Cloud migration with a lean team

The surfeit of cloud services vendors and services available in the market today has made migrating one’s business to the cloud a little less intimidating. This was the case for Epsilon – a data-driven marketing platform that works with 15 of the world’s top 20 brands – whose recent foray into the cloud was driven by a push to migrate large, complex, mission-critical business workloads to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

According to Chen Xinzhan, Director of Technology for Epsilon, several reasons had contributed to its push for cloud technology. Epsilon had built an e-mail marketing and customer communications platform for a leading client in the fast-moving consumer goods industry, whose large number of franchisees in the Asia-Pacific region use the platform to manage and track marketing campaigns and launch new promotions.

“From a business standpoint, our client had experienced bad end-user response while using the application. We uncovered certain inefficiencies in our platform, the most significant of which include high latency and our clients’ inability to create and execute the campaigns they wanted. We found that a lot of these had to do with infrastructure issues,” states Chen.

Moving to the Cloud

Epsilon’s cloud migration journey was quite like changing the engine of a car already speeding down the highway, according to Chen. The platform it was looking to migrate into AWS was sending at least 1.5 million messages a day, with around 2,000 concurrent users. “We couldn’t afford any interruptions to daily business operations,” says Chen.

It was a daunting task for his eight-man team comprised mostly of project managers. “While we’d have external people coming in to help out, we had no real infrastructure person. At the beginning of our cloud journey, we didn’t really know what to do and where to go on from there,” he admits.

Migrating its current production system into AWS, without leading to any service interruptions for its client, was vital. To ensure this speedy, seamless migration, the company tapped Rackspace. “We didn’t want to move our platform onto a place whereby there would be no extendability or might have a chance to be obsolete, which is why we chose AWS. We knew that out of the cloud solutions available in the market, it is definitely the most established. We chose Rackspace not only because we’ve already had prior working experience with them, but because they have the most number of certifications of any organization. That tells me there’s a critical mass of knowledge there,” says Chen.

Migrating databases across platforms is not only time-consuming, but exceedingly complex. Utilizing Rackspace Fanatical Support for AWS to manage the move, Epsilon reports its users did not even notice it had undergone migration as the vendor blends automation, technology and human expertise to deliver ongoing architecture management, security service, and 24/7 operations.

According to Matthew Nethaway, Head of Solution Architect, Rackspace, there are a few areas in which Rackspace plugs into the business. “We have a team of solution architects based out of Hong Kong and we work with customers to design a platform that would meet the business requirements. These are things like auto scanning, making sure the solutions are spread across multiple availabilities and ensure there is high availability,” explains Nethaway, adding that the aim is to build “a self-healing, self-scaling environment” for the customers, such that they don’t have to worry about having the manpower to manually scale and add in additional instances.

“We set it up so they just automatically occur,” states Nethaway. “We make sure that a company is able to match their infrastructure spend with traffic peaks and troughs.”

Benefits and Challenges

Most organizations looking to jump into the cloud begin their journeys with the mindset that there will be initial cost savings. Nethaway, however, points out that this may not always be the case. “Whilst over time companies may be able to optimize the platform to take advantage of some cloud benefits like auto-scaling, initially they may not necessarily be in that level of cost savings. There’s a need to optimize the application and platform first in order to take advantage of these cloud benefits. Obviously that goes back on the customer side—whether they have the knowledge and expertise internally to reap such benefits,” he explains.

In the case of Epsilon, one of the key advantages of leveraging Rackspace’s Managed Services on AWS was that it enabled the company to focus on its core business: managing the application to support customer engagement and brand building for its clients. With Amazon as their infrastructure provider and Rackspace managing their cloud migration, Epsilon matched two best-of-breed products, according to Chen. He relates that his team is quite satisfied with their migration journey and reports to have reduced the amount of latency by 80 percent. “This allows our users to do their daily work very quickly and they can go on to tend to their business instead of fussing over page-coding issues,” he says.

“Epsilon takes a very customer first approach, and obviously Rackspace is an organization that does as well. We have a great synergy there,” says Nethaway. “For the gaps in companies like Epsilon—who have no teams of developers internally and don’t necessarily have infrastructure teams available—Rackspace acts as a bridge. We’re essentially the extension of their IT teams,” he shares.