Azure Migration Success: Blue Cube Travel's migration to Azure transports its business to new places

Dominic Green, Northdoor and Kevin Trill, Blue Cube Travel, discuss their recent successful migration to Azure cloud

9th January 2023Insight VideosDominic Green

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Achieving Azure Migration Success: Blue Cube Travel and Northdoor

In this interview, Dominic Green, Cloud Practice Lead at Northdoor plc and Kevin Trill, Director of Technology and Transformation, Blue Cube Travel, discuss how Northdoor helped to migrate their legacy on-premises systems to Microsoft Azure

Northdoor implemented a carefully planned strategy that addressed the travel company’s critical requirements. The work involved migration from local servers, security enhancements, and upgrades of Blue Cube’s servers, networking, and phone system.  The result was a successful Azure migration that provided improved performance, scalability and flexibility.

Video Transcription

Modernising Blue Cube Travel’s data infrastructure with Microsoft Azure

Dom:  [00:00:03] Hello. My name’s Dominic Green, Cloud Practice lead at Northdoor, the award winning Cloud Consultancy. I’m joined today by one of my clients, Kevin Trill, director of technology and transformation from Blue Cube Travel. Thanks for joining us today, Kevin, and welcome. 

Kevin: [00:00:17] Thank you for having me, Dom. 

Dom: [00:00:19] I think I guess we collaborated on a Cloud Transformation Project for yourselves a while ago and kind of transformed the way that Blue Cube Travel do things, I’d like to think. Do you want to talk about that for a moment? 

Kevin: [00:00:30] Yes. When we set out on our project, it was very much to move away from my on-premise environment to something. Sure. And the drivers for that were varied, but it was very much to modernise our infrastructure and take account of GDPR and ensure that data protection was handled correctly as well. We had a couple of choices. We could do some plaster or we could almost treat it as we were a new company, and what would we like? And we chose the latter.

Key reasons for choosing Northdoor’s consultancy services

Dom: [00:01:03] Sure, so I guess in terms of the project that we delivered, it was, it was all based on cloud services. What were your key reasons for choosing Northdoor? 

Kevin: [00:01:11] Well, we didn’t initially set out to choose Northdoor, although I had a relationship with Northdoor over the decades one way or the other. We created an RFP which then went out to a number of companies, and Northdoor were one of those, and the response we got back was very comprehensive and demonstrated a depth and breadth of knowledge that other responses didn’t have, and it was cost competitive as well. So it wasn’t just demonstrating their expertise, it was affordable and got us to where we wanted to be, which was a cloud-based solution which wasn’t dependent on any one location within our environment. 

Dom: [00:01:59] In terms of the project, was there a conscious decision by yourselves at Blue Cube to go cloud first? 

Kevin: [00:02:05] Definitely. The benefits we could see from going to the cloud far outweighed remaining on-premise. In fact, many, many years ago I went to a solution before the cloud was a term in 2006, which was what we now know as a cloud-based solution. Then it was called Postini, and it was a denial of service solution from an Italian company Postini stands for postman in Italian. And it was to protect our mail service, which had been under attack at the time. It was a very good solution taken over by Google eventually and became part of the spam solution. But what that demonstrated to me fairly early on is that there were tools and solutions out there that as a company and I and what we just couldn’t afford. But by going to the cloud, we could take advantage of scale and buy into an effectively better solution than we could have ourselves. So in working with organisations such as yourselves, we could access expertise that we otherwise wouldn’t have within the company. 

Key factors in achieving Azure migration success for Blue Cube Travel

Dom: [00:03:13] Amazing, great, in terms of transforming from a traditional on-premise environment to cloud services. How did Blue Cube, as an organisation as a whole, find that and your employees? 

Kevin: [00:03:26] Because it was planned and over a number of months with Northdoor, we had a project manager, and we identified all of the services that we wanted to migrate from on-premise to a cloud solution. We had the opportunity to work with yourselves on how that would happen. We arranged things out of hours where it would have an impact and to minimise disruption to the business. So there was a big bang day, and we educated the staff as to what that would mean and prepared the systems in advance. But we did as much as we could in preparation for that so that when it came, there really wasn’t a lot for our staff to do differently. We’d already told them what to do. The biggest change was effectively working from what they would work as on-premise to working in the cloud. And there were some things that we had to work through with them, how to do differently. But that was a relatively easy transition. And then it was also ourselves in working with Northdoor because there were things that we were used to doing in-house that we then trusted Northdoor to do on our behalf. So there was quite a lot that we had to do. But that planning process, it was not dramatic, and fortunately, it was quite painless. So, yeah, it worked well. Planning is the key.

The benefits of utilising cloud technology

Dom: [00:05:01] Indeed. And because of this transformation programme, can you see any key benefits to the organisation by using cloud technology? 

