Vodafone is one of the world’s leading telecoms organisations, serving hundreds of millions of customers around the globe. With much of its underlying IT infrastructure built during the dotcom era, however, it is embarking on a bold programme to digitise, modernise and ultimately shift from traditional telecommunications to more of a software-oriented, tech-driven business.
The ‘Tech 2025’ plan, which is already well underway, will help Vodafone maximise the potential of new 5G-enabled services, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, while providing innovative, agile services to consumers and businesses and adding value through software.
To achieve that, the company requires a large number of developers to shape and deliver new software at pace – it is currently in the process of hiring thousands – but it also needs to ensure those developers have access to tools that enable them to build hundreds of cloud-native apps.
Like all legacy businesses, employees of Vodafone previously had to go into an office and log on to the local network to access applications. Those barriers have been broken down by the cloud. The key use case which first gave Vodafone the impetus to deploy a modern database, on which its developers can build cloud-native apps at rapid speed, was its feasibility platform.
“For home broadband, the feasibility platform allows you to check what speed you can get. For our enterprise customers it’s much larger, allowing us to see how much of the road we can dig up and what the price is to lay our infrastructure. The apps were on an on-premise relational database,” says Robert Fisher, Head of Enterprise Engineering Domain at Vodafone.
The old platform, which was 15 years old, couldn’t scale and the sheer volume of queries was forcing quote requests to time out, meaning missed revenue.
“The way the system works is we have customers that come in via B2B through APIs, they query the application, the logic core gets processed within the application and then we respond,” Fisher adds. “Because that logic was in a very old database with a large amount of complexity, and a lot was being done in the wrong place, it was causing severe latency. Some customers weren't happy with the performance which was affecting their business and ours.”
Vodafone was already looking for a maiden use case on which to deploy MongoDB’s multi-cloud database Atlas and this provided the perfect opportunity. The company built a microservice- based architecture with Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service which it connected to MongoDB Atlas and then connected back down to its existing on-premise infrastructure to do other things.
Moving from a traditional database to a cloud-based database is not easy, but MongoDB has supported Vodafone with in-depth training which has enabled the company’s developers to get to grips with the new platform and technology very quickly. Performance-wise, since deploying MongoDB Atlas, Vodafone can now do all of the processing and response in sub one second.
Freedom to innovate
Migrating to the cloud is not only allowing Vodafone to better scale, improve resilience and start realising the revenue uplift from external parties reselling Vodafone connectivity, but it is enabling developers to reuse assets in different countries far more seamlessly, without having to worry about operational issues. It also means the company can accelerate its recruitment drive.
By 2025, half of the employees in Vodafone Technology, the new platform-focused function within Vodafone, will work in software engineering. Thanks to MongoDB Atlas, they are being given the freedom to experiment and invent new cloud-native apps and services which will be made available to hundreds of millions mobile, fixed broadband and TV customers globally.
Vodafone is also making the common APIs available through a single, global catalogue. This will provide third party developers and global tech partners with easy access to a standardised toolkit to build adjacent services. The conclusion of the Tech 2025 plan will see Vodafone launching new products and services 50% faster and in multiple countries at the same time.
“Underpinning these apps is MongoDB Atlas, which provides a scalable, resilient and flexible database,” says Fisher. “If this excites you, we are constantly recruiting and still looking for many more developers to join the team. We've got quite a varied team. We've got some onshore team members and we've got some offshore team members in our factories as well.
“Vodafone is a very good supporter of career development. I first got a job in the call centre and then slowly moved my way through the company and into IT operations. I now manage a team of just over 30 people at the moment, and that ranges from developers to technical design authorities, delivery managers, designers and testers. The level of innovation is really exciting.
“We try to maximise the time that we get development from our teams, working in a DevOps way. One of the main things we look for is drive. If you're driven, possibly even self taught and you want to learn, even if you haven't got the experience today, I truly believe that you can pick up and learn the necessary skills. MongoDB is supporting us throughout that whole journey. We want to have our own people developing our own software so we can be a leader in innovation.”
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