SunPower is a global solar energy solutions company and technology leader, unmatched in long-term reliability, efficiency and guaranteed performance. Through design, manufacturing, installation and ongoing maintenance and monitoring, SunPower provides its proprietary, world-record efficient solar technology to residential, commercial and utility customers worldwide. Its Maxeon® solar cell perform better, are tested harder and improved continuously to deliver maximum return on investment. Founded more than a quarter century ago and headquartered in San Jose, Calif., the company operates in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. SunPower is backed by Total, the fifth largest publicly-traded energy company in the world.

SunPower wanted to offer homeowners a compelling value proposition where they could purchase the best solar technology in the industry and be cash flow positive, rather than buy, its equipment. Leasing also introduced a new set of security compliance requirements to the company. Banks and financial institutions require equipment leasing companies to host their applications in SSAE 16-compliant environments and to have disaster recovery plans that are robust enough to restore all data within two hours of a natural disaster. Usually, that requires a second data center in another location in case the primary data center fails.

The company also needed to provide its business users with easy access to financial data, with low latency and close to 100 percent availability. SunPower would be using a combination of legacy applications and the IDS InfoLease app for its leasing program, and did not want to invest in a traditional hardware solution. “We needed scalability, stability, and the ability to manage our infrastructure without incurring heavy costs,” says Srini Dasagi, Senior Program Manager IT. “So we decided to investigate cloud computing.”

SunPower evaluated cloud providers based on scalability, stability, and manageability, and on each provider’s ability to facilitate disaster recovery plans. “No one compares with Amazon Web Services (AWS) for breadth and depth of resources,” says Carl Privitt, Senior Systems Administrator. “With nine regions globally, it’s effectively a near-infinite resource pool from our perspective.” Dasagi adds, “AWS was the only company that had the tools to help us move our legacy applications.”

SunPower set up data centers in two regions, taking advantage of Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) networking features to mimic a traditional on-premise network inside AWS. “We’ve got a demilitarized zone that’s designated for interacting with the public,” Privitt says, “and private data protected by a firewall. We use security groups to lock down traffic and restrict access.” The network is illustrated in Figure 1 below.

sunpower-arch-diagram

Figure 1. SunPower AWS Architecture Diagram 

Sunpower’s IT project team, led by Dasagi, was able to implement AWS quickly and innovatively. “Spinning up the resources we needed to get the InfoLease app installed and get high availability in place was very straightforward,” Privitt says. Dasagi adds, “The way AWS is set up is very intuitive. If we’d used a traditional data center, it would have taken us three months of planning and deployment—but with AWS, we were finished in 3 weeks.” Pre-built machine images in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) have helped the company define its “golden image,” which can be spun up as needed.

SunPower runs its development, test, and production environments in one AWS Region and mirrors them in another region to ensure redundancy and disaster recovery. “We’re using the virtualized assets in AWS to make a very redundant system that will rebound quickly in case of an emergency or a natural disaster,” Privitt says. “It allows us to provide customers with a service that’s highly available, and we can replicate an instance from one regional data center to another in less than 45 seconds. If there’s an earthquake at the West Coast data center, we can utilize the data center on the East Coast without losing data for more than 5 minutes.”

The company is also using 12 instances of Amazon EC2 and Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) to store about 2 TB of data.

Using AWS helped SunPower to meet disaster recovery compliance requirements and launch its equipment leasing business. “AWS is a huge hit here at SunPower,” Dasagi says. “We’ve gone through audits with different banks, all of whom were extremely happy with our disaster response plan. I doubt that would have been possible with the other data centers we were looking at.”

In addition, the company has seen significant cost savings as a result of using AWS. “We would have had to spend $150,000 a year with a hoster. Because we’re using AWS, our costs have dropped to $30,000 a year,” Dasagi says. “Cost wasn’t a driver for us when we adopted AWS, but we are certainly reaping the benefits of it now.”

SunPower’s time to market has improved, as well. The company deployed AWS in less than 25 percent of the time it would have taken SunPower to build and deploy a traditional on-premise infrastructure. “Had we been building our own data center, our time to market would have been far slower, perhaps as much as four months,” Dasagi says. “As it was, it only took us three weeks to get AWS up and running.”

SunPower was awarded the 2013 Operations and Technology Excellence Award from the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA) for breaking new ground in equipment leasing, in large part because of the unique hosting solution developed and deployed by SunPower on AWS.

The company recommends the Architecting on AWS class for those considering moving to the AWS Cloud. “We had everything up and functioning before we went to the class—but the class gave us a greater depth of understanding of the entire AWS environment,” Privitt says. “We saw that there were ways to optimize AWS beyond what we’d done, both to provide greater functionality and reduce costs.”

Going forward, SunPower intends to take advantage of more of the benefits of the AWS Cloud—specifically, instead of doing data replication from within their application, the company may achieve the same goal using Amazon EBS’s ability to take snapshots to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3).

“Using AWS has enabled us to move into a whole new market, while lowering our hosting costs by 80 percent,” says Vinodh Venkataramanan, Director of IT Infrastructure. “That’s hard to top.”

To learn more about how AWS can help you with disaster recovery, visit our Disaster Recovery details page: http://aws.amazon.com/disaster-recovery/.