Windows on AWS

How Visma accelerated deployment speed by 8X with AWS

Visma offers a wide range of business software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications to approximately one million customers across Europe. They needed to modernize to ensure they could release new software features as quickly as possible to meet customer needs: According to Alexander Lystad, Visma’s chief cloud architect, “With a data center model, we spent a lot of time managing infrastructure, and our developers lacked the agility and scalability they needed.” After their shift to the AWS cloud, Visma developers now release as often as several times a day – their velocity has increased to match customer expectations.

As interesting as the “why” behind Visma’s modernization, however, is the “how” they did it.

Slowed down by on-premises infrastructure

Visma’s software serves millions of users across a range of industries and functions, including accounting, financial management, procurement, human resources and payroll, education, and government. To support their customers, Visma had historically run Microsoft Windows .NET-based applications in their on-premises data center. This worked well enough back when some Visma product teams were releasing new software features only six times a year – but that pace “isn’t enough to be competitive,” says Lystad.

Instead of building, in other words, they were wasting time managing infrastructure. Visma wanted their teams to have a self-service experience. They needed a cloud solution.

Beyond “forklifting” to the cloud

Companies looking to move workloads to the cloud have a variety of options, ranging from the traditional forklift approach (sometimes called “lift-and-shift” or “rehosting”) to the more involved refactoring approach. The forklift approach is common because companies can often gain a 30% cost improvement simply by moving their applications to the cloud. In addition, as AWS general manager Stephen Orban has written, “It becomes easier to re-architect and constantly reinvent your applications once they’re running in the cloud. This is partly because…your people will learn an awful lot about what cloud-native architectures should look like through rehosting.”

In the case of Visma, they opted for what they call “forklift-plus.” Instead of a traditional forklift or rehosting migration, which would include exporting virtual machine images to AWS, managing database servers, and making manual infrastructure changes, they built Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) for automatic scalability, used Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) as the database, and leveraged AWS CloudFormation templates to quickly—and automatically—provision resources.

Why take this route? According to Lystad, Visma didn’t want to do “a simple naive forklift,” which would yield “few benefits from public cloud.” For this particular application, however, they also didn’t have time to rewrite and rearchitect their entire solutions to make it fully cloud-native. The “forklift-plus” approach offered “a balance between optimization and speed,” he said. In general, he continued, “We wanted to get to AWS quickly because it accelerates us, but we also wanted to implement some quick wins in the migration process.”

Visma started by setting up a test environment in AWS. After a month or two of work, in parallel with developing and operating the old on-premises production environment, setting up the VPC (virtual private cloud), making an AMI build pipeline, setting up Amazon EC2 autoscaling and Amazon RDS, all in AWS CloudFormation, they deployed it to staging, fixed some additional things, and did a “big bang migration” of their production environment from their on-premises datacenter to AWS during a maintenance window. How did it go? According to Lystad, “We migrated our applications seamlessly and cost-effectively.” As just one example, when migrating on-premises Microsoft SQL Server to Amazon RDS (for Microsoft SQL Server), they simply exported the database as a file and imported it to AWS via Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Later the company moved these same workloads to Amazon Aurora MySQL so as to eliminate the need to manage the database infrastructure at all, and because of “the robustness features of [Amazon] Aurora,” according to Lystad.

Making developers happy, faster

For Visma, there have been several key benefits to running on AWS. The first, says Lystad, is all about self service. “By migrating to AWS and switching to a DevOps responsibility model,” he notes, “Our teams don’t have to send a ticket and wait days for an infrastructure change. Instead AWS empowers the team to take responsibility for their own service and they can implement changes immediately when needed.”

In addition, performance has dramatically improved. For one particular employee management application, for example, Visma was able to cut their deployment time from 30 minutes to <5 minutes. Where Visma has modernized with AWS, it now only takes the company an average of 30 seconds to scale up one of their applications, Lystad points out, compared to five minutes in their previous on-premises environment. Importantly, such performance benefits have come at much lower cost: “Using AWS, we have been able to consistently reduce our average cost per user for one of our systems by 50 percent while increasing service quality and growing our customer base for this application by four times since starting the migration,” declares Lystad.

In sum, Lystad concludes, “we are impressed by the general innovation rate and quality of service of AWS.” Visma set out to significantly improve the productivity of their development teams so as to meet customers’ heightened expectations. Today they are up to eight releases per month per team on average across 60 teams, with several teams deploying multiple times a day. Modernization mission accomplished!

More to come

To see how your organization can, like Visma, save money while driving innovation and improving deployment speed, please continue to join me as I highlight companies on their modernization journeys onto AWS. As you do, I hope you’ll also ask the question: “What’s your plan for moving off Microsoft SQL Server? Or off Oracle? Or whatever old-guard technology keeps you from modernizing to better care for your customers?”

Please consider letting AWS help you assess how your company can get the most out of cloud. Join all the AWS customers who trust us to run their most important applications in the best cloud. To have us create an assessment for your Microsoft Azure applications (or all your applications), email us at WhatsYourModernizationPlan@amazon.com, and please consider joining the conversation using the #WhatsYourModernizationPlan hashtag.

To learn more on modernizing Windows Server or SQL Server, visit Windows on AWS.

Matt Asay

Matt Asay

Matt Asay (pronounced "Ay-see") has been involved in open source and all that it enables (cloud, machine learning, data infrastructure, mobile, etc.) for nearly two decades, working for a variety of open source companies and writing regularly for InfoWorld and TechRepublic. You can follow him on Twitter (@mjasay).