The first half of 2020 saw the migration of our hosted services over to our new “Reliance 2” Managed Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform.
So, what is Reliance 2?
Reliance 2 is our most sophisticated Managed IaaS platform yet. But to really answer this question, we need to take a trip back in time to 2007 where it all began.
We’ve just migrated our customers over to the third iteration of our Managed IaaS platform, Reliance 2. This latest version is our most flexible, cost-effective hosted platform to date, designed to solve a range of business challenges, with all industries and company sizes in mind.
The start of PSU’s hosted and managed services
The 2007 floods left many Gloucestershire businesses, including PSU, unable to access their offices for several weeks. Recognising the need to improve business resilience, we identified Claranet’s vPlatform hosting service as a good solution, and first started using it in 2008.
The initial vPlatform allowed us to convert the majority of our old physical servers into virtual servers hosted in Claranet’s Abbeywood data centre. Combined with Citrix for application delivery, this provided remote workers with faster and more reliable access into PSU’s applications and data.
Following the successful deployment and usage of the environment, we were able to suggest similar environments for our customers as an early iteration of our IaaS, and so PSU’s Hosted and Managed Service offerings began.
One easy way to explain how as-a-Service works is in terms of Pizza-as-a-Service. This checklist shows everything you would have to do to cook a pizza (blue ticks) and what a provider would do for you (green ticks). As you can see, IaaS means you just need to bring the ingredients – the whole kitchen is ready to go.
From a technical specification, the vPlatform was a two-node VMWare cluster, with one node being used as a High Availability failover node. While the vPlatform was very effective, having to add an additional two-node cluster each time additional compute environment was required generally resulted in wasted spare capacity which still needed to be paid for.
A more flexible, cost-effective solution therefore needed to be found.
The beginning of Reliance
The new solution came with the creation of Reliance 1, our first Reliance platform.
It won the Enterprise Hosted Solution Award at the Comms National Awards in 2012, following the migration of long-standing PSU customer Ringway Jacobs to the new Reliance platform. As part of this, we moved 500 users across 11 sites onto the new infrastructure platform, along with a high volume of data from nine incumbent contractors.
The consolidation and migration was undertaken within a three-month window and proved to be a huge success, offering cost savings due to the OpEx model, plus enhanced resilience, security and scalability.
The ICT solution had to overcome many challenges. Firstly, it had to be designed, built and completed in only three months. It also had to accommodate all the contractors’ data and applications, despite them only granting us full access two days before ‘Go Live’. We also required scalability to meet the expected growth in user numbers and make significant cost savings going forward. We were really impressed by the level of pre-planning carried out by PSU in order to fully understand the project’s detailed requirements.
Another customer to see the benefits of the Reliance platform was cruise ship retail giant Harding Retail, who moved their server estate off-site into our hosted Reliance environment. The managed aspect of the service was a key driver for them, as they wanted to free up more of their IT team’s time, which was currently dominated by day-to-day management tasks.
Partnering with PSU for server management and break/fix maintenance has ensured that exploits or risk of data loss have been minimised, allowing us to spend more time driving innovation and training through our operational team. We’re doing more with the same size internal team and calling on PSU as an extension, so we always have an entire team of expert IT staff ready to dive in at any time.
In technical terms, Reliance 1 was a large dedicated vPlatform comprising 16 nodes with one node as failover, which we were able to share between all our customers, providing greater cost-effectiveness on space. This was attached to a dedicated HP 3PAR storage system.
While this initially provided some of the flexibility needed for incremental growth, we soon started to reach the physical limits of the platform.
Faced by similar high-cost expansion options to the original vPlatform, we once again needed to find a new solution.
Developing Reliance 2
In 2018 we started evaluating alternatives to Reliance 1. Increasing numbers of businesses were approaching us for aaS solutions, with common infrastructure challenges including:
- Replacing old infrastructure
- Wanting to improve their security and regulatory compliance
- The desire to move away from CapEx investment in IT
- Concerns about safely managing legacy systems
- The headache of having to keep hardware and software up to date
- The speed and flexibility related to setting up new sites and creating test/dev environments
- The need for better backup
- Changing requirements for remote access to business-critical apps
We therefore developed Reliance 2 specifically with these evolving requirements in mind, to create a Managed IaaS solution which not only met the needs of our current Reliance 1 customers, but which was also tailored to the demands of the market, to provide a solution to an even wider range of businesses and industries.
