How YouGov moved its IT systems from Berlin to London

After buying up a number of companies in the US, Germany, Dubai and Scandinavia from 2006 onwards, market research company YouGov was left with a whole array of IT resources that needed to be drawn together.

It chose to consolidate all the acquired companies’ systems together in a managed hosting service with Interoute in Berlin. At the time, all of YouGov’s IT staff happened to be in Germany, and the company needed some help with data centre management.

Three years later, YouGov had grown considerably, as had the size and sophistication of its UK-based IT department. It therefore wanted to bring its system back closer to home. “My team and I were in the UK, and by then we had all the skills we needed to manage the data centre ourselves,” explains Nicholas Carter, director of global system operations at YouGov.

In addition, YouGov’s engagement with Interoute was less than ideal. “If we wanted to add new hardware or new services, it was at a massive extra cost because we had to buy our equipment directly through Interoute,” he explains. “We couldn’t bring our own equipment in, plus every additional server we added in incurred another £300 or £400 hosting fee.”

Carter says that a number of “massive outages” last year forced YouGov to make a move it had been considering for some time. One outage in March 2011, during which Carter claims Interoute forgot to switch back to the mains from the emergency power system after a power cut, “crippled” YouGov’s operation for two weeks.

(Interoute told Information Age that “a failure in the national German Power grid triggered an outage in isolated parts of our Berlin data centre and very unfortunately impacted YouGov. We are extremely sorry for any inconvenience YouGov suffered as a result of this outage. We treat every customer incident very seriously, and when YouGov made the decision to leave us we worked very hard to make the migration as smooth as possible.”)

Moving home

YouGov therefore decided to relocate its IT infrastructure to Telecity colocation facility in London. That presented the challenge of transferring 40TB worth of active data from Berlin to London with a minimum of disruption. Happily, that infrastructure was 100% virtualised, which allowed Carter to relocate virtual machines one at a time, using a virtual private network between the two data centres.

Carter decided to use the migration as an opportunity to exchange its storage infrastructure from NetApp to Compellent, now part of Dell. That meant that transferring data from one to the other was not just a case of simply copying the data. “One of the main challenges was that there was no replication technology to copy our data directly between NetApp and Compellent,” he explains.

Ordinarily, this would have meant rebuilding the storage volumes in the new array. However, using storage management software from Veeam, Carter was able simply to shift virtual machines from one to the other.

The software also eased the migration of YouGov’s highly customised applications. “Our SharePoint environment had a lot of custom widgets that were developed at the time it had been installed and we needed to keep all that functionality together, so we migrated its entire server from Berlin to London,” he explains.

Some of the systems were so large that it took several replications to move them across. Replicating the entire data centre took one and a half months, but the effort was well worth it, says Carter. “No-one really understood the systems in Berlin. We’ve built the new system the way we want it from the ground up,” he says. “Everything has come together in London.”

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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