Kevin: [00:05:08] Yes. Not all of them we anticipated at the start. And what we set out to achieve in that initial project was achieved very early, and that was the ability to scale, whether up or down, within the infrastructure, access to expertise which we get from Northdoor and security and everything that comes with operating within the cloud. What I should say is that not all of that happens just because you’ve gone to the cloud; there are certain things that we had to work with you to enhance. So it’s not just a question of you’ve gone to the cloud, you’ve migrated, fantastic, it’s all there. You’ve still got your own systems, our own applications need to be refined in that environment, and we need to ensure that they’re secure and it doesn’t happen automatically. And there are thing we have to do to ensure that we take advantage of all the security in the cloud, not just what’s at base level. So that scalability has been extremely useful for us. The security has been fantastic, and more and more products have been released whilst we’ve been in the cloud. So what was there initially has progressed, and we’ve been able to take advantage of more things that have been released subsequently to us migrating to the cloud. 

Dom: [00:06:43] Cool. As we’re all aware, there’s been a global pandemic that’s affected everyone globally. How did that affect Blue Cube, and did you find that having cloud technologies enabled you to survive better? Or how in general, did you feel? 

Kevin: [00:06:59] The pandemic had a massive effect on us as a company. We are a business travel agent, and we were one of the first to feel the effects and one of the last too well, in fact, yeah. So coming out of the pandemic, it hit us very hard, and the cloud project that we had implemented allowed us to transform the way that we worked quite literally overnight because when the lockdowns came into effect, we were already working remotely. The fact that we happened to be in the office, the Systems didn’t know that we transitioned from an office-based solution to a remote working solution because it was already set up in that way when we implemented the project. So there were a few laptops that we had to get, but literally within a couple of days of saying, right, we now need to be a home-based operation rather than an office-based one. We didn’t have anything else to do. Our systems, phones, messaging, everything was there and set up. So that was the first thing that we got the main benefit from. But secondly, in scalability, because, as I mentioned before, it’s not just about scaling up; it’s about scaling down. And clearly, our operation needed to scale down. So we were able to minimise cost by shutting some things down. We didn’t need all everything, all the power that we had before, but we still needed to keep the systems going. We weren’t totally shut down, which is very, very quiet. So again, by working with Northdoor, we were able to rely on your expertise there to keep things going because, you know, we’d cut down on all staff within I.T. So from a systems point of view, all the security was working, the vulnerability checks, nothing from that point of view changed. It was just how we accessed the systems and how flexible they were. We could be as a result of being in the cloud. And now that we’ve come out of that, we have returned to the office. But we also work from home. So we’ve got that hybrid solution. We have an office solution. We have a remote solution. We have a hybrid solution. And that was all from the work that we did on that project. It was just there. 

Dom: [00:09:23] So business as usual from wherever you are. 

Kevin: [00:09:26] Literally great. 

Why continued investment in data infrastructure is so important

Dom: [00:09:29] So Blue Cube heavily invested in infrastructure service for that key infrastructure. We know you’re using SAS solutions for mail or video conferencing voice, etc… PAAS I know that you have dipped your toe into some containerisation services. Do you feel that there will be a natural evolution into a kind of PAAS services going forward for Blue Cube for certain technology needs? 

Kevin: [00:09:53] Very much, it has to be said, we were able to take advantage of a solution from an industry supply for analytics because we’re in the cloud and could implement a containerised solution. So just being where we are allowed us to take advantage of a solution that otherwise would have been problematic for us to implement. We do use a lot of infrastructure as a service and I, as our relationships with some of our application providers mature, then I certainly look to putting more platforms as a service in there rather than having infrastructure as a service. It makes more sense to me, and as much as there’s, in fact, collectively for us, less to manage. Yeah, but we still get the advantage of the scalability and security benefits there as well. But again, as we did before, it’s a project we need to properly plan and undertake the risk assessment with it as well. But as a direction, definitely. That’s where I see us continuing to go. 

Dom:[00:10:54] Sure. 

Kevin: [00:10:54] And from the benefits that we’ve seen already in mail, in phones, I just see as tightening up on that even more than what we’re doing at the moment. 

Dom: [00:11:03] Sure. I think, from a Northdoor perspective, that’s a trend that we’re seeing. So many organisations have taken that step and are doing IR services, and now we’re kind of evolving that and turning that into PAAS where applicable. So yeah, it’s good to hear. 

Kevin: [00:11:19] I think I’d say to anyone that is listening to this or going out on a journey of cloud is that you do need to, you don’t know what you don’t know. And it’s important to find a partner, whoever that might be, that you can trust and demonstrates that body can support you in that journey because it is a journey. It is unlikely you would do everything on day one, and to be able to get from where you are to where it needs proper planning to do it properly and just switching it on is not going to do the job. 

