Hightail — Empowering Creative Collaboration in the Cloud
Hightail – formerly YouSendIt – streamlines how creative work is reviewed, improved, and approved by helping more than 50 million professionals around the world get great content in front of their audiences faster. Since its debut in 2004 as a file sharing company, Hightail shifted its strategic direction to focus on delivering value-added creative collaboration services and boasts a strong lineup of name-brand customers.
In today’s guest post, Hightail’s SVP of Technology Shiva Paranandi tells the company’s migration story, moving petabytes of data from on-premises to the cloud. He highlights their cloud vendor evaluation process and reasons for going all-in on AWS.
Hightail started as a way to help people easily share and store large files, but has since evolved into a creative collaboration tool. We became a place where users could not only control and share their digital assets, but also assemble their creative teams, connect with clients, develop creative workflows, and manage projects from start to finish. We now power collaboration services for major brands such as Lionsgate and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. With a growing list of domestic and international clients, we required more internal focus on product development and serving the users. We found that running our own data centers consumed more time, money, and manpower than we were willing to devote.
We needed an approach that would help us iterate more rapidly to meet customer needs and dramatically improve our time to market. We wanted to reduce data center costs and have the flexibility to scale up quickly in any given region around the globe. Setting up a data center in a new location took so long that it was limiting the pace of growth that we could achieve. In addition, we were tired of buying ahead of our needs, which meant we had storage capacity that we did not even use. We required a storage solution that was both tiered and highly scalable to reduce costs by allowing us to keep infrequently used data in inactive storage while also allowing us to resurface it quickly at the customer’s request. Our main drivers were agility and innovation, and the cloud enables these in a significant way. Given that, we decided to adopt a cloud-first policy that would enable us to spend time and money on initiatives that differentiate our business, instead of putting resources into managing our storage and computing infrastructure.
Comparing AWS Against Cloud Competitors
To kick off the migration, we did our due diligence by evaluating a variety of cloud vendors, including AWS, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. AWS stuck out as the clear winner for us. At one point, we considered combining services from multiple cloud providers to meet our needs, but decided the best route was to use AWS exclusively. When we factored in training, synchronization, support, and system availability along with other migration and management elements, it was just not practical to take a multi-cloud approach. With the best cost savings and an unmatched ecosystem of partner solutions, we did not need anyone else and chose to go all-in on AWS.
By migrating to AWS, we were able to secure the lowest cost-per-gigabyte pricing, gain access to a rich ecosystem, quickly develop in-house talent, and maintain SOC II compliance. The ecosystem was particularly important to us and set AWS apart from its competitors with its expansive list of partners. In fact, all the vendors we depend on for services such as previewing images, encoding videos, and serving up presentations were already a part of the network so we were easily able to leverage our existing investments and expertise. If we went with a different provider, it would have meant moving away from a platform that was already working so well for which was not the desired outcome for us. Also, the amount of talent we were able to build up in house on AWS technologies was astounding. Training our internal team to work with AWS was a simple process using available tools such as AWS conferences, training materials, and support.
Migrating Petabytes of Data
Going with AWS made things easier. In many instances, it gave us better functionality than what we were using in house. We moved multiple petabytes of data from on-premises storage to AWS with ease. AWS gave us great speeds with Direct Connect, so we were able to push all the data in a little more than three months with no user impact. We employed AWS Key Management Service to keep our data secure, which eased our minds through the move. We performed extensive QA testing before flipping users over to ensure low customer impact, using methods such as checksums between our data center and the data that got pushed to AWS.
Our new platform on AWS has greatly improved our user experience. We have seen huge improvement in reliability, performance, and uptime—all critical in our line of business. We are now able to achieve upload and download speeds up to 17 times faster than our previous data centers, and uptime has increased by orders of magnitude. Also, the time it takes us to deploy services to a new region has been cut by more than 90%. It used to take us at least six months to get a new region online, and now we can get a region up and running in less than three weeks. On AWS, we can even replicate data at the bucket level across regions for disaster recovery purposes.
To cut costs, we were successfully able to divide our storage infrastructure into frequently and infrequently accessed data. Tiered storage in Amazon S3 has been a huge advantage, allowing us to optimize our storage costs so we have more to invest in product development. We can now move data from inactive to active tiers instantly to meet customer needs and eliminated the need to overprovision our storage infrastructure. It is refreshing to see services automatically scale up or down during peak load times, and know that we are only paying for what we need.
Overall, we achieved our key strategic goal of focusing more on development and less on infrastructure. Our migration felt seamless, and the progress we were able to share is a true testament to how easy it has been for us to run our workloads on AWS. We attribute part of our successful migration to the dedicated support provided by the AWS team. They were pretty awesome. We had a couple of their technicians available 24/7 via chat, which proved to be essential during this large-scale migration.