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DevOps: Enabling Web Business Evolution

The RFP for Elections Canada provides the ideal blueprint for planning the development of Cloud provider services.

The RFP for Elections Canada provides the ideal blueprint for planning the development of Cloud provider services.

It typifies the majority of potential clients that web hosting providers can address, and describes exactly the technical enhancements they're looking for to begin the move from a traditional web hosting approach to a new Cloud computing paradigm, and broader set of MSP services.

Elections Canada is an ideal product development blueprint because they're atypical of the market as a whole. They launched their web presence in the mid 90's with simple HTML, and then began enhancing it with custom .net code to add in more interactive functionality. Since then it's grown organically into an estate of over 16Gb of ASP, HTML pages and 6,500 PDF files. As they state the design of this environment has now remained unchanged for almost 10 years, and so a Cloud computing inspired modernization of the entire approach is what they're looking for.

Thousands of other organizations have undergone exactly the same journey and are currently in the same position, so a solution modelled for one is a product development cycle for them all.

Our Cloud MSP service provides this product innovation as an outsourced function.

Legacy 2 Cloud
As a web site for voter elections, Elections Canada is also the poster child for the core value of a Cloud computing approach. On that one election day their web site receives a spike of traffic that accounts for almost a third of their traffic for the entire year.

Their monthly rate is 200,000 visits but on the polling day this rockets to 700,000 for that one day alone. Out of a total 2.4m hits per annum, almost 30% occur within one day, meaning their web site infrastructure must be large enough able to cater for a traffic ceiling of 700,000 hits, but on every other day experience a demand that is barely 1% of this.

That's a lot of equipment to sit idle for 364 days of the year, and so now they're looking to exploit the Cloud trend and address this. The fundamental value of Cloud computing is of course that its elastic, so they can migrate to an environment that can scale to this level but only when needed on these rare occasions. For the remaining time they only pay for what they use at the much lower levels.

EC states requirements for:

"a computing capacity-on-demand operating model"

"develop cloud computing capabilities; which support not only infrastructure capacity improvements but also provides new and emerging opportunities that leverage application level revitalization using a flexible and dynamic provisioning model"

"develop value-added services to support current and future development projects, pilots, proof-of-concepts and other web business initiatives"

The core hosting requirements are to meet their infrastructure needs. This is a hosted environment of 25 servers, and an additional 7 servers run internally for development staging. This combined farm runs Windows Advanced Server 2000, with another two running HP-UX and Solaris for dissemination server and firewalls, and private VPN connections between data-centres. 22 HP, Cisco and Nokia devices are used for firewalls, load balancing and switching.

DevOps: Web Business Evolution
While Cloud computing will address this core infrastructure need in a more efficient, utility manner, it's the higher layer of the apps they run where the potential lies for strategic differentiation and value add.

Their site operates through a variety of custom software modules being developed, predominately on .net, C# and Javascript, and not only does it cater for the main web site but also a number of specific business processes for how the organization works too.

This includes smaller app functions, like 'Political parties fiscal returns' and 'Candidates contributions and expenses' through to significant business workflows, like the ENR System - Election Night Results, which manages the process of Returning Officers uploading voting results, and the VIS - Voter Information Service, which enables citizens to self-service their requests for more information on their local activities.

These types of apps demonstrate where the strategic opportunity is for hosting providers. Elections Canada now sees itself as a "web business", meaning their primary business processes are executed through the context of their web site, and they want a new level of platform to enhance this capability.

They describe this as "Web Business Evolution", citing examples of projects they're working including a 'FAST' Project - Field Application Systems Transformation, where new web applications will be deployed to support new ways of working for the Returning Officers, an eRegistration Project where voters can self-service validate their voter registration records, and the big daddy of them all: iVoting - online election voting.

Therefore they're not just in the market for web hosting facilities, but for an entirely new business systems architecture.

Ultimately the key to this requirement is 'DevOps' - An integrated development, operations and quality control framework. Elections Canada describe their vision of this as their Application DEF - Delivery Environment Framework, and how it requires an underlying Multi-Tier System Architecture to be realized.

Via a Web Services Reference Model this will provide the common building block components like Identity Authentication that will underpin these new web applications, and ADC - Application Delivery Controller, that enables this functionality as part of an optimized hardware level capability that also delivers SSL VPN connectivity, L4 load balancing, L7 content switching, XML brokering and an application XML firewall.

Part V - New Services|
Elections Canada states their appetite for these new technologies and furthermore, a much broader suite of services on an ongoing basis that goes well beyond that of web hosting, what would be considered MSP - Managed Service Provider. They start with a high level statement of interest in:

- "advanced data storage capabilities, new telco services, emerging mobile computing platforms".

and follow with a list of other value add services they would consider buying in the future, ranging through managed email and collaboration, content and document management, office productivity tools, file storage and secure remote access, amongst many others.

In short, this Elections Canada RFP represents a complete blueprint for an end-to-end Cloud MSP product strategy.

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