Requirement: IT Transformation Programme
Having been Dart Group’s chosen IT partner for a decade, Blue Chip have worked with them on a number of complex IT projects, including the migration of their business operations from Bournemouth to Leeds, an infrastructure refresh and server virtualisation, a 24/7 Fully-Managed Service, and the transfer of their e-commerce hosting to UK-wide datacentres.
Dart Group PLC is a Leisure Travel, Distribution and Logistics group, specialising in the operation of low-cost holidays and flights throughout Europe via Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, as well as the temperature-controlled distribution of fresh produce to supermarkets and wholesale markets throughout the UK under their Fowler Welch brand.
When Dart Group relocated their business operations and IT Infrastructure from Bournemouth to Leeds, they selected Blue Chip to not only manage this transition, but also to enhance their internal system and the Jet2.com flight booking system, as well as to undertake the future management of their IT systems. Dart Group's IT infrastructure had rapidly grown to thousands of servers which were failing to provide the level of business continuity required by the business.
The initial infrastructure refresh and server virtualisation served Dart Group exceedingly well for over seven years; however, the substantial development of the company - 100% growth year on year for Jet2holidays alone – meant that they required their IT to scale alongside them. In order to successfully establish the full scope of IT services available in the marketplace, Dart Group offered the new project out to tender. Having received several proposals and evaluating their options, Dart Group opted to continue their partnership with Blue Chip.
Dart Group originally tasked Blue Chip with the primary objective of migrating their e-commerce platform from their managed supplier to an agile-based internal development team in the UK. The company had reached the point where website traffic was so great that they needed to react to queries and requests more dynamically, as well as having the ability to develop and update the websites with the latest offers and packages more quickly, no matter the levels of traffic. Dart Group also required further support with executing remote working technologies to establish a “work anywhere” approach, in addition to adapting to a truly 24/7 style of business.
Blue Chip were asked to build the network and back-end infrastructure to orchestrate the e-commerce move. The initial requirement was to publish the website between two datacentres using Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) for failover. BGP ensures that, in the unlikely event that the first datacentre goes offline, all traffic is moved to the second site within minutes to ensure business continuity.
Blue Chip used its experience in key Enterprise technology to deliver an IT solution that provided 100% system availability, high performance and the scalability to meet Dart Group’s ever-growing business needs. This included VMware virtualisation technology, three EMC Storage Area Networks (SANs), Citrix Application Delivery and Microsoft Server Applications. Cisco’s Adaptive Security Appliances (ASA) provided intrusion prevention, X services and firewall services across the whole network, improving the subsequent level of perimeter gateway security. A combination of virtualisation and replication technologies, including server clustering, virtual machine snapshotting and real time data replication would also allow the infrastructure to withstand the loss of any core element.
To address the migration of Dart Group’s e-commerce platform, Blue Chip had no hesitation in recommending F5, who pride themselves in the ability to integrate apps from developers such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Cisco. Integration with specific software was essential for Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, as their entire e-commerce system is globally distributed from within Akamai’s CDN network for global content delivery. A very intricate program, household names such as Facebook and Apple utilise Akamai as it can inject bandwidth at peak times when traffic and volumes of data are at their highest. As Dart Group’s brands Jet2.com and Jet2holidays often run advertising campaigns during prime time television, it is not uncommon for both websites to receive a tenfold spike in visits.
F5’s LTM (Local Traffic Manager) and ASM (Application Security Manager) were upgraded to a multi-node LTM/GTM (Global Traffic Manager) cluster so that the datacentres were working in tandem. Using more than one component with load balancing capabilities can increase reliability and availability, which was necessary for peak time sales.
As well as being advantageous for Jet2.com’s e-commerce platform, the utilisation of F5 also benefited Dart Group’s other brand, Fowler Welch. Fowler Welch’s core ERP system, Manhattan, was required to scale upwards to support their distribution network. To provide low latency, high availability load balancing of the ERP system, F5’s solutions were deployed to provide this level of requirement for always-on services. With F5, Dart Group were able to reach an “Active/Active” solution, which provides failover in the event of a disaster; should the servers in one datacentre fail the traffic is simply load balanced into the other datacentre with minimal disruption.
For Dart Group, the trust of their customers is of paramount importance, and consequently their e-commerce site required PCI-DSS assessed security. To ensure that private information is protected, Blue Chip worked closely with Dart Group to ensure a stable and secure PCI DSS-grade credit card environment. Utilising the latest in Cisco UTM (Unified Threat Management) technology enabled the group to have confidence that their security and integrity was fully protected. Additionally, with Jet2.com and Jet2holidays’ contact centre having grown from 20 to 200 employees (including the relocation to Leeds) Dart Group wanted to facilitate a remote working environment. Cisco’s Meraki teleworking solutions were deployed, allowing home working for contact centre agents, all with central management and software delivery via Microsoft System Center for control.
To ensure maximum uptime for Dart Group’s IT infrastructure, all systems are monitored utilising Microsoft System Center with integrated SolarWinds Orion. Proactive Watchpoints provide performance management and reporting to enable real-time investigation, monitoring and forecasting of current and future needs, while any issues would be identified and fixed before causing problems to their infrastructure.
Blue Chip also provided a Network Managed Service and critical Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, inclusive of an on-site 24/7 Service Desk with monitoring, full-time Systems Administrators, procurement services, project services and website management.
Success and Company Benefits
Following the implementation of their first set of IT solutions, within 6 months Jet2.com officially became the most frequently visited retail website in the North of England. In addition, the 'spend' per visitor increased by 13% since the website launch, awarding Blue Chip the title of ‘Company of the Year’ at the Channel Network Awards for this project. The server virtualisation provided tangible savings in management time and power utilisation, with early estimates suggesting a £20,000 per annum saving in electricity from the servers alone.
There have also been enormous financial advantages following the second wave of improvements, with website sales increasing from more than £200 million to £1.25 billion since the deployment of the F5 solution. Blue Chip’s Technical Director Neil Clegg, who acted as the Technical Architect on the project, said: “The F5 solution was the obvious choice for such a busy, growing company like Dart Group; the business needed to adapt quickly to the growth in popularity of their Jet2.com and Jet2holidays websites. As technology continues to evolve at lightning speed, the malleability of F5 is essential, and makes the capital outlay of the solution exceptionally good value for money across its lifecycle.”
The F5 provision has provided significant business benefits, driving all aspects of the e-commerce side of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays. The “Active/Active” solution ensures that planned downtime is a thing of the past; one datacentre can manage all the traffic whilst the hardware, operating system or applications in the other are being upgraded or tested, meaning the company’s websites are able to operate as normal. Jet2.com and Jet2holidays were extremely impressed at how easy it proved to balance traffic. Additionally, they were delighted that the implementation of proactive Watchpoints meant that they could operate 24/7 without disruption or downtime, as any issues would be identified and fixed before causing problems to their infrastructure.
Paul Salmon, IT Director at Jet2.com commented "We initially selected Blue Chip as they had the local presence, capability and capacity to handle our critical systems. The ongoing relationship has proved to be very successful and we are delighted with the positive changes made to our business. Dart Group now has an IT infrastructure that provides the stability, resilience and performance required to meet our future business plans. The F5 solution has also enabled us to achieve a dynamic responsiveness that we have never seen previously. Finally, Blue Chip’s 24/7 Service Desk and proactive Watchpoints mean that we can concentrate on our core business goals, as despite the immense complexity of the solutions provided, we know that they are taken care of by experts.”