On the surface, the challenge of migrating a company’s single business application from its data center to the cloud might not seem like a heavy lift. But it can be when the app is as big and as mission-critical as a core tax application for a tax preparation service. The firm’s tax preparers use the app to process more than two million returns each year. The app itself has grown over time, incorporating 19 different services that operate like separate applications, but are all interconnected. The plain fact was, the app’s size and complexity made migrating it a real challenge.
The company had been operating in a data center environment for its entire history. But its leaders wanted to improve business agility and eliminate concerns about data center outages. While the organization had been doing offsite backups, they knew they needed a more robust approach to disaster recovery and business continuity (DR/BC) due to their region’s susceptibility to hurricanes. Additionally, they faced significant technical debt and pending end-of-life hardware, challenges compounded by the traffic spikes during the peak tax reporting season.
Turning to CTP
To start the migration process, the group needed a better understanding of what a migration to AWS would entail. The company engaged with Cloud Technology Partners (CTP), a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to scope out the cost savings they could expect, perform a migration assessment, create a Minimum Viable Cloud (MVC) and help with the actual migration.
The project proceeded in stages, beginning in 2017, taking a break during the peak tax season months and finishing up at the end of 2018. Tax return preparation for the 2019 season, starting in October 2018, will be entirely supported by resources on the AWS cloud.
Laying the Groundwork
CTP started with a cost assessment. While the client team understood the cost benefits of moving to the cloud, they knew they needed to look at the financial impacts of their options.
Our analysis reviewed the level of savings the migration of both individual pieces and the collective data center environment would produce. We defined the target architecture on AWS to approximate the ongoing cloud platform costs, and conducted a scope to estimate the migration costs. Finally, we factored in the savings generated by avoiding the cost of the technology refresh. In the end, the numbers were favorable to support the migration.
That cost analyses opened the door for a second round of assessments around how the cloud project would map to the following business goals going forward:
- Meet tax season demand – The aim is to align compute costs with demand, and quickly scale to respond to peak tax season activity levels.
- Add disaster recovery (DR) capabilities – Support compliance standards outlined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) regarding DR capabilities. This would involve spreading the workloads and storage over at least three availability zones, reducing single points of failure and using load balancers to distribute workloads.
- Stoke innovation – Introduce new test environments and enable more innovation, development and testing during tax season.
- Increase visibility and security – Allow for micro-segmentation of environments, increased visibility to changes in the environments and the ability to use native tools and services
CTP conducted a pair of assessments, working along parallel tracks addressing both cloud security needs and the “cloud readiness” of the core tax application.
The security assessment looked at the company’s security controls and tooling to determine its ability to support AWS workloads. The assessment also identified gaps in security practices, and established a roadmap for remediating security concerns. CTP produced reports to validate that the use of AWS did not compromise existing security and compliance policies.
The core tax application assessment evaluated its architecture and components, collected details about application support performance and produced an initial draft of the app’s deployment on AWS. This verified that all existing components would function on AWS, and laid out all the deployment processes, data storage requirements, operational steps and data protection requirements.
Creating a Foundation Using Minimum Viable Cloud Methodology
CTP moved on to a two-stage process using the Minimum Viable Cloud (MVC) methodology – establishing processes for the core tax application development and test, and production on AWS. The Dev/Test MVC aimed to establish an AWS foundation that includes the shared services required to support the application, a pattern for consumption of AWS accounts that meet requirements and automation plans for deploying shared AWS components. The application production MVC created a plan to harden the Dev/Test environment to support production workloads and deploy the core tax application in a separate AWS region to serve as a disaster recovery target.
A Successful Migration
Once the CTP team finished writing the deployment templates, the organization moved on to execute those templates in the production AWS environment for rapid deployment of the company’s future architecture. The joint team transferred the data securely from the company’s on-premises data centers to the target storage attached to the secure AWS compute environment. The team then ran application scripts to deploy each of the 19 shared services components into their AWS virtual private clouds. The final step was to fine tune the whole environment for optimal performance and security.
Bold Move Pays Off
Many companies move to the cloud in an effort to drive business efficiencies and save costs. A common strategy is to start slow, shift some workloads, achieve some quick wins and follow up with a more intensive project. In contrast, this tax preparation service jumped in quickly and committed its “crown jewel” application to the cloud. It did not let a lack of knowledge or experience in cloud practices stand in the way. With help from CTP, the company successfully shifted to AWS, avoiding disruption and positioning its business for future success.