Online betting exchange Betfair has implemented VMware's vCloud as its attempts to redefine its IT department as a 'service broker', delivering virtualised environments to its development team through software defined data centre tools.

Betfair has around 1,800 staff, including a large community of developers using the agile development process to support the delivery of betting services through bespoke Java and Apache-based web, mobile and tablet platforms. Betfair also allows external developers to produce their own connected software through its App Cloud API system.

After joining the firm 18 months ago, Betfair's head of IS architecture and strategy, Lee James, looked at ways to improve the IT department's ability to meet the developer team's needs, with growing demands for service delivery to extend past the provision of virtual machines through its Citrix Xen infrastructure.

"We saw the need for us to turn ourselves into what we classed as a 'service broker', with a need to start delivering templates of service back to our customers, rather than individual virtual machines," James told Computerworld UK at VMware Forum 2013 at Wembley Stadium.

He added: "A developer doesn't just want a virtual machine, they want it connected to the right networks, they want it to mimic production, they want a firewall and the loadbalancing and all the intricacies of a production environment-like state, and to then be able to test against it."

James said that the use of Xen had helped give Betfair the agility it needed as a start up company in 2000, but did not allow it to expand its service delivery with provisioning and management tools.

"Obviously as a start up company time to market was key. Projects and tooling which enabled [Betfair] to do that - especially ones that were open source or free, and Xen was a big proponent of that - drove the business forward significantly."

"The gap that we saw is the fact that the management software, the provisioning software - and the software defined data centre as VMware like to call it - simply just isn't there in the product suite of Xen, or any of the other hypervisor capability today. So that was our reason to move over to VMware, simply because of its maturity and what it can offer."

Betfair began with implementing VMware's vShape and ESX virtualisation tools on its 20-30 Dell servers a year ago, beginning the process of replacing its Citrix Xen solution.

Following this, Betfair implemented VMware's vCloud Suite 5.1as part of a 'soft launch' in January, before going fully live with the system around two weeks ago. The firm also looked to Saas provider ServiceNow as it sought to enable developers to deploy complete environments through self service tools linked directly to vCloud.

"It is a big shift for us," James said of the project. "VMware have told us it is a pioneering service in the fact that it is software defined networking, software defined firewalling, and it is in essence a complete environment in a box which we can deploy."

"So we use everything as part of vCloud. We use vCOPS [vCenter Operations Manager] for us to actually understand what is going on in the environment. And instead of looking at a particular set of servers we can see the environment as a whole. That product also helps give us visibility into future demand in terms of who is using what, andwhere."

He added: "We use a vCloud Director product, and that enables us to template up these environments and actually deploy them and provision them dynamically. And then right down to their standard suite of tools like vSphere, and obviously the ESX."

James said that the replacement of Xen on its servers, which will be fully completed over the next 12 to 18 months, has not caused any problems for the IT department so far, with VMware a "much more stable" platform.

For Betfair's business the main benefit has been in giving its 'sprint' development teams the ability to move quickly as part of the agile software development methodology. This is vital in getting its product out to market before competitors, James said.

"The main business case around bringing in this solution was around the fact that we could speed up our sprint teams. They would [previously] have to make a request to the platform team, make a request to the storage team, make a request to the database team, [saying] 'I want a network update, I need a firewall change'. Or they would need to change all of that because the application dynamics have changed."

"They now come to us and say they will have a template, and they get it consistently and repeatedly, automated, there is ticket management behind it, they have a menu system, they can see what orders they have done before. And when they stop using it we can get rid of it so that we can maximise our utilisation."

He added: "That will improve our time to market for our products, which is obviously what gives our competitive advantage over other people in the marketplace."

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