previously explored by Computer Weekly, he has made progress on this point, recently ditching an end-of-life Dell and HP-based environment for a converged infrastructure from Nutanix.

At the same time, Wright was also planning the move to VMware NSX for SDN. This was partly to further LCG’s aims to drive out more costs from the business, and partly because the board wanted to launch a new online trading platform and expand overseas, but was being held back because of its ageing network infrastructure.

Some of LCG’s existing network configurations were so old that there was literally no record remaining of them, which meant the network was almost impossible to maintain, let alone update or, more chillingly, to recover. The system was experiencing stability issues and service outages, and various requests from around the business were taking the IT team weeks to manage, simply because of the complexity of the existing set-up.

However, the obvious need to clear everything out and start from scratch also left Wright in a good position in how he could move forward.

“If you’re going to change everything, perhaps you should start looking at what you could do differently,” he said. “It’s an opportunity that comes around fairly rarely, but when it does, it’s a nice place to be.

“We were already under instructions to look at our datacentre footprint, so we were driven on all fronts towards more of a converged infrastructure.”

Faced with a wholesale reconstruction of the entire network, it was decided that a software-defined approach would meet LCG’s requirements.

Extending VMware commitment

As a previous CIO had installed VMware vSphere to virtualise LCG’s server estate some years ago, the decision was taken to implement and optimise a network infrastructure based on VMware’s NSX platform, using VMware UK partner Gyrocom to do the legwork.

“From a relatively early stage in the project, LCG was clear that it wanted to really expand the value of what could be achieved through SDN through the use of NSX,” said Gyrocom managing director Graham Brown.

“VMware NSX was the obvious choice. NSX would be able to boost security levels and, by automating and simplifying the company’s network, would help streamline the troubleshooting process, making maintenance easier and so increasing the reliability and agility of its services.”

Early adopters

Enterprises that have gone all in on SDN are still, relatively speaking, rare beasts, but Wright said he saw the transition as a “calculated risk” for LCG.

“Nutanix was a new move for us, and VMware NSX going on top of it at that time, we were certainly an early adopter, but I could already see the benefits, and once we had installed it, it worked just as the brochure said,” he said.

“When you start thinking in the world of NSX, a lot starts to make sense. It can seem daunting, but it changes how you think about networking.”

Agile, secure and controlled

Not only was Wright’s team able to launch LCG’s new trading platform on time and on budget, creating a competitive advantage and improving its revenue flow, but the NSX-based network means its platform is benefiting from greatly improved stability and availability.

“NSX has made our trading platform more robust and given us the ability to provide 24/7 service for the full market week, from the opening of the Australian markets on a Sunday evening through to the closing of the US markets late on Friday night,” said Wright.

By enabling micro-segmentation through NSX, LCG was also able to ensure its customer data remained secure and compliant, meeting the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulations and being compliant in advance with the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Read more about SDN in the enterprise

  • What is SDN, and how does it differ from NFV? In part two of this series, IT expert Andrew Froehlich explains SDN technologies and where we can expect to see them in the future.
  • The benefits of SDN include flexibility, control, reduced costs and increased performance. As it is becoming more widely used, you should familiarise yourself with its processes.
  • SDN promises to change how networking pros work. Analyst Shamus McGillicuddy shares the top priorities of enterprises tackling SDN retraining.

It has also helped LCG modernise its approach to its own security. Inside a traditional datacentre environment, it is very easy for attackers to move from server to server once they have gained access. By allowing the business to incorporate security beyond the datacentre perimeter, and individually on every server and virtual machine (VM), NSX has effectively eliminated this concern.

“This level of automation means we can roll out new services and applications across the company much more quickly, with automated security policies meaning we save the hundreds of man-hours we used to spend securing each individual environment and setting up individual firewalls,” said Wright. “VMware NSX has made it easier for us to create a competitive differentiation against our rivals. We can keep our trading platform experience up to date with the latest tools and services that customers expect.”

The overall software-defined approach has enabled LCG to consolidate its hardware estate by 50%, moving from eight racks to four and returning valuable datacentre floor space back to the provider, while from a networking perspective, the need to spend on load balancers and firewalls has completely gone.

“Despite having fewer servers and switches, NSX allows us to do far more with our IT estate than ever before – we are running a more sophisticated, less complex service,” concluded Wright.

Read more on Software-defined networking (SDN)