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William Hill Improves Agility and Scalability, Reduces Costs by Going All In on AWS

2021

International sports betting and gaming company William Hill is committed to delivering a safe, high-speed online environment that provides its customers with engaging ways to bet and game. But as user numbers for both its online and retail businesses continued to climb, the company became constrained by legacy infrastructure and struggled to cost-effectively handle spikes in user traffic. To deliver a high-performance betting experience to customers while strengthening security and scaling fluidly, the company migrated to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

William Hill transitioned to a combination of native services including Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS), which lets businesses start, run, and scale Kubernetes applications on AWS or on premises; Amazon CloudFront, a fast, highly secure, and programmable content delivery network; and VMware Cloud on AWS, which delivers a fast, simple, and cost-effective path to the hybrid cloud. The company efficiently migrated its applications to AWS, avoiding months of application redesign. It improved the scalability of its services and, through hands-on training, helped upskill and prepare its teams for building in the cloud.

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Our journey from what we’d originally built to modern AWS services has been much simpler than it would have been with another cloud provider.”

Stephen Thom
Head of Engineering, William Hill

Replacing Legacy Hardware with Cloud Infrastructure

Based in the United Kingdom, William Hill delivers an engaging, safe, and secure environment for betting and responsible gaming through retail shops and sports books as well as online and on mobile devices. However, the company’s previous on-premises system couldn’t scale efficiently to deliver high performance during popular sporting events while saving costs during low usage. “We had no real ability to scale,” says Sarah Lucas, head of cloud and infrastructure services at William Hill. “Ordering and implementing hardware was a project every time.” To solve this issue, the company decided to go all in on AWS.

William Hill started its migration in 2019, first moving its central infrastructure services—which all of its channels use—so that distributed teams across the business could access them with ease. It engaged the AWS Professional Services team, which provides specialized skills and experience to help businesses evaluate their current architecture and achieve their desired outcomes in the cloud. “We had great support from AWS Professional Services as we transformed our infrastructure,” says Ben Fairclough, lead architect of cloud and infrastructure at William Hill. “Our biggest challenge was dealing with 15–20 years of virtual machines, data centers, and hardware. There was a massive amount of toil there.”

William Hill’s redesign could’ve taken 12–18 months. But by working alongside the AWS Professional Services team and using additional support from AWS Partner Computacenter, an independent technology provider that helps businesses transform and manage their information technology infrastructure, William Hill migrated in under 8 months. “Instead of refactoring every application at the same time and moving them to AWS, we could choose the strategy that was most effective for each,” says Fairclough. “We could migrate quickly using VMware Cloud on AWS or rebuild natively on AWS where appropriate.” Now, over 80 percent of its apps run on AWS.

As part of its migration, William Hill engaged the AWS Training and Certification team, which helps organizations build and validate their cloud skills, to run a cloud training and certification program. “We did over 120 labs and 200 learning sessions with the training team from AWS,” says Lucas. Those sessions totaled 45,000 minutes of learning and hands-on sessions that helped its engineers become more confident about working in the cloud. “Our journey from what we’d originally built to modern AWS services has been much simpler than it would have been with another cloud provider,” says Stephen Thom, head of engineering at William Hill.

Improving Scalability and Cost Efficiency of an Omnichannel Business

William Hill made its infrastructure more elastic by going all in on AWS. It simplified its building process using Amazon EKS clusters and AWS Transit Gateway, which connects virtual private clouds and on-premises networks through a central hub. The company can test and implement new features more quickly. “We’re more agile on AWS,” says Lucas. “Our time to market has greatly improved.” Meanwhile, it made its legacy software more accessible using Amazon WorkSpaces, a desktop virtualization service that makes applications and resources available from any supported device.

On AWS, William Hill has the flexibility to efficiently manage spikes in usage from major events like the Grand National horse race. “We can scale different services up and down as needed,” says Lucas. In the cloud, it can scale up quickly, without investing in hardware, and spin down afterward, averting wasted infrastructure. As a result, William Hill saw its most successful, issue-free Grand National in 27 years and achieved considerable cost savings in comparison to previous years.

The company also improved the reliability of its app for users playing along in real time by using Amazon CloudFront to deliver continuous high-speed performance. And to strengthen its security posture and facilitate compliance with industry regulations, William Hill uses AWS Shield, which safeguards applications from distributed denial of service attacks. “AWS Shield and Amazon CloudFront are the foundations of our secure cloud environment,” says Fairclough. “They are amazing services.” Lambda@Edge, a feature of Amazon CloudFront that runs code closer to the users of an application, also helps deliver this fast, stable user experience.

Finally, William Hill modernized the backend infrastructure of its in-store terminals at over 1,400 locations by connecting them to its flexible cloud architecture. Now, William Hill’s apps can reach both on-premises hardware and the cloud with high performance and no latency issues. The company can also monitor exactly how much of its shared infrastructure its retail locations consume and be proactive about managing costs.

Modernizing for Better Performance and Flexibility

As part of its push for cloud-native innovations, William Hill is evaluating the potential cost savings of the Database Freedom program, which assists customers migrating to AWS database and analytics services. It is also planning to explore other AWS offerings, such as AWS Graviton processors, which are designed to deliver the best price performance for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud.

Since its migration to AWS, William Hill has achieved better scalability and cost savings, stronger security, and a cloud culture among staff. “AWS was communicative, which really helped in our migration,” says Lucas. “The AWS team went above and beyond to support us.”


About William Hill

William Hill is one of the world’s largest sports betting and gaming companies. Based in the United Kingdom, it runs in-person betting terminals at over 1,400 locations and provides a mobile application that lets users track and manage their bets online.

Benefits of AWS

  • Achieved considerable cost savings by scaling for the Grand National horse race
  • Improved its security posture
  • Shortened time to market
  • Gained the ability to scale on demand
  • Refactored 60% of its services to run on VMware Cloud on AWS
  • Migrated over 80% of apps to AWS
  • Provided staff with 45,000 minutes of cloud training

AWS Services Used

AWS Shield

AWS Shield is a managed Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection service that safeguards applications running on AWS.

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Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront is a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally with low latency, high transfer speeds, all within a developer-friendly environment.

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VMware Cloud on AWS

Innovate faster, rapidly transition to the cloud, and work securely from any location with the full range of 200+ AWS services.

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Amazon EKS

Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS) is a managed container service to run and scale Kubernetes applications in the cloud or on-premises.

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