Preparing IT for massive business growth

How consolidation and automation can set the stage for an influx of customers.

Dot brand. Dot city. Dot niche. By this time next year, any one of these could be viable. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has opened up a new era of generic Top Level Domain names (gTLDs), moving the online world from “dot com” to “dot anything.”

Starting in 2013, if you have the vision and resources, you can own the suffix to the right of the last dot in a website or email address. And for global registry services providers like Afilias Canada Corp., that means potential for unprecedented growth.

“We’re expecting to go from 18 current registry customers to more than 200 customers, all within 12 to 24 months,” predicts Afilias Senior Director of Technology Terry Graham, noting that .info and .org are two of the more popular registries with operations currently managed by Afilias.
It is a pretty big surge in a fairly short time. But Graham is not worried. In fact, after transitioning Afilias from a proprietary world to a virtualized world, he’s ready to welcome it.

“If we’re going to be launching 20, 50, or 100 gTLDs at once, we’re expecting a large increase in the amount of traffic,” says Graham. “We needed a technical solution that would allow us to scale and grow. We didn’t want to just buy more boxes. We wanted to be able to do it in an intelligent manner.”

In March 2012, Afilias embarked on a virtualization strategy, moving its custom-built registry management software from Unix servers to the Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®) supported by Cisco Nexus® switches. The company chose Cisco UCS® after a competitive analysis designed to measure stability and performance.

“Any other competitor’s story is, ‘We’re as good as Cisco’ and that’s where it ends. They don’t know what that means. They don’t know how to prove it. It’s just a statement,” he says. “Cisco is really the only vendor who came in and said, ‘Here’s why we’re awesome.’”

Setting the stage for growth
Leveraging the services of Toronto-headquartered Scalar Decisions, an IT solution integrator focused on data center automation and cloud enablement, Afilias is moving from five data centers to three and from 18 racks per data center down to six racks as part of its transition to Cisco UCS. The three new data centers are replicated for disaster recovery and backup purposes, allowing for automatic failover and giving Afilias’ 80-member IT team a test environment that mirrors production–something that was previously impossible due to the high cost of the proprietary hardware.

“We’ve basically replaced our infrastructure at a lower cost than simply the maintenance on our prior infrastructure,” notes Graham, citing an overall cost savings of 70 to 80 percent as a result of infrastructure replacement and virtualization. “At the same time, we’ve improved performance and reduced our provisioning time.”

An added advantage is that Afilias is able to support its pending customer load without adding IT manpower. Part of that has to do with automation. Historically, IT would handle customer growth by managing multiple instances of applications across multiple servers, a strategy that worked for 18 registries but not for several hundred.

“We’re in a position where we can add a new client in a day and get things going,” he says. “The combination of having the automation, blade servers, and configuration management through VMware gives us a lot more flexibility moving forward.”

With the first non-contentious gTLDs expected to go live by July 2013, Afilias is prepared for the added complexity and traffic. It is also well-positioned to deliver future functionality to further differentiate its services from competitors, such as being able to offer tiered service level agreements or provide localized support for international registries.

“Being able to reduce our costs so dramatically has been a huge benefit,” points out Graham. “Our initial plans were to be ready by the end of 2012, and we are. We don’t know how quickly those 200 customers are going to come, but we’re not worried about it given the capabilities we now have.”

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