Wednesday, 11th December 2019
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A smoother online journey

Great Western Railway (GWR), formerly known as First Great Western, one of the UK's largest and most complex rail networks, has chosen the VMware Managed Virtualisation offering from Rackspace to support its recent rebrand and maintain the best possible service for its customers.

A rebrand of everything from the company logo to staff uniforms is at the heart of the company's goal to bring the romance back to railway and inspire the public to travel by rail during their leisure time as well as for commuting. This is part of an improvement plan to enhance the whole customer experience, which will see ?7.5 billion invested in the network infrastructure and improved carriages. A central part of these improvements involved the rail operator's busy website, which is where GWR has utilised Rackspace's technology and expertise.
GWR approached Rackspace to boost the reliability and performance of its website. The previous infrastructure was struggling during the company's busiest annual period, which starts in October and ends in February. This didn't live up to the high service standards the company sets itself and sales were also affected so it decided a change of hosting provider was necessary. The company has since undergone a major transformation of its ecommerce presence with ORM, a digital agency and Sitecore, a digital marketing software vendor, as it now aims to be the UK's #1 digital retailer for online train travel ticketing.
With more than 1.5 million train travellers using its services each week, it's imperative that GWR has a robust, fast web presence and mobile app if it's going to reach this ambitious target. The company selected a solution, involving both physical and virtual servers hosted in Rackspace's new UK data centre in Crawley, Sussex, to power the rollout whilst coping with sudden or planned traffic peaks.
Jason Ali, Digital Marketing Manager at Great Western Railway, said, "We realise that for the majority of our customers their journey no longer starts in the ticket halls but online instead, so we need to have the right infrastructure in place so that they get the best possible start to their journey. The support offered by Rackspace, ORM and Sitecore is very valuable for us, as it gives us peace of mind that we can deliver this. Rackspace has provided access to an on call Lead Engineer who's become an expert, not only in servers, but Great Western Railway's servers, right down to the finest details of the infrastructure."
A central part of this goal is to create a website that can be personalised to each individual customer through the use of big data analytics. The Sitecore Experience Platform has built a profile of each customer, which creates a number of tailored features including useful journey suggestions and even the website imagery can be used to reflect a desirable location that the customer may want to travel to. GWR sees this as a central part of inspiring the public to use the railway and it's profitable too, with each personalised transaction worth more than a regular transaction.
Darren Norfolk, MD, Rackspace UK said, "A rebrand is a crucial time for any organisation. The new look and feel of a brand and its services can attract a lot of interest and that means big traffic spikes. At Rackspace, we get satisfaction when seeing how our technical experts put customers' minds at ease by helping them ensure website outages and the related brand damage are avoided. A big part of this confidence comes from knowing that our customers have access to experts available 24x7x365 to make sure that projects like the GWR rebrand are executed flawlessly, without any technical issues."
To provide website availability for customers, GWR is using a disaster recovery solution so that backup infrastructure is always available. Dedicated hardware is also used to provide high reliability, whilst delivering scalability by allowing the rail network to spin up servers instantly. Load balancers are also used to help handle traffic spikes.
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