Using a website as a first access point for customers to find out about a business is no new tactic. Retailers and marketers were amongst the first to embrace the rush to take customer service online and now estate agents are doing the same. Foxtons, the estate agents that operates in London, Middlesex and Surrey has always had a reputation for being an innovative business. Now it’s decided to put its web operations in the cloud to fuel its online presence and enhance its customers’ online experience.
Foxtons’ 51 offices manage thousands of properties, all of which are visible on its website. The website had been designed to be interactive and reflect the ever-changing demands of its customers. The site itself is predominantly a customer’s first point of engagement and also acts as a vital, experience-enhancing, self-service information hub.
Leo Lapworth, Web Manager, Foxtons said: “With the constant change and development in the property market it’s important for us to keep ahead of the curve. Having an innovative, interactive website is an important part of what sets Foxtons apart from the rest of the market. For our sellers, landlords, tenants and buyers operating in a hectic market it’s important to be able to manage and find the right properties, as well as the ability to arrange secure payments online.”
The website features interactive floorplans, 360° virtual tours, numerous colour photographs, slide shows, local information, location maps, aerial views and full colour brochures for every property Foxtons promotes. With the property market constantly evolving, the website has also adapted to serve as an online portal for landlords and tenants to sign documents electronically, manage secure online payments and access online statements.
However, like many brands creating a powerful customer-facing website, the Foxtons team found that the site came with its own problems. By being highly interactive, the website was naturally data hungry. Plus, with high-resolution image content, there was a danger that the site would take a long time to load and potential customers would be put off.
With a data hungry website, there’s the danger of overloading web servers with large files. A bottleneck was emerging. The Foxtons team realised their expert IT developers had built the impressive applications and functionalities necessary for the website. However there was now a technology gap between their developments and the performance ability of their infrastructure. To solve the bottleneck Foxtons needed a hosting environment that could keep up with data demands.
Foxtons engaged Six Degrees Group (6DG) to design and provide a managed hosting environment that would support their current and future website requirements. The team deployed a dual-site, highly-available and scalable web-hosting platform with a fully managed backup and disaster recovery solution. The primary environment consists of the 6DG cloud pod – the service provider’s specialist virtual private cloud environment – located in its own highly secure, managed data centre in Birmingham. The cloud hosting platform consists of two cloud web servers plus a back-end database, virtual firewall and virtual load balancer. As it is fully scalable, the private cloud configuration allows for additional resources (physical and/or virtual) to be added, facilitating either short-term bursting or long-term growth. For added resiliency the solution is geo-replicated on a private cloud platform in London. This allows for full disaster recovery.
To support the solution, the managed services provider has deployed an MPLS network directly into the virtual private cloud. This has provided Foxtons with a private, secure connection to its cloud platform. The network is completely resilient with the ability to re-route in less than 50 milliseconds and is capable of keeping traffic flowing to the website 24/7. The self-healing network means that if a fault were ever to occur, neither Foxtons nor its customers using the site would notice a thing.
The Foxtons website now benefits from a two-site primary and secondary hosting platform, allowing the site to function with zero downtime. Working with an expert team also means that Foxtons has the flexibility to pick up the phone at any time.
Lapworth concluded: “The team at 6DG understands how important the website is to our business. They have helped us to create a unique hosting platform that can support the website as Foxtons continues to meet the changing needs of the London property market.”
by Campbell Williams, group strategy and marketing director at Six Degrees Group