We knew we needed something dynamic and utility-based with the same flexibility as Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s AWS platforms, but with the benefits of a UK-based hosting company including co-location and network connectivity.
As a leading telephony provider in the UK, voice performance over our networks to infrastructure in a data centre was also a key factor in our evaluation.
After around six months of due diligence, we decided Claranet still provided good value for money. Their new shared hosting platform in Global Switch 2 in London, which came online early in 2019, proved to be the best option for our customers in terms of both cost and performance.
Reliance 2 is a Managed Infrastructure-as-a-Service (MIaaS) environment which is underpinned by Claranet’s Claranet Cloud offering (IaaS). We take our customers’ requirements and provide the consultancy, planning and migration effort to take their IT and/or telephony estate either to their first cloud experience or from other hosted models to ours.
As Microsoft partners, we also sell Azure, however it’s not for everyone and our Reliance offering is quite often more cost-effective.
What is Reliance 2?
Reliance 2 is our Managed IaaS solution. It is an enhanced version of IaaS in which we don’t just host your infrastructure, but manage it too. This not only saves you valuable time but also ensures it is kept safe and up to date, removing the burden from your IT team.
This diagram shows the benefits of Reliance 2 compared to standard as-a-Service offerings.
The technical challenge: migrating to Reliance 2
Migrating the entire Reliance 1 estate to Reliance 2 in a different data centre was no small undertaking. We did this on a customer-by-customer basis, using Zerto for replication prior to migration. Our project managers worked with Claranet throughout, to ensure the process went smoothly for our customers.
In total we migrated over 200 virtual machines, with approximately 3TB of vRAM and 88TB of storage. We had no loss of data, no corrupted VMs and each customer was completed within a six-hour out-of-hours change window.
Reliance 2 now provides thousands of our customers’ end users with access to hundreds of business applications, 24 hours a day, every day. The platform also offers the flexibility to increase in capacity as required. This is particularly important as business data is currently growing at its fastest rate in history.
Performance across all customers has improved significantly following migration to Reliance 2, and we now have the ability to increase or decrease compute and storage in line with customer demand, including the provision of short-term contracts for test and dev environments.
Having constantly strived to provide the most flexible, straightforward and good value solution for our customers, the development of Reliance 2 has certainly delivered.
Reliance 2 Key Features
- Infrastructure built to your needs
- Flexible options around compute, network, storage and backup
- Operating systems are included, offering more than standard IaaS
- Tailored to your specific requirements
- Active management by PSU’s experts
- Supported by our high levels of customer service
- Enables access to applications from everywhere
- Supports migration from legacy applications
- Simple monthly fee means no large outlay
- Highly secure UK-based data centre
A solution for everyone
This latest iteration of Reliance has been specifically designed with businesses of all sizes in mind. The platform has been stress-tested on enterprises with 500+ employees and currently hosts customers of varying sizes across all industries.
While previous versions of Reliance have generally been more suited to larger businesses, the flexibility and affordability of Reliance 2 has made it an ideal option for SMEs. As a result, increasing numbers of SMEs are now signing up to benefit from this new and improved platform.
Teams Direct Routing
New on Reliance 2 for 2020 are our Hosted Mitel MiVoice Business telephony platforms and our new Audicodes hosted High Availability Session Border Controllers. This new environment provides Microsoft Teams Direct Routing and integration into our legacy customer telephony estate.
It provides options for our telephony customers to stay with on-premise solutions, integrate them with Teams, or move to a hosted Mitel offering. This enables them to retain much of their infrastructure investment while undertaking the shift at their own pace, minimising risk and cost to their business.
And of course, this can all be integrated fully and managed alongside their existing IT environment.