RealEstate.com.au maintains control over its private cloud

Property website deploys network monitoring tools to ensure 99.99 percent site uptime, manage traffic growth, and maintain corporate application and network SLAs.
Written by Tim Lohman, Contributor

You've just built your own 90 percent virtualised private cloud to host your business-critical website and corporate applications, but you lack the tools and insights to know how these and your all-important network are coping. What do you do?

You've got the choice of moving to a managed services provider, or you can choose to source the tools and manage the availability and uptime of the corporate network, infrastructure, and applications yourself.

REA Group, the owner of RealEstate.com.au, chose the latter course.

As RealEstate.com.au's technology services manager, Damian Fasciani said that the company's business hinges on a 99.99 percent uptime target for its RealEstate.com.au site. There's traffic of 3 million clicks per month, and additional pressure from an annual 30 percent traffic growth rate to the site.

The company had to carefully consider its options when it decided to seriously move into a private cloud while cherry picking the additional private cloud services it needed.

"Traditionally, all our corporate systems were managed by a corporate service provider for us," Fasciani said. "Once we started adopting cloud technologies, I wanted to move away from that, because we had a group of people who had the skills to manage our systems internally ourselves.

"We had a vision of creating a hybrid cloud and using a mashup of tier-one corporate systems. We knew we couldn't migrate while adopting public cloud and SaaS [software-as-a-service] products and integrate the two — to do that successfully, we needed to be able to manage our own ecosystem.

"When we migrated our own systems out and created our own private cloud, we needed a system to monitor all the layers of our hybrid cloud. We initially brought on a new telco provider to give us our data network across the country, and at that stage, we decided we needed monitoring on demand as well as real-time monitoring on the performance of our network across the country.

"That was quite important, as we were offering new SLAs internally within REA. As we migrated our virtualised systems across to our private cloud, we also wanted to monitor and track network infrastructure, our hypervisor layer, our corporate systems, and application performance."

The solution

Fasciani said that based on prior experience and the expert advice of the company's network engineers, RealEstate.com.au decided to adopt SolarWinds' monitoring and management products.

For systems management, the company deployed the vendor's Virtualisation Manager and Server and Applications Monitor. For network management, it selected its Network Performance Monitor and Network Configuration Manager products.

Web Performance Monitor was selected to ensure the health of the RealEstate.com.au website, and a range of other tools — IP Address Manager, Syslog Server to receive process and alert logs from network devices and Windows events, Mobile Admin for Agentless IT management and monitoring, and the Enterprise Operations Console for insights into enterprise network performance — were also selected.

"The first thing we did was get some assistance from external contacts our network engineers had to set SolarWinds up, initially inside our private cloud, and give it the infrastructure and resources that it needs, and set up monitoring across the country for our network," Fasciani said of the products' deployment process.

The results

In setting up SolarWinds for monitoring across the country, Fasciani said the company felt it had gained a higher level of insight into how its network is operating than it would have gained through a managed service provider.

"That's purely because you have access to everything you need," he said. "You have everything on demand, and access to the reports and data you like, without having to put in a service request or speak to another vendor to interpret information you don't have access to.

"It is always difficult when you are supporting a very fast-paced environment like REA; you need to be able to make decisions fairly quickly, and also when things are really busy, you need access to information on demand, and SolarWinds definitely gives us that."

Fasciani said that the company has also set up monitoring with its hypervisor to manage around 60 virtual machines and servers in its corporate IT environment. It has also set up basic application monitoring to test for performance issues, such as how long it takes SaaS-based systems to load its interfaces, or how it withstands penetration tests.

"At the moment, we are letting SolarWinds do that for a three-month period, then we will re-benchmark, and take that back to the business and ask it whether those times are acceptable," Fasciani said of the new network and application performance data that the deployment provides.

"We will be redesigning our dashboards for application and private cloud performance, then make that transparent to the business rather than hide all that stuff away, like some IT departments do."

Fasciani said that the plan is to create two sides to the monitoring tools: A technical side, to allow IT to interpret how the cloud environment is evolving; and a basic side, to allow the business to see the service levels IT is providing it on applications, networking, and site uptime.

"We feel that creating that transparency and providing that information always helps build a stronger relationship between IT and the rest of the organisation," he said.

Commenting on the ease of use of the SolarWinds tools, Fasciani said that the tools' design allows users to start off at a high level and then quickly drill down into the source of a bottleneck or technical issue.

"We start with a map of Australia, then you can go down to Victoria, where you have two network links — a main link and redundant link for the Melbourne office," he said. "You can then click on those, and all of a sudden drill into our main router, our backup router, our Optus MTU [maximum transmission unit]; you click on that, then it gives us stats on bandwidth utilisation, historical information from the last 24 hours to the last three months.

"Being able to troubleshoot and find issues really quickly is key. When we have had problems, an engineer has all the information he needs to fix that problem — that's what SolarWinds does for us."

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