High database availability to optimise customer experience

by |

Microsoft Case Studies – Online payments provider takes advantage of high database availability to transform the customer experience.

eWAY was already a leading provider in online payments, offering a comprehensive range of e-commerce services in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. But to get an extra edge over the competition, eWAY wanted to eclipse the industry benchmark 99.5% availability, equal to approximately 20 minutes downtime per month. Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition has allowed eWAY to operate two ‘hot’ data centres, reducing downtime to no more than 26 seconds per month.

Business Needs

Established in 1998 with a vision to seize opportunity in the burgeoning e-commerce marketplace, eWAY has succeeded by putting the needs of its customers first. Active in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, the business is driven by innovation, which is why it now services over 12,000 customers, from small and medium enterprises through to non-profits, as well as partnering with global banking institutions.

As a payment gateway, eWAY acts as a bridge between online merchants and their banks, providing the service that processes the transactions on their behalf. There are a number of stages in the online payments process, so it’s essential that each one be completed as quickly and reliably as possible.

Looking for both a unique point of difference and a better service for its customers, eWAY began to explore opportunities for maximising the availability of its database servers. In the e-commerce world, uptime is critical, and even small amounts of downtime can have a tremendous impact on online retailers. While consistently exceeding the industry benchmark of 99.5%, eWAY saw an opportunity to improve.

eWAY’s founder, Matt Bullock, puts it best. “The thing that matters most to me in life is to have happy customers,” he said.


Already familiar with the benefits of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition, eWAY were excited by some of the new features of SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition, which had the potential to help them achieve 99.999% availability for their customers.

With this in mind, eWAY looked to Microsoft Gold Data Platform partner, WARDY IT Solutions, to design and implement a high availability and disaster recovery solution. The new gold standard of availability began with the migration itself, which was completed in a matter of minutes.

“We were able to cut them over within six minutes. A very small amount of time given the complexity,” Peter Ward, Chief Technical Architect of WARDY IT, said.

According to Ward, there were three key features that could help eWAY achieve their goals: AlwaysOn Availability Groups, Multisite Failover Clustering and Multiple Subnets.

AlwaysOn Availability Groups is a high-availability and disaster-recovery solution that provides an enterprise-level alternative to database mirroring. It maximises the availability of a set of user databases, and supports a failover environment for a discrete set of user databases, known as availability databases, which fail over together.

Ward explains: “It’s a unique solution compared to other DBMS technologies. There’s no requirement for things like shared storage, or to have all the servers on the same subnet.”

Multiple subnets provides the option of multiple networks. “Previously, you had to have one network across all sites, which from a security and network topology perspective is bad practice. With SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition, you segregate each of those networks into a different set of IP addresses, and you can span across those as part of the AlwaysOn topology.”

Meanwhile, multi-site clustering simplifies clustering technology, eliminating the reliance on shared storage across multiple sites. “You no longer need a dedicated fibre connection between two locations,” Ward said.


Already familiar with the benefits of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Enterprise Edition, eWAY were excited by some of the new features of SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition, which had the potential to help them achieve 99.999% availability for their customers.

Reducing unplanned downtime. For online retailers, even a small amount of unplanned downtime can have a significant flow-on effect, impacting revenue, productivity and even their relationship with their customers. Since cutting over to SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition, eWAY has been able to offer its customers zero unplanned downtime. Significantly less than the industry average 20 minutes per month.

“I don’t know anyone else who’s doing this in our space,” Bullock said.

Reducing planned downtime. SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition has enabled not just far less unplanned downtime, but much less planned downtime as well. eWAY’s Chief Technology Officer, Michael Nordling, explains. “We have three database servers – two synchronous and one in asynchronous mode. When we perform an update, we just take one of them down, so it’s not affecting anything.”

Simplifying management. SQL Server 2012 delivers benefits for eWAY’s staff as well as its customers, simplifying the day-to-day management of IT. “Server 2012 features rich instrumentation, so we’ve got continuous insight into what’s happening on our servers,” Nordling said.

Improving IT cost efficiency. By allowing read-only activity to be performed on an active secondary machine, SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition is saving eWAY time, money and complications. “Our back-end system only talks to the read-only database, reducing risk for the write-only database. It also means we can perform back-ups and maintenance on the secondary server, removing that workload from the primary server,” Nordling said.

Improving customer satisfaction. Of course, the most important outcome for all these benefits is the one benefit that really matters: customer satisfaction. As CEO Bullock explains: “I know I can sleep better, and our customers can have complete confidence in what we’re doing.”