Azure platform helps to improve NHS Choices website in England

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson on 18 May 2015
Azure platform helps to improve NHS Choices website in England

England’s Department of Health has lowered costs and handled record levels of visitor traffic by using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to manage the content on its National Health Service (NHS) Choices website.

Managed by the Department of Health’s Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), NHS Choices is England’s largest health information site. It offers videos, more than 20,000 regularly updated articles on health and wellness, over 50 directories to help patients find and compare available health services, and interactive tools that enable visitors to rate hospitals, clinicians, care homes and dentists.

Traffic levels have grown steadily since it was launched in 2009 and hit 52 million visits in January 2015, making it England’s third-biggest government site.

“The primary goal of the site is to help put patients and the public in control of their healthcare,” says Cleveland Henry, NHS Choices delivery director at HSCIC. “NHS Choices is an essential component of the government in England’s collaborative programme to achieve transformation of the health and care service through the wider adoption of digital solutions.”

Previously, the HSCIC managed NHS Choices using a hosted data centre with 30 servers, which was costly to run and could not be easily scaled to accommodate the growing site traffic.

Azure was implemented as an infrastructure-as-a-service solution in November 2014, which gave the HSCIC more control over virtual machines in the cloud. Now, the website uses Microsoft Azure Networks to maintain data and web tiers in separate perimeter networks, while the two Azure data centres provide geo-redundancy and disaster recovery.

“Microsoft Azure also meets the risk and security requirements for NHS Choices by design from every aspect of the information security and compliance arena,” said Henry. “Its wide array of certifications, penetration testing, and accreditation from the UK Pan Government Accreditor ensure Azure keeps abreast of the ever-evolving industry requirements in private cloud provision.”

Since deploying Azure, the NHS Choices website has been able to handle record traffic levels – up from 43 million in January 2014 to 52 million in January 2015 – and reduced annual hosting costs by 40%.

The HSCIC has also been able to develop new content and features for NHS Choices.

“With Azure, we find it far easier to experiment with new content and services,” said Paul Houghton, NHS Choices interim head of technology delivery, the HSCIC. “We can spin up an Azure Web App to host a development project and move it to a virtual machine if we like it, or just shut it down, with nothing lost, if we don’t. And Azure gives us a wealth of services so all the groundwork for development is done. We can build on top of them and start to deliver value to the public right away.”

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