Traveline South West selects ServerSpace to support demand for public transport info

Traveline South West has chosen ServerSpace to host its public transport data platform, enabling it to deliver new mobile services and reduce costs by 25 percent after combining infrastructure with other Traveline operations across the country.

Like its counterparts in other parts of the UK, non-profit organisation Traveline South West provides members of the public and local authorities with a range of services to help plan journeys.  Services provided include an online route planner, SMS updates and mobile apps offering information such as journey times or real time updates on bus arrival times.

Around 30 GB of schedule data is collected each day for Traveline South West by local authorities and travel operators for 52,000 bus stops. This is compiled alongside data from other regions such as East Anglia, the South East and East Midlands, by German company MDV.  The data is then delivered to Traveline South West’s web servers, which are updated weekly, with additional updates enabled for unforeseen changes to services.

Traveline previously used Atos for its server hosting, following a European contract tender in 2010.  This involved hosting one server for monitoring and managing, as well as two for web delivery. However the organisation found that the contract, held in place by the Department for Transport (DfT) to run the Transport Direct service, did not allow for the organisation to meet growing demand of its features such as the journey planner.

While the virtualised server hosting as part of a DfT contract did not involve charges for Traveline, data development manager at Traveline South West, Andy Hole, said that the setup meant that changes to systems were difficult to facilitate.

“Our server delivery before ServerSpace was Atos, through the DfT contract, and there was no annual charge for it, so on the cost side it was very good,” he explained. “But we couldn’t put applications on and anything that we wanted to change took a long time, taking around six months to get changes to the firewall.”

One of the problems was the ability to deploy applications such as its NextBus app on the hosted servers.  Government commitments to providing a journey planning service targeted at spectators using public transport during the London Olympics meant that server capacity was prioritised for enabling 100 percent availability during the event.  This meant that additional space was unavailable for Traveline South West to meet growing demand.

“We wanted to migrate functions from the TD servers across to our Traveline servers in Atos, and they couldn’t do it, because there was a block on any changes because of the Olympics,” Hole said.

“We outgrew them really, and as we were growing we couldn’t get them to make the hardware grow in the same size, although it was actually virtual servers at the time.  They couldn’t keep up with us or keep with the demands.”

After considering other hosting suppliers such as Logica and Virgin Media, Hole decided to migrate its delivery platform to ServerSpace as part of a five year contract, hosting servers in its data centre in London.

The migration itself was done over a number of months after going live with ServerSpace in October 2012, running concurrently on the Atos servers in order to ensure continuity of service.

“The one big challenge was the change of DNS because we couldn’t split the load so that it went over from our old web servers to the new web servers as an overnight change,” he said.

“We had the servers built in ServerSpace for about a month while we were still dual running.  So we would update the three servers in ServerSpace - one cockpit server for monitoring and managing, and then two web delivery servers, and in Atos we had the same environment.”

He added: “We updated all of the servers six for about a month, and then half way through we turned the DNS over and it was a seamless transfer overnight, without any complaints.”

In January the switchover from the three other Traveline regions, South East, East Anglia and East Midlands was completed, with the number of delivery servers doubling to four.  It was also possible to put the NextBuses app onto the servers two weeks later, Hole said.

The combining of services has meant that running costs through the organisation can be reduced by 25 percent, which is reflected in the Traveline SouthWest budget for payments to local authorities.

Following the move to ServerSpace and the combining of servers with other regions, the amount of traffic being handled has substantially, with around half a million web visits a day are now managed.

The number of departure board enquiries made through the mobi site and applications has also shot up. Monthly API use has increased by 182 percent in the past 12 months, Hole said, up from 211,877 departure board requests from around 75,000 the previous year.

Going forward Traveline South West is now looking at developing a number of other applications to further improve its service.

“We are now in a partnership with Plymouth University where they are going to build an app for ‘smart’ journey planning,” Hole said. “It has got some futuristic uses where the application will actually pay for your ticket, and will let the driver know your name before you board the bus, as well as letting the bus know what stop to pick you up at.

“It will also inform you what stop to get off at and ring the bell for you. That is the aspiration.”

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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