Azure migration – the view from the CTO
Navisite talks to Dave Williams, CTO at Ed Broking
Ed Broking is a wholesale insurance and reinsurance broker, sourcing policies and coverage across a broad range of industries. Based in London, Ed Broking operates a number of international offices to support their global operations. Faced with replacing an ageing hosted server system, Ed Broking took the decision to move to fully hosted Microsoft Azure platform. This is their story.
Faced with an ageing hosted infrastructure, Ed Broking was faced with an important strategic decision – choosing a replacement system that would allow them to grow and flex according to changing business needs. Many of the company’s core systems were already hosted under a managed services agreement with their IT partner Navisite. But as the existing set-up was reaching its limits, something had to change.
We identified – and rejected – a number of options. We could invest in tin (additional on-site hardware) and expand our in-house data centre – too expensive. We could move to a private cloud platform – but the cost-benefit ratio didn’t offer a big enough incentive. So we took a closer look at public cloud services.
Although we are using Amazon AWS for services at some of our remote offices, we found that Microsoft Azure was a better fit for our needs. In an unrelated development, the decision had been taken to replace our existing hosted Exchange Server 2013 system with a move to Office 365. The shared functionality between Office 365 and Azure was another factor in our important reason for not choosing AWS.
“Like the rest of our existing hosted infrastructure, the Exchange Server we used was out of date and increasing our administrative overheads. We considered a handful of options including upgrading our hosted server. But when we crunched the numbers, Office 365 was a no-brainer. The features-to-price ratio beat out everything else - and it looks like our choice will have wider implications and benefits in future too.”
-Mike Clapham, Network Analyst at Ed Broking
And so work began to move 124 virtual servers and 50 terabytes of data from Navisite’s hosted server farm into Azure.
A strategic decision
The need to retire our existing, creaking infrastructure was the driving force behind migration, but there were other factors to consider. The superior security and stability of the Azure platform is critical to our GDPR compliance efforts for instance. And with better tools for monitoring and controlling security, we can constantly improve our defences.
Azure also offers us enhanced backup and disaster recovery options. Our entire environment can be replicated in another Azure location, with automated fail-over. The process takes a matter of seconds ensuring that productivity remains unaffected at all times.
We also expect to see an increase in operational flexibility. We are about to start an aggressive growth drive, so the ability to scale resources on-demand will be essential. If we had stuck with our previous set-up, scalability would have come at significant cost. We’d have had to invest in additional redundant hardware that would be rarely (if ever) used.
The move to the cloud will change the way we do business. Communications between our offices will be a lot easier for instance. And we will now be able to ramp up the use of remote working, allowing our team to be productive any place, any time.
Planning for the future
Currently we are completing a “lift and shift” migration, replicating the vast majority of our infrastructure in the cloud. This approach has allowed us to complete a three month migration project in just four weeks.
Once the move has been completed, we plan to re-engineer apps and services to make better use of the technologies provided by Azure. We also want to apply artificial intelligence to our business operations and existing data warehouses, improving efficiencies and the quality of service we provide to customers. Without Azure we would not have access to these functionalities.
Tips from one CTO to another
Although the Ed Broking migration has been completed incredibly quickly, we would definitely have benefitted from allowing more time – particularly at the early planning stages. Our partnership with Navisite has been indispensable. There is no way we could have completed the move without their expertise, particularly as we currently lack the necessary Azure experience to plan and execute a complicated migration.
I would also strongly recommend CTOs get buy in from the rest of the C-suite as early as possible. With their support, you can push to have strategic decisions made up-front, which reduces discussion and dispute once the project gets under way. Again, Navisite played an important role in selling the idea to our board who are now actively pushing for more innovation – and a global Azure roll-out for our international offices.
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