Betfair's Australian launch is a winner

The online trading site went live in Australia three weeks ago, and so far has achieved 100 percent uptime

When UK-based online trading site Betfair was granted a licence to operate in Australia this January, it built a new data centre and flew the entire setup from the UK to Tasmania on two chartered aeroplanes. In the first three weeks of going live, the company has achieved 100 percent uptime.

Betfair is an online trading exchange and, according to the company's director of infrastructure, Paul Moss, the challenges of keeping such a system available are similar to — and sometimes more demanding than — a stock exchange.

"The site always has to be available. Unlike the stock exchange, which shuts down at 5pm for storage upgrades and firmware upgrades, Betfair can't stop. It is just like a stock exchange but 24/7.

"You can bet right up to the last second [during a race or football match]. So Betfair is all about performance, capacity and availability. We do as many credit card transactions as any European site so security is important as well," said Moss.

When asked about downtime, Moss said it was "not tolerated". He claimed Betfair in the UK achieved five nines (99.999 percent availability) last year and he hoped Betfair's Tasmanian data centre would maintain its perfect record.

"I should point out that we have been live for exactly three weeks and two days, so the fact that we have maintained 100 percent isn't really anything to crow about so far, but nonetheless I think we have proved that the infrastructure we have deployed is fundamentally sound," Moss told ZDNet Australia this morning.

Moss explained that once the company knew it would be opening up a hub in Australia, it decided to purchase all the necessary equipment in the UK and build its data centre there — where it already had the expertise, experience and testing facilities. Once ready and working, it was loaded onto two 747 aeroplanes and flown to Hobart.

Moss claimed the company spends a "minimal" amount on Microsoft licences.

"At the back end we have Sun enterprise boxes running Solaris and an Oracle database. On the Web tier we have Sun AMD Opteron machines that run Red Hat Linux. All the networking gear is Cisco and Citrix Netscalers are used to load balance," he said.

Although Betfair in Australia is relatively new, Moss claims the servers are already being tested and the traffic is expected to continue growing at a healthy rate.

"In Tasmania, the centre peaks at about 500 requests per second. In the UK, the data centre handles 1.4 million transactions per day and on a busy day we do 3,000 requests per second.

"We take great pride in what we do… at 3:20 on a Saturday afternoon — peak time — you want everything to work," said Moss.

When asked if Betfair's Australian operations could maintain their perfect record, Moss said: "I hope so, that's the whole idea — to maintain 100 percent".

According to Moss, Betfair is keen to seek out any technology that could help the company improve its site's performance and availability but, before the company invests in any new technology, it puts the products through a "real world" test in its labs.

"We basically record one of our busiest days — people logging in, placing bets, cancelling bets — it actually records a true day, so we have a very good idea of the performance of the kit we are buying," said Moss.

Balancing the load
One of the products highlighted by Moss was the Citrix Netscaler, which is a load balancing appliance that is capable of managing network traffic on the application layer. It is usually deployed in front of application servers to ensure traffic is evenly distributed but it is also capable of compressing HTTP traffic to reduce bandwidth and improve application performance.

Betfair's UK office, which is where Moss was originally located, switched to NetScaler around three years ago from the BIG-IP appliance from F5 Networks. The BIG-IP offers similar features to NetScaler and Moss said that although there was nothing wrong with them, the NetScaler simply provided better performance for Betfair's requirements.

"The F5 BIG-IP is great. I have nothing negative to say about F5. We have F5's in the lab," said Moss, who suggested that should F5 boost the BIG-IP's performance to surpass that of the NetScaler, he would consider switching back.