Challenge

National Rail Enquiries (NRE) is one of the most recognisable web-based tools in our day to day lives, but just a few years ago, they were facing a significant challenge to keep up with the intense demand for their services.

As NRE had evolved over time, it had been built across multiple applications that were managed by a variety of vendors resulting in an overly complex technological environment. Before we came to work with NRE, they were tasked with overseeing four different suppliers, and reconciling the various service reports, monthly reviews and support tickets. An ageing hardware system compounded the issue, as existing equipment was unable to scale to meet peaks and troughs in demand – requiring NRE to remove site functionality at peak times in order to reduce demands on their hardware. 

We weren’t making full use of the physical hardware that we had, because if there was a disruption on the rail network, then suddenly additional capacity was required. We had no flexibility to add in, so it had to be there from the start. – Jason Webb, Head of Online for National Rail Enquiries

NRE needed to evolve their legacy systems and develop a new solution capable of meeting the considerable fluctuations in demand that occurred during unexpected events such as extreme weather or industrial action. Additionally, they needed to ensure a single view of their solution, to remove the complexity of day-to-day management. 

National Rail Enquiries’ infrastructure brings together 60 interfaces, 6 suppliers and around 250 instances

Solution

Through a formal tender process, NRE began their search for a better solution. While specifically looking for an AWS partner, there was also a consensus that the successful supplier would need to specialise in integration, and be comfortable managing other supplier relationships.

We were officially selected to engage in 2012, beginning an initial 18-month project with an additional 5 years of ongoing support. Our team worked with NRE to design and deliver a revised infrastructure, while also providing project management for the full transition.  

Our solution helped National Rail Enquiries to make a 25% reduction in infrastructure costs

By utilising Amazon Web Services to support the project, we were able to offer National Rail Enquiries a consumption-based Opex model, as AWS features such as AutoScaling adjusted infrastructure based on known demand profiles (e.g. the morning and evening commuter rush hours). Through moving the infrastructure over to AWS, we provided a Managed Service for all applications and a single service desk for NRE’s multiple suppliers. 

Results

Our team’s work was immediately put to the test, as we went live in October 2013, during a time of peak activity for NRE, with 60% more platform traffic than their previous busiest day. Despite these challenges, the new solution succeeded and continues to offer a reliable service to travellers across the UK to this day. 

On average, National Rail Enquiries processes over 600,000 journey plans per hour

Today, our solution has allowed for improvements in development and test lead times, smoother deployments of new capabilities and a manageable database protected by our Information Security expertise.