Closing our Data Centre

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Data Centre – The End of an Era

We recently decommissioned our data centre. For the last 15 years we have been hosting customers’ workloads on our own equipment. This started in Docklands, London and then we moved to various locations in Manchester. The system hosted line-of-business applications, dedicated virtual machines, Windows and Linux website hosting servers, VoIP servers, VPN servers, mail filters and a variety of other little services. We had five 1Gbit/s Internet feeds from three different backbone providers with our own BGP routers and IP allocation.

This solution served us well for many, many years but it was time for a refresh, so we had to take a long hard look at what we were doing. Replacing a six-node virtualisation cluster with 10Gbit/s storage is a costly exercise. Having our own equipment and facility means that monthly costs are fixed but the initial outlay is high. The facility also gets old over time and eventually needs to be replaced again.

So, how about using a public cloud?…
  • Let someone else worry about disk crashes, connectivity issues, firewalling, upgrades, etc
  • Just pay each month for what we consume
  • No expensive capital costs
  • Advanced features like AI, IoT, replication and multiple regions
But what about doing it ourselves?…
  • Costs of our own facility are fixed, so profits are good if we have many customers
  • Being the ‘master of our own ship’ means we can fix problems ourselves and not be reliant on an external provider
  • Offer interesting, unique services
  • Differentiate ourselves from other IT providers

In the end, factoring-in the capital expense, the power and flexibility of the cloud and not wanting to worry anymore about equipment failures, we opted to migrate to the cloud.

As a certified Microsoft Partner, we had already worked with their general-purpose public cloud, Microsoft Azure, so that was the natural choice.

Over a period of months, we migrated customers’ VMs and LoB applications to Azure in London. They all benefited immediately from modern infrastructure, especially noticeable was the performance increase afforded by using SSD-based virtual machines. Their VMs are now up-to-date Windows Server 2019 installations behind very secure firewalls and access policies.

Our development team also migrated a series of server-based ASP.NET web applications to Azure’s Platform-as-a-Service solution. This means that those services just run inside the Azure cloud, no need to configure servers, upgrade them, protect them, we just let Microsoft do all of that. It is the same for the SQL Server databases, you choose how fast you need the database to go and pay for that service; no expensive ‘per-core’ licensing or performance limitations.

Everything is then backed-up or mirrored to Microsoft’s other UK data centre in Cardiff… this is something that would simply be impossible for us to afford with our own equipment.

The solution has been running for a few months and it is great. Customers are happy with the performance of the applications and VMs. The PaaS platform means that reliability of websites and web apps is 100%; this too would be impossible for our own data centre as hosting machines must be restarted each month for their security updates.

All-in-all, the migration from our DC to Azure has been great. Reliability is up, performance is up, customer satisfaction is up, whilst costs and sleepless nights are down! We are sad that we no-longer have our own servers and solution, but Azure is big, better and more flexible, so we are OK.

The Future

Azure allows us to do things that were previously out-of-reach, such as…

  • AI Solutions – Machine learning in your own DC is basically impossible
  • Multi-site Replication – Replicating VMs between DCs is possible but you need an entire second data centre with a second set of costs
  • Global Reach – Our PaaS services can be positioned near to customers in any part of the world, whereas our data centre was just in Manchester

“Bye bye DC1. We’ll miss you, but your time had passed.”

PS. Special mention must go to HP for making such brilliant hardware. Every server worked beautifully for ten years or more. Splendid work guys!

XenServer-based six node virtualisation cluster using (mostly) HP ProLiant hardware.

Jason Timmins, our Technical Director, stand in the rack that used to house our hosting facility. At his feet are five 1,000Mbit/s Internet connections.

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