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Albacore commission hosted infrastructure upgrade

Date: Sep 16 2021
Albacore commission hosted infrastructure upgrade

Albacore have been offering hosted server solutions to freight industry clients for more than 10 years. In 2021, as part of the fourth iteration of hardware refreshes we have undertaken on the hosted server platform, we have added even more resilience and capacity, and made our largest investment yet in both hardware and facilities. These investments allow us to continue to evolve our offerings and deliver ever more reliable solutions to our growing base of hosted server customers. 

The hardware solution that runs customer hosted servers has been designed by our engineers from component level with the 3 cornerstones of scalability, reliability and security in mind at every stage. We have used the latest Hewlett Packard Enterprise server hardware configured with Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct on Windows Server 2019. 

This hardware and software solution is an example of Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI). HCI is a broad term with many meanings and is probably most easily confused by freight industry readers with the Human Computer Interface which is part of the soon to be replaced CHIEF system. The Hyper-converged nature of our hosted server setup means that all aspects of customer virtual machines exist at a virtual level within the solution, above the level of a single hardware instance – that’s in terms of their storage, memory, processing and network. These customer virtual machines are therefore able to tolerate a complete failure of 1 server within the collection of multiple servers that power the overall solution. 

Each physical server is linked by highly optimised 25Gbps network links. To put the available network bandwidth of the hosted server platform into context, the average wired office network operates at 1Gbps. Each server is connected to two independent 25Gbps capable switches, allowing the failure of a network interface in a server or a switch to be tolerated without impacting customer systems. 

Processing power on the platform is provided exclusively by Intel’s Xeon Gold range of CPU’s. These CPU models were chosen to provide optimal performance across the variety of business applications our customers run. CPU resource on customer hosted servers can be changed quickly by Albacore engineers, and the CPU usage of each hosted server on the system is constantly monitored, with our engineers alerted through automation should a period of sustained peak usage occur. 

RAM usage for hosted servers on the platform is allocated by our engineers in accordance with the requirements of the applications in use. Albacore have almost 30 years of experience supporting Freight software applications and we bring our time served experience to ensure customer systems are not over or under provisioned in terms of RAM usage. RAM can be provisioned to servers running 2016 or later in realtime and is again monitored continually. 

Storage is the last hardware component that is critical to the operation of our hosted server platform. HPE SSD drives have been provisioned on the platform to ensure all applications on all customer hosted servers are responsive, as well as providing fault tolerance of drives in the solution which increase reliability by ensuring drive failures are tolerated without impacting customer systems. 

The hardware solution as a whole cost around £250,000 and is owned outright by Albacore. 

Albacore utilise multiple cutting edge technologies to ensure the stability and security of the solution, leveraging both Microsoft and third party technologies to harden and optimise the Operating System Environment. 

Local backups of the environment are configured and monitored by Veeam software. The primary backup mechanism is located on a HPE server with approximately 4 times the available storage of the primary hosted server platform. This backup solution resides in the same location as the server hardware. This backup mechanism allows for fast and deeply granular recovery of files, datasets or even whole servers as required using Veeam. 

These local backups are supplemented by offsite copies sent to an external location in Albacore’s sole control, as well as our monitored online backup capability that uses Microsoft’s Azure platform to store customer data backups. 

As well as local and online backups, Albacore also provide and manage Disaster Recovery (DR) solutions for hosted server customers. Our DR solution provides a maximum 4 hour failover solution and ensures business continuity for customers that require it. 

We have chosen to locate the hosted server hardware externally to our HQ. This allows the platform to scale up more easily as well as increasing the reliability of customer systems through the provision of the best available power, Internet connectivity and physical security. The server hardware is located within a Tier III datacentre. The datacentre is located about 15 miles from our office, about 20 minutes up the motorway from our HQ if we need to visit. The location is ISO27001 certified. 

The site has blast proof windows, specialist security doors and biometrical access control. Access is by appointment only with full audit logs, and continuous video surveillance with motion sensitivity is in place with 12 months of CCTV history available. 

Power to the facility is fed from 2 separate substations on independent rings on the national grid, and in addition the facility offers redundant UPS systems providing 20 minutes of battery at full load. These UPS systems are backed up by redundant generator protection with 10 days of fuel stored on site. 

Internet connectivity to the facility is unrivalled on the south coast, being fed redundantly from 2 separate exchanges and via 4 ISP’s. We have a dedicated 1Gbps Internet connection assigned to our servers, with ample opportunity to scale up as required. 

Great hardware and facilities are all very well, but they are nothing without a great support experience. Albacore’s key asset is the quality of support our customers receive via our Southampton based helpdesk, where we offer unlimited telephone and remote support from our team of 15 skilled engineers, backed up by administration and management staff. 

The comprehensive knowledge and understanding of both the IT and Freight industries that only Albacore can bring to the solutions we deliver for our customers is why our customers choose us and stay with us. We will continue to invest in hardware and facilities as well as in people and tools to continue to provide our customers of all sizes with best of breed hosted server solutions.