Frasers Group, the UK parent company for dozens of high-profile retail brands, knew its on-premises e-commerce platform needed help to handle expected traffic as the year-end holiday retail season approached. F5 rSeries hardware improved capacity and performance to help the company generate strong holiday sales and tackle ambitious 2023 sales goals.
Frasers Group Plc, with headquarters in London and Shirebrook, England, aims to build the planet’s most admired and compelling brand ecosystem. As a result, the company’s success continues to expand. It has grown from the founding of its first store in 1982 to become a publicly traded retail juggernaut selling names recognized the world over, from elite brands like House of Fraser to well-known logos such as Sports Direct and Flannels. It’s recently built on that success with new acquisitions and ventures such as flagship retail concept stores in Manchester and Liverpool, bringing its annual revenues to nearly £5 billion ($5.8 billion) with record profits in its 2022 fiscal year. Online sales are an important contributor.
“Digital experiences are absolutely key to our mission of providing a world-leading retail ecosystem,” says Nick Denton, Head of Network Architecture for Frasers Group.
Whether online or in one of more than 1000 stores worldwide, the company’s well-known sports, lifestyle, and luxury brands raise its profile with consumers—and, as with most highly visible organizations, with attackers. As a result, traffic volumes continually elevate, with the potential to eventually impact app availability.
The company’s IT team had used F5 hardware and BIG-IP solutions in their on-premises data center since the mid-2000s. “F5 devices became our load balancer of choice, initially for our corporate environment, then also for our e-commerce environment,” says Denton.
Despite an ever-increasing attack surface, the company’s e-commerce platform was holding its own, serving customers and protecting the business and sensitive data. But in mid-2022, accelerating traffic raised concerns about the holiday and World Cup retail season to come, which are the busiest times of year for the company’s websites. Its existing F5 VIPRION devices, in service for many years, still worked well, but demand growth would eventually outpace their peak capacity, putting app performance at risk.
Thomas Cripps, Digital Platform and Network Security Manager, says, “Issues with app availability during peak holiday periods can start to damage the brand reputation.”
In addition, given economic headwinds as a result of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, Frasers Group wanted to maximize online holiday sales. It couldn’t afford for its sites to go down even briefly.
“That was the challenge,” says Denton. “The VIPRIONS served us well, but now was the right time to upgrade and replace them.”
The company’s networks team chose the new F5 rSeries, a next-generation hardware platform that automates both app services and substantial app security.
“Looking at the spec sheet and seeing the difference in performance with a smaller footprint—it was a no-brainer,” says Cripps. “You have to go for the best offering.”
The new hardware needed to be onsite and operational before the fast-approaching holiday retail season. The team also needed to upgrade the older F5 TMOS software that had been running on Frasers Group’s old appliances. Doing so would ensure a smoother transition and allow Frasers Group to take advantage of advances in later versions.
F5 expedited the hardware, which arrived in time to go live in time for the start of World Cup promotions and before the holiday season.
“Implementation was extremely smooth,” says Cripps, whose team worked with F5 Professional Services to manage the software upgrade and configurations. “We spent about a week and a half going through the motions of exporting configurations and testing. At the time of the cutover, it was flawless.”
The new rSeries hardware enables Frasers Group to absorb traffic spikes without user impact—in fact, without much impact at all.
“You could see its performance gain in being able to handle the number of connections,” says Cripps. “It was a massive jump. The rSeries has dramatically increased performance.”
He notes that after the installation, website availability remained constant despite occasional spikes in traffic. “The rSeries handled it like it should, and there was no real stress on the system. You couldn’t really see much of a difference in terms of CPU load—maybe only a handful of CPU percentage.”
Frasers Group is so pleased with the results that it’s considering expanding to more devices. Cripps says, “With the rSeries, we’ve seen the benefit and potential of being able to spin up and spin down where there’s need and going more into the private cloud space.”
Denton appreciates the programmability of the F5 solution.
“The flexibility of iRules and integration into the logic allows you to do anything you want with the rSeries, so it can respond to any business need,” he says.
Flexibility like that will be increasingly important as Fraser Group moves into containerization, cloud hosting, and other elements of today’s modern and hybrid app deployments. Denton says, “We’ll be looking at utilizing F5 ingress controllers and NGINX to assist us in delivering the solutions we currently provide into those new technology areas.”
Frasers Group sells a range of premium products and luxury brands, so it understands the relationship between quality and value. That’s why it’s deploying a best of breed architecture.
“We go with the best of breed—F5—because we get the best value,” says Cripps.
That’s especially true as the company looks ahead to the future for its e-commerce platform and modernization of its applications and infrastructure.
Denton says, “We don’t want a lesser load balancer just because it happens to be the default for a particular cloud provider. We still want to be able to offer the extended services F5 gives us.”
Those services go beyond the products to support, which in this case helped ensure a short time-to-value. “We had really good collaboration between ourselves and F5 Professional Services,” says Denton. He calls the support, “thorough, conscientious, with lots of ideas, helpful along the way. We were very confident, it went smoothly, and we were very happy with that process from start to finish.”
With its high-value F5 solution in place, Frasers Group can continue to build brands as its online sales ascend to new heights of success.