Our theme in this energy-market downturn has been reducing costs while improving service. Using AWS, we have been able to deliver on both objectives, while creating the elasticity and scalability we need to keep advancing our business. 
Lee Johnson Senior Vice President & CIO

GulfMark Offshore, Inc. is a global energy services company that owns, operates, and manages a fleet of more than 70 offshore support vessels for oil and gas customers. The company’s vessels, which serve every major offshore energy market in the world, transport oil materials, supplies, and personnel to offshore facilities. GulfMark has $1.2 billion in assets and 1,000 employees, with corporate headquarters located in Houston, Texas.  

Because of the recent downturn in the energy industry, companies like GulfMark have been realigning their business priorities. “We had been looking at operational initiatives in order to gain new efficiencies,” says Lee Johnson, senior vice president and CIO of GulfMark. As part of that effort, the company wanted to reduce the costs associated with its critical SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which was managed by a hosting company. “SAP hosting was the largest line item in our global IT budget,” says Johnson. “We wanted to reduce those costs by 50 percent.” GulfMark uses SAP applications for managing global functions of finance, forecasting, HR, crewing, sales, and supply chain.

GulfMark also needed more scalability to support development efforts and the rollout of new efficiency applications. “For development projects, we would like to scale the environment to support a proof of concept,” says Johnson. “However, with our past hosting provider, we had to purchase significant IT infrastructure even if we wanted to add a few new users,” Johnson says. “Scaling was not cost-effective for us.” The company also sought the elasticity to scale certain business applications that did not need to be continuously available. “We had a lot of applications that weren’t heavily used, so we wanted to scale them up or down only when needed, to save computing dollars.”

Additionally, the company had to ensure high availability for its SAP applications. “These applications are used across the GulfMark enterprise, impacting all employees, so the system requires 24/7 availability,” says Johnson. GulfMark was also interested in consolidating the IT infrastructure in the regional offices. “These on-premises servers could be better managed by leveraging cloud-centric capabilities to provide enhanced controls of computing, performance and stewardship.”  

GulfMark had already been moving applications to the cloud and wanted to increase the number of applications to capitalize on the cloud’s agility and cost advantages. “We ultimately want to move to a zero-infrastructure model, transitioning all critical IT solutions to the cloud,” says Johnson. For example, the company has been an early adopter of Microsoft Office 365 for email and other cloud-based internal applications. As it looked to expand its cloud offerings, GulfMark decided to try Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a solution for several of its newly released business solutions.

The company started by running a pilot program to use AWS in support of a global accounts payable application and a solution to manage vessel deck cameras with 24/7 real-time video monitoring. “Those pilots were very successful for us in terms of demonstrating the scalability and agility of AWS,” says Johnson. “That gave us the confidence to go forward with migration of our entire SAP environment to AWS.” The migration was complete in August 2015, with 30 Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances to support development, testing and production environments. The company uses Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) to provide persistent block-level storage volumes for its EC2 instances.

GulfMark also backs up its Amazon EBS volume data by taking snapshots and storing them in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) buckets. “Eventually, we plan to phase out our enterprise data backup solution and two of our regional disaster recovery facilities and rely on AWS for this functionality,” says Johnson. The organization also plans to migrate its regional IT infrastructure to the AWS cloud.  

By moving its SAP workloads to AWS, GulfMark has been able to greatly reduce its operating costs. “Using AWS, we have cut our SAP hosting operating costs by 50 percent, which was our goal,” says Johnson. “We are saving $25,000 a month by running SAP on AWS. That is a significant cost improvement win for GulfMark in this downturn market. "

The organization also has a better ability to cost-effectively scale its business applications. “We went from supporting a camera on one vessel to managing deck cameras on our global fleet using the scalability of AWS,” says Johnson. “And we increased the deployment of our accounts payable application from a single region to all regions. We wouldn’t have been able to do that in our previous environment without a sizable investment in resources and IT infrastructure.”

GulfMark now has the elasticity it requires to scale applications up or down on demand. “Because of the visibility and transparency we have on AWS, we discovered that certain applications weren’t being used heavily or even running at all. Prior to AWS, we didn’t have that kind of visibility,” says Johnson. “Now, using AWS, we can easily scale those applications up or down and free up servers, and we’re no longer paying for applications we aren’t using.”

The company can also maintain high availability for its SAP environment. “We can ensure reliability and higher availability using AWS,” says Johnson. “That is critical, because SAP is our primary system, used by our employees every day around the world.”

GulfMark is also able to focus more of its time on new IT efficiency initiatives that directly affect the business. “For us, AWS is an enabler for our IT organization, freeing up resources for value-added activities. We realize infrastructure is not a core competency for our IT team. Using AWS, we can focus our IT resources on new efficiency activities, rather than IT infrastructure support and maintenance.”

Relying on AWS to support SAP and other important internal solutions, GulfMark is confident it can remain competitive during the energy-industry downturn. “Our theme in this energy-market downturn has been reducing costs while improving service,” says Johnson. “Using AWS, we have been able deliver on both objectives, while creating the elasticity and scalability we need to keep advancing our business.”

To learn more about how AWS can help you manage your SAP environment, visit our AWS SAP details page