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UK National Lottery Delivers Highly-Available, Scalable Website for Online Customers

Camelot operates the UK National Lottery. In the United Kingdom, 70 percent of adults play The National Lottery on a regular basis, and 6 million of these people have registered to buy their tickets online. Camelot must therefore guarantee maximum availability for The National Lottery website, ensuring that it is fast enough to process extremely high transactions volumes.

Camelot chose F5 to provide its high-end application delivery solution. The F5 VIPRION platform is highly scalable and reliable, and it can effortlessly manage unexpected and exceptional peaks in traffic.

Business Challenges

 

Camelot had previously implemented four F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) devices to support the UK National Lottery website, which includes the functionality to purchase draw-based games (such as Lotto and EuroMillions) as well as online Instant Win Games. When they were first deployed, these devices had sufficient capacity to handle significant increases in website traffic, but no one could have predicted quite how successfully Camelot would grow its online National Lottery services. In just five years, online sales have risen considerably, exceeding all expectations.

In 2011/2012 alone, Camelot succeeded in growing its interactive and subscription sales by £216.7 million to £1,039.8 million. This represented a significant part of total National Lottery sales growth across all channels of 12.1 percent, and it was a key driver behind Camelot delivering record returns of £1,825.1 million to National Lottery Good Causes, the overarching objective of The National Lottery, during the year.

“Then, in 2011, there were three particularly large draws in quick succession, including a draw for £161 million—the largest-ever EuroMillions jackpot, and one that was won in the UK. These three exceptional events attracted huge volumes of online lottery ticket sales, and our website traffic rose considerably,” says Thomas Leng, Network Services Manager at Camelot. “If we had experienced any downtime due to these peaks in traffic, it could have compromised our ability to sell tickets, potentially affecting our revenues and returns to National Lottery Good Causes, not to mention our reputation.”

In fact, the four F5 BIG-IP LTM devices handled the three unprecedented events in 2011 effortlessly. However, the CPU usage on the BIG-IP devices jumped from their usual average of 25–45 percent to 75–80 percent, and these spikes alerted Camelot to the need to plan in even greater detail for the future. “The events of 2011 took us out of our comfort zone,” Leng says. “We had to be even more prepared for the exceptional.”

“We are on track to receive a good return on our investment as we will be getting value out of the VIPRION products for many years to come.” Thomas Leng, Network Services Manager, Camelot

Solution

 

Camelot sought advice from a number of IT partners and vendors, and considered a range of possible solutions. However, it ultimately decided to remain with F5 and upgrade to F5’s most powerful and scalable solution, the VIPRION chassis/blade platform. Leng explains, “We knew F5 to be the market leader and had had a very stable experience using BIG-IP devices. We had also received consistently good support from F5 over a number of years, and the F5 user community, DevCentral, is well-established and a very valuable resource.”

The company installed two F5 VIPRION chassis, each with two blades. Additionally, each chassis has space for two further blades to be added in the future, as and when needed. There is one VIPRION unit in each of Camelot’s two data centres. Together, they handle delivery of Camelot’s applications across numerous web servers.

The products were installed with support from F5’s Global Services Team. “Everyone we worked with from F5 was excellent,” recalls Leng. “It was refreshing to work with such a professional team with such strong product knowledge.”

Camelot has taken advantage of the F5 iRules scripting language to customise the way that BIG-IP LTM directs web traffic. For example, there is an iRule that controls a queuing system for Internet transactions. Another iRule automatically detects the location of website visitors and blocks people who are trying to play the lottery from outside the UK or Isle of Man, as this is prohibited. A further iRule redirects website visitors using a mobile device to the relevant mobile web page.

“We now have much greater peace of mind that our systems can cope with any unexpectedly large spikes in website traffic.” Thomas Leng, Network Services Manager, Camelot

Benefits

 

By upgrading to the F5 VIPRION platform, Camelot has gained a flexible and highly- scalable solution that will meet the company’s requirements for years to come. As a result of its long-term, responsible growth strategy, Camelot is attracting new customers to its website every day, and VIPRION will be able to effortlessly support the continuing growth of Camelot’s online business.

“When we installed VIPRION, we doubled our application delivery capacity overnight,” says Leng. “At the same time, we gained the flexibility to increase our capacity again, easily and when needed, by just adding extra blades.”

Leng continues, “We are on track to receive a good return on our investment as we will be getting value out of the VIPRION products for many years to come.”

Camelot’s IT team is very comfortable knowing that VIPRION can cope with extraordinary peaks in traffic. On normal trading days, CPU activity on the VIPRION units is consistently low. During a recent Rollover jackpot draw of £148 million, the CPU saw a significantly lower spike than the previous platform. “We now have much greater peace of mind that our systems can cope with any unexpectedly large spikes in website traffic,” Leng says.

This is absolutely critical because it is essential  that The National Lottery website remains  highly available, especially in the last few  trading hours leading up to a big draw.  Downtime during gaming hours is not acceptable. F5 BIG-IP products have provided a highly-reliable service and stable platform for Camelot over many years, and the company expects to achieve the same high availability from the F5 VIPRION devices.

In the future, Camelot plans to take advantage of new Virtual Clustered Multiprocessing (vCMP) features now available in the F5 operating system to virtualise its load balancing capabilities. This will allow for even greater flexibility across its websites on the same F5 VIPRION platform. A virtualised approach will also further simplify server maintenance and management, all of which will allow Camelot to focus on what The National Lottery is all about—delivering even more money for National Lottery Good Causes.