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KCOM helps the Commonwealth War Graves Commission modernise its resources

How moving to AWS’s cloud helped improve user experience at a crucial time

2016 marked 100 years since the Battle of the Somme and as the organisation with one of the biggest collection of resources relating to one of the bloodiest episodes of World War I, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) knew it needed to do something innovative to mark the occasion.

The CWGC predicted the centenary would generate lots of interest and so it needed the infrastructure to help it deal with the requests for information coming from around the world. It also wanted to introduce an interactive service, but didn't have the resources it needed to serve new enquiries, nor could the current site process this increase in traffic without falling over.

"The aim of the project was two-fold: first, to achieve a scalable infrastructure for the CWGC site which could cope with peaks in demand and second, to anticipate that the new site hosted in AWS could cope with traffic generated from media events around the Battle of Somme centenary commemoration," Will Webster, head of IT at the CWGC, said.

It was therefore decided the organisation would migrate its existing Somme resources from on-premise hosting to the cloud, which offered the scalability it required.

A growing relationship

The CWGC already had experience using IT services provider KCOM to implement AWS in the past. In 2014, the two companies partnered up to help the CWGC transfer its archive from on-premise servers to AWS using Amazon S3, Amazon Cloudfront and Amazon Route 53. This enabled users to search for the details of those who died during the war and download materials such as memorial details and grave locations

Then the relationship continued last year, when KCOM and CWGC worked together to design and implement a search tool for casualty information based on Amazon Cloud Search.

KCOM provided monitoring services and logs for error reporting, skills and maintenance resources to rapidly address any issues and this AWS implementation provided essential resilience and a much more stable and scalable solution for the archive, particularly for times of high demand.

There was also a point in July where the on premise solution could simply not cope with continual changes so KCOM's development team routed a temporary switch to AWS in order to alleviate the situation.

The role of KCOM

Implementing AWS for the Somme resources and tools was a substantial project, requiring constant testing, updating and maintenance, so KCOM provided 24/7 monitoring and support to support the CWGC's site transition.

This ensured the project schedule was maintained as the workload and complexity of live maintenance on such a large website presented a risk to its overall availability and reliability.

Additionally, the platform migration needed to be tested and updated in real-time through the back-end, without impacting on the front-end experience.

With such peaks of interest anticipated, site maintenance could not be allowed to impact functionality or availability, nor could CWGC afford any downtime, making effective back-up provisioning essential.

"KCOM was an ideal partner for us due to their superior knowledge of AWS deployments and scaling, as well as their deep technical expertise in cloud-based environments," Webster said. "The success of this project would depend on (our partner having) exactly these skills."

Transforming the past to stand up to the future

The CWGC has experienced impressive results already. Website response and load times have been successfully reduced by as much as 70% and the service is reporting a marked performance improvement.

Additionally, the implementation of AWS means the IT team can manage rapid application and cycle changes as new components are developed on the fly for various CWGC events.

The CWGC explained it now has a faster, more scalable service and because it was so easy to migrate to AWS with KCOM's assistance, the site is prepared for growth beyond average 350,000 site visits per month from members of the public

"We're now confident we can comfortably cope with a 10x and above increase in traffic, which can be triggered by our own marketing activities, or external events such as TV coverage," Webster said.

Following the success of moving to AWS with support from KCOM, the CWGC is now planning a redesign of its entire website, scheduled to go-live in the summer of 2017.

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