Fasthosts is a fast-growing UK hosting provider that has expanded due to its focus on offering better and more economical services than its competition. To continue to stay in front, Fasthosts is upgrading to Windows Server 2012. It will take advantage of new features, such as storage migration, Hyper-V Replica, and “shared nothing” live migration, that will simplify data center administration and increase availability. With these improvements, and efficiencies delivered by Microsoft System Center 2012, Fasthosts can boost IT efficiency and business agility. It can reduce operating costs and help customers reduce their costs by offering more feature-rich services. Fasthosts will be able to offer several new services based on Windows Server 2012 capabilities that will generate new revenues. It can also improve availability by managing customer workloads with more flexibility.
Established in 1998, Fasthosts has grown rapidly to be a leading hosting provider in the United Kingdom. Fasthosts focuses on the mainstream hosting market, selling directly to end customers and also through an extensive partner channel network. Fasthosts delivers market-leading online services to the home, home office, and small business markets. The company has more than 6,500 dedicated servers and 200 employees. It serves more than 400,000 customers and a network of more than 5,000 reseller partners.
In July 2010, Fasthosts launched a virtual private server offering (dedicated servers running as virtual machines) using the Hyper-V technology in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system. Within two years, the company was serving thousands of customers on an infrastructure of 4,000 virtual machines running on 12 16-node clusters.
Fasthosts also used Microsoft System Center data center solutions to automate much of the management of the environment. However, Fasthosts still had to manually manage and monitor host server workloads, as it felt that System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 was too cautious in virtual machine placement. Also, migrating customers from one cluster to another—to update operating systems and applications or to perform routine maintenance—was laborious and time-consuming, because virtual machines had to be migrated one at a time and migrating associated storage was difficult.
“We had to live-migrate all customer data before we could take down one host server, update it, and bring it back up,” explains Jonathon Royle, Chief Technology Officer for Fasthosts. “As the business grew, this became a major headache for us. Because of the time required, we also couldn’t roll out security updates as quickly as we wanted, so we ended up accumulating and applying them in batches, which was not ideal for security. We needed to speed up routine administrative tasks so that we could respond faster to customers and new business needs.”
Fasthosts also wanted to continuously reduce costs and pass those savings on to customers. To provide secure communications between clusters running workloads for multiple customers, or tenants, Fasthosts had to create virtual local area networks, which were expensive and had scalability limits. Also, many smaller customers wanted but could not afford a disaster recovery capability.
Migrating workloads also resulted in planned downtime. “Overall availability was not where we wanted it to be, as we advertise 99.99 percent availability,” Royle says.
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