Notonthehighstreet.com eyes up continuous deployment

The online retailer’s DevOps team is approaching continuous deployment by putting 90 percent of its infrastructure on the cloud, allowing more time to test and automate new features for customers.

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The DevOps team of online retailer Notonthehighstreet.com is approaching continuous deployment by putting 90 percent of its infrastructure on the cloud, allowing more time to test and automate new features for customers.

Yoann Martin, IT director at notonthehighstreet.com said: “We have a strong focus on enabling continuous deployment and delivery – something that we are very, very close to because of our efforts in testing and automation, and that will improve our time to market. Right now we are already able to deploy many times a day, as many times as we want as we have automated so much. Going that step further and having continuous deployment means that we will be able to release new features to customers much faster, but with the reassurance that the quality is there.”

The website, founded in 2006, uses more than 5,000 UK businesses to supply its 200 million customers with original lifestyle products. It is expanding internationally, and its next offering, the German leg of the business, will be hosted entirely by Rackspace’s cloud. By the end of this year, it will have moved the majority of its applications to the vendor’s public and private cloud.

“Effectively, 90 percent of our infrastructure will sit in virtualised solution”, Martin said.

Two core applications are notonthehighstreet.com’s website and its sellers’ portal, developed using Ruby on Rails. The portal allows merchants to feed in product description and pricing, manage SEO and pull statistical reports to see how products are doing. It also runs the order management system and digital assets like videos and images for the site. By breaking up the business’ “monolithic” applications and deploying them as services on Rackspace, Martin said, the DevOps team can focus on the business and reaching their goal for continuous deployment through these crucial products.

Martin said: “It feeds into our overall philosophy of how we tackled product development, which is about really quick feedback. By being able to release continually we can feed back into the application development pipeline. It is taking feedback to the next level, and ultimately is about getting the product right for the user.”

Having built their business gradually on Rackspace notonthehighstreet.com has put applications out on the cloud as and when the business required. UK businesses are more likely to experience challenges when moving to a public cloud than firms in other countries, according to a recent survey. Martin said that one challenge for IT was adapting technical processes for how they update notonthehighstreet.com’s application throughout the cloud infrastructure.

Continuous investment in infrastructure and DevOps as a function were crucial, Martin said.

“It is not necessarily because we are a new business, or the type of business or market we operate in. We are able to react quickly simply because we have the right foundations in place. It really is that continuing investment in infrastructure automation and orchestration that is an enabler to keep building on as we grow.

“We don’t do things twice; we do it once, and then automate it. I think those principles can help many business in any industry.”

Scalability

The retailer relies heavily on marketing events like Mother’s Day, Christmas and Easter, where the infrastructure will receive intense bursts. These bursts have contributed to exponential growth in the last three years, with an excess of £83 million in transactions so far in 2014. The infrastructure needed to offer high availability and flexibility to scale, Martin said, was best delivered through off-premise hosting.

“In the last six months from a core application point of view we have compelling business reasons, now we are scaling a lot and breaking up our applications, we are pushing our migration [into the hybrid cloud]”, he said.

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