Dom: [00:11:54] It’s not going to work, is it? 

Kevin: [00:11:56] It’s not as much as some people might try and say they can; yeah, it’s a big job. 

Security enhancements in the cloud

Dom: [00:12:01] Yeah. Sure. Kevin, We touched on cloud security earlier, and I understand there’s still some scepticism around cloud services. How has Blue Cube addressed cloud security and kind of futureproofed themselves? 

Kevin: [00:12:17] I think people are right to be sceptical of the cloud, but for good reason. Not to be scared but not to be complacent is the way I’ll put it. Sure. Within Blue Cube, we recognise that there are threats out there. Threats you know, and there are threats you don’t know about. So we, as a result of going into the cloud, actually allowed us to implement a seem solution, which not surprisingly is in the cloud, but we collect information from a range of different sources. And that’s got one that seems to look at what events are happening as well as human analysts as well. So there’s both an automated solution and analysts, and that baseline we’ve established over quite a long time. So we understand what normal looks for Blue Cube and that means that when something happens out of the ordinary, that’s very easy for us to identify. And there are literally millions of events that happen across a week, and it’s impossible to reconcile those that someone was looking at it manually. And it’s, you know, the cloud is under constant threat. I mean, there’s no getting away from that. And we put in strategies to minimise those threats that we see and make sure that we’re as prepared as we can be for the threats that we can’t see because you get threats and a new vulnerability is happening all the time. So, yes, you do need to be active regarding the security side of it and just rely on some passive approach, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I think you need to be aware of what’s happening within your environment to understand what normal looks like for your organisation. You can do that in-house, or you can go to experts. There are plenty of ways of doing it.  But just don’t assume it’s the cloud is natively secure because if you do, then it’s probably going to bite you. 

Dom: [00:14:25] Definitely. Yeah, I see that. I know that with experience, you can mitigate risk in the cloud. There are multiple solutions. You can use some provided by the key vendors. Yeah, I did. I think the key thing is to be prepared and protect yourself. Yeah. 

Kevin: [00:14:40] Yeah, I think you just understand that you are under threat. And for anyone that goes and looks at logs, especially those that are external facing, there’s just a whole world out there which is automated to try and crack what it is that you’ve got. So the best defence you can do is to have proactive defences up there and keep monitoring what it is that is happening on your external facing devices. And internal shouldn’t forget internal. 

Azure migration was successful with Northdoor’s help 

Dom: [00:15:09] So we talked about cloud services and how we hope to implement your cloud solution at Northdoor and also support and manage your services for you as part of our Managed Services Solutions; how do you find us looking after your environment? 

Kevin: [00:15:25] Well, given that we’re sitting here, obviously, it works very well. But I should explain why and why I’m happy to be here chatting with you on camera. And that’s because we don’t have the resources internally to do what we do. We’re a relatively small company at the end of the day. But the range of solutions and applications that we have, we couldn’t have if we were trying to support that internally. We need a team three or four times the size that we are with skills that we currently don’t have in-house, and with recruitment shortages that are out in the marketplace at the moment, I’m not even sure we could get the people, even if we wanted them. So the relationship we have with yourselves is we trust you with our systems and our customers at the end of the day, and you’ve demonstrated that you understand our environment, and here’s what’s written on a contract, and then there’s I can ring you up, and one of my guys can ring up Northdoor and basically say, there’s this and that issue, and I know that you understand us as an organisation and that if certain things are not quite what they should be, then that will get the attention it deserves, especially if there is a critical issue that needs looking after quite urgently. But they’re the basic fixes type of things, but also, from an expertise point of view that we can talk about the future of the cloud and certain solutions. And because you understand our environment, then I have a certain knowledge of certain things, but you have more in-depth knowledge about where things are going and how they work. So what that means for Blue Cube is that we’ve got access to the consultancy side of Northdoor, we’ve got access to the managed services side of Northdoor and other services that are there as well. We simply could not have it as a small SME, which is what we are; it allows us to punch above our weight within the marketplace and offer enterprise-type approaches to applications, data, and how we manage ourselves as a business. Which quite simply, we couldn’t do it if we were just a company of 40 or 50 people and had a couple of people in I.T. We would be back to the on-premise that we moved away from you. So yeah, we couldn’t, we literally couldn’t do it without an organisation like Northdoor, simple as that. 

Dom: [00:17:56] Kevin, thank you for your time today and insights into Blue Cube Travel. I look forward to continued success and enjoying our journey on this digital transformation that we’ve embarked on. 

Kevin: [00:18:11] Thank you, Dom. It’s been a pleasure to work with Northdoor and to be here with you today. 

Dom: [00:18:15] You’re Welcome. Thank you. 

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