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Stagecoach takes to the cloud

Bus and coach operator’s cloud-first strategy underpinned and enabled by a Secure SD-WAN from Node4

The UK’s biggest bus and coach operator, Stagecoach provides a mixture of bus, coach and tram services in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull, Sheffield, Oxford and Cambridge and on routes linking smaller locations. It also runs and jointly operates Scottish Citylink. 

In all, the company has 24,000 employees serving three million passengers daily across 100 major UK bus depots. 

Like many businesses, Stagecoach recently committed itself to a cloudfirst strategy that would enable more collaboration between sites and underpin the adoption of new SaaS solutions, including cloud-based bus and resource scheduling software. 

This was the catalyst for a long overdue upgrade to its wide area network, which was already struggling to deliver on availability, bandwidth, security and integration and compromised by a lack of monitoring capabilities, as Graham Moore, Group Chief Information Officer at Stagecoach, explains. 

“As things stood, we had no way of knowing if or when a site was down, or if it was struggling for bandwidth. This led to completely avoidable downtime. We had to rely on staff at the impacted site to perform manual checks and alert us if there was an issue…We were particularly concerned about the lack of security and cyber threat monitoring capabilities afforded by our existing network – and how that might play out as the company’s cloud migration progressed.” 

After considering their options and completing their due diligence, Stagecoach selected Node4’s Secure SD-WAN for the upgrade project, which to date has brought extra bandwidth, improved visibility and better security. 

*Speed & Connectivity. Sites connected to Node4’s SD-WAN have seen an eight-fold increase in bandwidth, from 8Mbps to 60Mbps, thanks to fast fibre connectivity and the ability to utilise both primary and secondary links for network traffic when required. Unlike Stagecoach’s old WAN, which used to funnel all traffic through its HQ, causing a giant bottleneck and latency, Node4’s SD-WAN provides local internet breakouts, delivering better performance at each location.

*Reliability. The Node4 SD-WAN has greater resiliency than Stagecoach’s old WAN. There are many reasons for a location to drop its WAN connection, but the most common used to be a primary link failure. When that happened, Stagecoach’s old WAN would switch traffic to a secondary link, which was generally unable to support the traffic volumes and would either crash or run unacceptably slowly. Moore says: “This happened at our Peterborough site just after we’d connected it to Node4’s SD-WAN, but the scenario couldn’t have been more different. When the primary link failed – because of an issue at BT – the system switched to its secondary link. We were able to centrally monitor and manage performance at the site to ensure there was no drop in connection speeds – which there wasn’t. BT fixed the issue a few days later, and no-one at the location even noticed!”

*Access To New Applications. The new infrastructure has enabled Stagecoach to access cloud-based applications like the Optibus scheduling solution for managing routes, crew and vehicle scheduling. Moore says: “It’s a fundamental step-change brought about directly because of our migration to the cloud and our partnership with Node4. In terms of direct business benefits, more efficient scheduling makes for more profitable operations, but it also means better use of resources, which is crucial for ensuring we make the best use of fuel and play our part in tackling the climate change challenge. We are also looking to implement Workday – a cloud-based Finance HR and planning system to support our 25,000 employees.” 

*Support for new ways of working. Moore adds that Node4’s SD-WAN has made it possible for Stagecoach to adopt new ways of working: “Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rollout of Microsoft Office 365 and Teams, improving collaboration across the WAN and between the 240 sites. But it doesn’t stop there. We have completed the first stage of our Salesforce implementation, and we are underway with implementing new engineering and asset management systems as well. Node4’s SD-WAN and cloud infrastructure enables all these applications, and it would not have been possible to run them on Stagecoach’s legacy IT infrastructure.” 

*Security. Once the project is completed later this year, each Stagecoach site will have a next generation, centrally managed firewall. This will provide enhanced North and South protection (in and out of the network), as well as East and West (inter-site) protection. If one location is compromised, Stagecoach’s security team can isolate it from the rest of the network and take remedial action.

Finally, Moore points out that the greater visibility and centralised management offered by Node4’s SD-WAN has enabled the Stagecoach IT team to be much more proactive and improve the service it provides to internal customers. 

“Before this project, IT was regarded as an overhead and, in some instances, a hindrance. Now, we’re known as enablers and a trusted partner. You can almost draw a line in the sand from the day that Node4’s SD-WAN fired up and see the change that occurred literally overnight. I know people throw the term ‘transformative’ around a lot when talking about IT projects, but this was 100% the case for us. There’s no other word to describe it.”

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