The Business Problem
When Homeloan Management Limited (HML), a subsidiary of Skipton Building Society (SBS), outgrew its premises in the heart of Skipton, new site Gateway House was built to allow consolidation of numerous sites. The initial scope of the project was for SBS to relocate its secondary data centre to Gateway House, and to provide connectivity and data centre synchronisation between the sites.
As new infrastructure was procured for Gateway House, it was to be replicated at The Bailey, SBS’s head office. However, what began as a finite project quickly became the conduit for a larger, organisation-wide review of its servers, architecture, SANs and systems. SBS was continuing to grow into new areas, and the team felt that this was the ideal opportunity to review its infrastructure and upgrade where necessary to future-proof the organisation.
“First and foremost, the project was about business continuity; SBS could not allow even the slightest interruption to service”, said Lynda Whitton, Technical Project Manager at SBS. “Furthermore, we wanted full control of our network. The previous leased circuit solution we had was subject to supplier lead-times and high costs whenever we wanted to scale up. We wanted to safeguard ourselves from these every time we needed extra capacity.”
SBS researched the options, looking at the major names as well as a number of smaller providers. “Nothing seemed to be exactly what we were after. We wanted the freedom to manage the network our way, scaling up whenever we needed, without compromising on quality.”
SBS approached Geo after discovering its dark fibre solution, and contracted Geo to build a tailored network between the two sites. Geo was the only provider to offer SBS the full management rights to its network; according to Whitton “it was the flexibility, completely tailored solution and the opportunity for us to fully manage it ourselves that sealed the deal. There was no compromise necessary – we ended up with the exact solution we wanted, even down to the specification of the actual fibre optic.”
After the Geo project management team had worked with the Highways Agency, onsite contractors and site managers to minimise the disruption and co-ordinate efforts, the dig began. 12 pairs of G.652 fibres were installed, which would allow SBS to isolate its traffic down individual fibres including SAN replication, DMZ and internal traffic between sites.
The project was broken down into composite parts, and fully audited internally. The first stage was the migration and testing of SAN; the next, connecting the LAN between the two sites. SAN data replication, critical to the migration, was the following stage, with SBS estimating that the new infrastructure had shaved around 25% off of the previous replication time.
New kit was installed and tested and, on the 5th of April 2010, SBS started the migration of its multiple systems including core processing, cashiering and data warehousing. Each was migrated successfully, and within the timescales that SBS had allocated, with no issues or business disruption.
SBS has seen the benefits immediately after testing:
By running geographic clusters at both ends of the network, testing showed that issues triggered automated failovers to the other site with a full recovery in less than ten minutes.
Faster transfer times
With previous dedicated circuits over shared fibre, latency times were dependent on how much equipment spanned the network. SBS now experiences SAN back up speeds of up to 40% faster over Geo’s dedicated network.
Lower cost implications
“Although implementation costs are higher, by switching to Geo we are effectively reducing our annual running costs by 80%”, confirms Whitton. SBS estimates that costs will be recouped within 30 months, if they continue ‘business as usual’. But realistically, they know that ROI will be achieved within 12-18 months, as soon as they add extra capacity.
Rapid growth capability
With a further 12 unlit pairs of fibre also lying dormant in their cable, SBS can scale up simply by adding extra equipment, eliminating further digging costs or lead times. “In fact, the only limit is our equipment”, said Whitton.
The synchronisation of the data between sites was previously limited to out-of-hours scheduling, due to bandwidth capacity issues, but is now conducted during the day with no effect on daily operations, ensuring a real-time transfer of data that supports its stringent disaster recovery strategy.
Since its implementation, the Geo network has assured SBS of a faultless service, experiencing no outages or disruptions of any kind.
Streamlined business lines
Bailey Computer Services, an SBS subsidiary who offer fully managed IT services to other building societies, have also seen the benefits. Their systems and disaster recovery are supported on the new infrastructure and their daily processing and system back up times have been reduced by 20%.