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Cloud solutions in practise

The cloud as a success factor

06/2016 - The proof is in the pudding. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to take a closer look at developments before deciding to become a part of them. Two examples within the DB world that have already incorporated the cloud-based solution of the Group successfully prove who could also potentially benefit from DB Enterprise Cloud down the road.

140,000 page views each day. Almost everyone in the offices of the DB Group uses it to contact colleagues. The talk is of the EVI, or electronic staff directory, which is one of the most frequently used IT applications in the DB family. EVI is a digital phone book that offers many different functions and represents one of the pillars of internal information by storing comprehensive personal information in one central place. The EVI has also recently served as a pilot project for deploying DB Enterprise Cloud across the Bahn Group ─ a shift that the majority of users will take absolutely no note of because nothing has changed from their perspective. The real revolution took place behind the scenes and is visually noted by nothing more than a small logo that appears at the edge of the screen to indicate cloud usage.

Requirements analysed and IT architecture optimised

Before the cloud migration got underway, a detailed analysis of the relevant requirements and the existing architecture of the EVI application was carried out as part of the onboarding process. Dr. Stephan Pflume from the CIO organisational unit of the Group coordinated activities from a customer-oriented perspective, and Dr. Axel Löhn from DB Systel planned and implemented the project. The basic requirement here was to ensure that DB Enterprise Cloud can be used to process personal data in a highly secure manner. Another decisive factor was to define a flexible IT architecture that responds in real time to fluctuating EVI loads, or traffic, which can vary greatly on a daily and/or weekly basis.

Versatile deployment of services in relation to different load scenarios

The cloud now helps to respond to these fluctuations by distributing the load across several shoulders. Whereas two large-capacity servers were previously used for the EVI, three mid-sized servers are now employed in the cloud.

Dr. Stefan Pflume (DB AG)
© Deutsche Bahn AG

The benefit of this is that on the weekends and in the evening, when fewer users access the EVI, individual servers can be shut down. With the new cloud-based model, these servers then cost essentially nothing during this time. The benefits become even greater when the acceptance system of the EVI is taken into account, which is only used when required. Provisioning of the other systems takes place automatically according to a defined schedule.

The reasons and motivation behind this configuration are clear, according to Stephan Pflume: “The fact that we can go online and offline with entire servers in a cost-effective manner and in the space of just one hour translates into reduced operating costs. Expedited server run-up and shut-down times also give rise to entirely new opportunities.”

Higher speeds, new opportunities

The full package ─ a managed cloud ─ is utilized for the EVI. To this end, DB Systel provisions a platform and the relevant applications, and oversees any necessary adaptations during active operation. “We are currently introducing around one new EVI version each month”, adds Pflume, “and we want to accelerate this release schedule greatly in the spirit of a ‘continuous delivery’ process. This will mean that each minor improvement that we have finished developing will be immediately transferred to the live, production environment. This, in turn, will allow us to determine straight away how and to what extent users accept the improvements.” More preliminary work needs to be carried out beforehand, however, including bundling and testing of new software packages in automated fashion, which can then be officially made available. “The cloud and the high level of automation associated with it will help us out tremendously in this regard.”

DB Enterprise Cloud

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Saving money with the cloud

The savings are even more pronounced for Marcus Gilg with DB Regio Bus, which also opted for the cloud-based solution, albeit the “unmanaged” variant: DB Systel provides access to the cloud, while DB Regio Bus manages and coordinates all operational activities. As a result of this new configuration, Gilg is confident that costs can be significantly reduced in comparison with the previous model. Here, too, Gilg’s assumption is based on an initial consultation and sufficient optimisation carried out as part of the onboarding process with DB Systel. In view of the dwindling profit margins and fierce competition in the passenger transport sector, lowering costs as far as possible ─ particularly when it comes to supporting processes such as those in the IT field ─ offers a very good argument for making technical changes.

Five times as efficient

The business perspectives that this type of digitalisation opens up are far more important, however. DB Regio Bus therefore was not only able to lower its total costs, but also trim its investment expenditure in relation to variable expenses. In future, only the software applications and servers that are needed at the present time will be rented out in order to avoid shortages and spending money unnecessarily by provisioning additional servers that are not actually required. These aspects always play a role when decisions in favour of or against transportation contracts, for example, lead to a short-term change in the IT environment.

© Deutsche Bahn AG

I truly believe that we can actually promote data security with the cloud

Marcus Gilg (DB Regio AG)

In the best-case scenario, corporate efficiency can be improved, attests Gilg. Traffic scenario calculations that at one point would have taken five days to make can now be completed in just a single day thanks to short-term scalability of capacity. After the traffic scenario analysis has been concluded, server capacity is brought back down to normal levels. This amount of flexibility in IT infrastructure also has an immediate positive effect on technical response times, thus providing an additional, directly tangible business benefit.

Focus on data security

Despite the frequent criticism from cloud sceptics, who feel that cloud-based environments by their very nature compromise data protection, Gilg has a rather surprising response: “I truly believe that we can actually promote data security with the cloud.” It goes without saying that security also played an important role in the past, but thanks to DB Systel’s cloud partner Amazon Web Services (AWS), this approach opens up new possibilities that simply do not exist when all IT activities are managed in house ─ whether it’s updating the protective features of the software or providing protection against physical damage to the servers themselves. The AWS servers used by DB Systel are operated in Frankfurt and are therefore subject to German law. Personal data, for example, such as that stored in the EVI, is then, by default, inherently secure.

DB Regio Bus is still going through its transformation process to the cloud-based environment. The first of seven data centres to be integrated on a successive basis was the one located in Bavaria. Since November of last year, the company has been actively using the cloud-based solution; the migration activities at all seven centres are scheduled to have been completed by the end of 2017.

A road that can also prove beneficial for many other IT systems in the Group.