Why GoCompare is going all-in on Microsoft Azure

The owner of GoCompare is in the process of moving its popular price comparison site to Microsoft Azure in an all-in migration, with help from Rackspace

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Popular British price comparison site GoCompare is in the process of moving its entire technology stack to the Microsoft Azure cloud in a bid to better scale for unforeseen peaks in demand and start to leverage data science tools to make its comparison and switching products more effective for customers.

GoCompare has evolved into more than its insurance comparison brand fronted by infamous operatic mascot Gio Compario, played by Welsh tenor Wynne Evans. The GoCo group now includes the energy auto-switching service weflip and Look After My Bills, which it acquired for for £12.5 million in July this year, building out its portfolio of financial services comparison services.

The group decided to take a phased approach to the migration, with the help of partner Rackspace, starting in September last year. As a company wholly reliant on its website, the key to any migration was maintaining uptime and minimising risk.

"We have been fortunate to have a stable platform over the years and don't suffer from reliability or uptime problems, so it was important to maintain that and not introduce risk," Kieron Nolan, group director of technology at GoCo Group told Computerworld. "That incremental approach was about maintaining that stability and lack of disruption."

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The initial delivery of a full disaster recovery replica in Azure and the migration of staging and development environments to the cloud platform was completed in March this year, and the full production platform is due to move over by the end of the year.

Rackspace provided a consulting role throughout the process. "We wanted an experience from a partner that had done this before and help us make the right decision and understand the different options out there," Nolan explained.

Major benefits

Once that work is done the organisation can start to take advantage of Azure services like Databricks and other data science products to make its services more predictive and intelligent. For example, this could provide customers with products that find the best insurance policy for their needs, or the best energy deal depending on their previous usage.

Shorter term, the business has seen an immediate impact on its website response times, which have improved by as much as a second, as well as boosting its ability to scale flexibly in response to unforeseen demand for the site.

For example, if the 'Money Saving Expert' Martin Lewis were to mention a GoCompare service on his ITV show, the business could see a Monday evening spike in traffic. "Those historically we struggled with but with Azure we have the elastic model to be better placed to take advantage of that spike," Nolan said.

What vendor lock-in?

In the current climate of hybird/multicloud hype, an all-in cloud migration could be seen as unusual, but it wasn't a concern for GoCo.

The organisation was heavily a Microsoft shop already, with a .NET tech stack and SQL backend, and plenty of related skills in the building.

"When we looked at migrating to the cloud, from an architecture and migration point of of view, Azure made the most sense," Nolan said, "to evolve that stack and not re-platforming anything.

"We wanted to get to the cloud, within reason, with the architecture intact and tweak elements at our own pace."

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The wider group does have different cloud providers and skillsets, however, for example My Voucher Codes is built on an AWS stack, as is weflip.

"The strategy we have is from a disaster recover and continuity point of view we build in Azure," Nolan said. Then, group-wide the "strategy for resiliency is to have brands with different providers, that is the way we approached this, so if there was a major outage it wouldn't take out the whole group. At a brand level that mitigation is within the stack itself."

Nolan admits that GoCompare is "heavily invested in the Microsoft stack, but from our point of view that isn't a problem".

Lessons learned

By all accounts the migration was a pretty seamless experience, but that doesn't mean the organisation didn't learn any important lessons.

Primarily, Nolan was glad that GoCompare and Rackspace decided to focus on the migration, and not reinventing its stack.

"Deciding specifically not to re-architect everything as part of the migration was a key decision and allowed us to focus on the migration and not re-engineering," he explained.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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