Betfair starts virtualisation trials to speed up apps delivery

Betfair has started trials of server virtualisation technology to save six weeks in application deployment and improve hardware provisioning.


Betfair has started trials of server virtualisation technology to save six weeks in application deployment and improve hardware provisioning.

The online betting exchange has embarked on an 18 month roadmap to virtualise as many machines as possible. As part of this, Betfair has chosen datacentre company ControlCircle for datacentre space and collocation services to support the trials.

"In the past, every time we launched a new application, new physical hardware would be deployed," explained Nick Laflin, Betfair's utility computing programme manager. "Datacentres are often notoriously under-utilised with some server resources remaining idle for 85% of the time. This is due to over provisioning where more hardware is bought to handle peak traffic demand."

He added: "We're looking carefully at how virtualisation can help avoid this while increasing flexibility and saving costs for the company."

Betfair has more than a million registered customers of which almost half, 433,000, are active users of its services. The exchange handles more than 300 bets a second and 5 million transactions per day.
In a statement, the company said it took "more than 1,000 man years" to build the Java-written bespoke exchange and an investment of some $150 million (£84 million).

The exchange hopes that, by using server virtualisation software, it would be able to quickly provision new virtual machines and assign extra capacity when needed. For example, this would help the exchange handle a spike in users during high-profile events, or could allow applications and services to be easily moved as required between its datacentres located around the world.

Laflin described the previous model of computing as "an arms race" where each application was designed around the hardware needed and the time taken to roll out and configure new servers.

"As new applications were launched, it meant more physical hardware and more datacentre space and more cost. And given Betfair's exponential growth this is not sustainable. Virtualisation will allow us to sweat assets and increase efficiency."

Under the virtual model, Laflin predicted a saving of about six weeks per project in terms of application delivery timeframes. "IT becomes just like a utility in this respect," he said. "You pretty much turn it on and off as you need."

Under the contract, ControlCircle will provide a 'greenfield' site, which includes datacentre space and associated services from its London facilities, so that a trial environment could be set up to test systems and applications using a virtual model, without impacting operational infrastructure.

Betfair is expected to have 10 virtual machines running on one physical server, and are currently working on physical to virtual migrations and assessing how systems subsequently perform.

"While it is early days in terms of virtualisation projects within production, we have and expect to virtualise as many systems as is practicable," said Laflin.

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