A Gradwell Update

Name Change:

After 12 years as Gradwell dot com Ltd, we have decided to make a small but important change the company name. From November 1st, we will be Gradwell Communications Ltd.

The change to the name is to better reflect the company’s service and product offering. Having started the company in 1998 providing email and website hosting solutions, in 2012 over eighty per cent of our revenue comes from VoIP and Broadband services. As such, we are retiring Gradwell dot com and introducing Gradwell Communications as the company name.

Over the next few weeks, you will see the name change on invoices, terms and conditions and other official documentation.

There is no requirement for you to make any changes. However, where possible and practical (for example if you are setting up a new Direct Debit or revising other administration) please use the new name of Gradwell Communications Ltd.

Infrastructure Update:

As you know we are midst our large infrastructure project and wanted to give you an update as to where we are and how progress is going.

In late August, we had the new servers, storage and networking installed into a new suite in Telehouse West. We then installed a new core-network in our existing suite in Telehouse East, and have linked the two sites together using a 10gig network.

We have since commissioned the servers and the west network, and completed formal hand over of the network infrastructure to Netsumo, our network operators, on 9th October.

The first priority for servers was getting them ready for our new Parallels hosting system, which will allow us to offer white label web hosting, plus hosted Exchange, SharePoint and Lync aka “Office 365”. These are now being configured and built by Parallels with a view to launching services in calendar Q2 2013.

The second priority has been preparing a new virtualisation environment, in which we will run our existing VoIP service & existing hosting service. We have completed the hand over into production for servers, and started migration of the virtual machines w/c 22nd October.

In the New Year, we will deploy the rebuilt version of our VoIP platform (see below); migrate our existing hosting service to the new Parallels hosting service and finally, decommission much of the equipment in Telehouse East.

There are a quite a number of moving parts in the project and it has a dedicated programme manager. As a result, there has and will continue to be a cycle of public activity, followed by apparent periods of in-action – whilst the next phase of behind the scenes work completes. We are very conscious of not making multiple changes at once, so apologies if it seems like it’s taking a long time.

Overall the project has run to budget and is only a couple of weeks behind schedule. We have been keeping a close eye on quality so as to ensure that customers will continue to receive an excellent level of service. Risk is being proactively managed throughout so that the number of unwelcome surprises is minimised.

Benefits:

We have begun to see a number of benefits in the new platform already and are confident that as we begin moving services, customers will start to feel the improvements also.

Firstly, as befits a new & cleanly installed platform, the quality of design & documentation is much higher; and a much larger, more structured team has been responsible for its implementation. There have been clear & specific hand overs from suppliers, into our engineering teams and now into our 24×7 operations team.

Secondly, all the equipment is proactively managed by our vendor, with a 4 hour time-to-fix SLA. We have seen some initial promising signs of the improvements to stability that this will bring.

Finally, we are experiencing a significant speed and capacity boost. We are running HP Gen8 blades which have significant amounts of computing power, on a 10 gig network. However, the biggest speed increase is in disk storage, where our 3PAR storage system is supplying the most requested files from flash memory rather than disk. These speed/capacity improvements will, we believe, translate into a reduction in bottlenecks during busy periods.

Virtual Machine Migration:

The next major step started on 22nd October for a period of upto 8 weeks, and is the migration of virtual machines (VMs) from their current hosts in Telehouse East to the new environment in Telehouse West. The VMs provide all our services – dns, billing, sip services, email, hosting, etc.

The services are all clustered with multiple VMs operating a specific service. So, rather than order the migration by service, we have instead risk assessed all the services and their components and will be conducting the migration in order of risk – lowest first!

We do perform quite a number of VM migrations on a routine basis, so are much practiced at it. Prior to this migration we are ensuring the process is fully documented and are completing dry-runs of the migrations, across the whole team to ensure skills are spread amongst them. However, throughout this work, we will ensure that any disruptions are minimal and take place when they will affect the least possible number of customers. Higher impact work will take place at weekends and towards the end of the migration period.

Whenever work is taking place that will affect our service, we will issue Gradwell status updates in a timely fashion to ensure that you are aware of possible interruptions.

 VoIP Platform rebuild:

The VoIP team has separately been engaged in an 18 month process of re-engineering our VoIP platform, to improve its robustness and design. This has historically been known as the “Manchester project”.

In Manchester, we have been testing SIP and IAX outbound trunks, which has gone well. We have also now completed the installation of our “Hosted PBX” product, which will shortly be ready for testing and safe launch.

It is our intention to migrate all VoIP customers to operate on the Manchester based servers early next year, before finally bringing our “New London” servers online and moving to a dual-site mode of operation.

Broadband/Connectivity:

We are also pending installations for new interconnects with TalkTalk and BT, to re-provision our broadband and efm/Ethernet interconnects. Once these are in, we will announce plans to migrate broadband customers to new, redundant, higher capacity connections. This will likely happen in January 2013.

Short term engineering requests:

The final piece of the jigsaw has been keeping up with the day to day engineering requests, bug fixes, improvements, etc. Over the last year the engineering team has resolved a huge number of requests – reducing the backlog by three quarters, and been very focused on minor fixes and improvements.

However, the time has come to focus on our longer term goals and so particularly in the case of the web development team who write our billing and portal/control panel code, they will be ceasing to work on minor requests for 3 months, so that we can successfully deliver the changes needed to support our new server environments.

Whilst we appreciate that this is inevitably going to cause short term pressures (and within our engineering team we do retain two business-as-usual developers) we do ask for your forbearance when dealing with technical support if our lead times on systems fixes seems longer than usual.

2012-11-02T16:01:42+00:00

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