Signature Group Holdings, Inc. is a diversified business and financial services enterprise that invests in the industrial and commercial marketplace, primarily in the United States. Signature focuses on generating strong, risk-adjusted return on equity while protecting shareholder capital. The company also supplies commercial, industrial and residential circuit breakers to the replacement market through its subsidiary, North American Breaker Company. Signature Group Holdings is based in Sherman Oaks, California.
As a consulting firm, Signature Holdings has a very small IT department. The company has a few dedicated network and systems engineers, but most of the staff members who support IT have other responsibilities. As a result, Signature works with several service providers for IT support, including Computer Technology Resources (CTR), a member of the Amazon Partner Network (APN).
When Signature decided to replace its outdated on-premises ERP system with Oracle E-Business Suite, the company turned to CTR for the implementation. Signature wanted a SOX-compliant environment that could be managed by a service provider and integrate into its existing infrastructure with minimum disruption. Signature also wanted a disaster recovery solution that would enable fast recovery.
After reviewing options, Signature decided to implement the Oracle E-Business Suite for Signature on the cloud. “Oracle applications have a complex architecture, requiring multiple servers and disaster recovery,” says Karlo Vartan, Vice President of Finance and Information. “Planning and purchasing hardware would have been a huge upfront investment, which Signature wanted to avoid.”
CTR works with several cloud providers and chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) for this project because of the maturity of AWS and the ability to customize Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances, and other features. Security is a primary concern for Signature and SOX auditors perform security quarterly checks. “We were satisfied that AWS security features and capabilities would enable the company to pass the financial and technological audit says Vartan.”
To set up Oracle financial modules on AWS for Signature, CTR provisioned an Amazon Virtual Private Network (Amazon VPC) to run the Oracle E-Business Suite (Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Oracle Asset Management and Procure-To-Pay) on two extra-large Amazon EC2 instances. Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) provides high-performance, block-level storage for the instances. The storage volumes initially stored 300 GB of data, which has since grown to 600 GB over a period of 24 months. Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN), a database backup and recovery manager, interfaces with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to enable secure database backups.
For disaster recovery, the primary environment runs in the US East (Northern) Region and has a backup site in the US West (Northern California) Region. Figure 1 below demonstrates the Oracle applications on AWS.
“Because of connectors between AWS and Oracle, we can launch an Oracle application from the AWS console or from an Oracle application,” says Sam Palani, Director of CTR’s Infrastructure & Cloud Solutions team. “For example, you can run backups from the AWS console, or if you’re in the Oracle system, RMAN actually creates and deletes Amazon S3 images as needed. It’s a pretty seamless process. Other cloud providers don’t have these types of connectors — it makes management on AWS much easier than other solutions.”
By using AWS, Signature was able to launch a complex financial system in six weeks. Oracle E-Business Suite has a much larger footprint than Signature’s legacy system, and running on AWS helped Signature avoid the time and resources of on-premises implementation. Vartan says, “When we look at the total cost of ownership for Oracle E-Business Suite over three years, AWS is about one-third the cost of an on-premises solution. The best part is that we’ve never had any downtime or system crashes running Oracle on AWS — we’ve had about 99 percent availability.”
SOX auditors examine both the financial and technological aspects of the Oracle implementation on AWS, focusing on security, backup and disaster recovery. For the last three years, Signature and CTR has successfully passed the quarterly audits.
When Signature wants to test a proof of concept using the Oracle ERP, it’s easy to create a sandbox by spinning up an instance with a subset of production data. “If Signature decides to go ahead with the project, the CTR team can merge the project into the production environment. If not, they can shut down the instance,” says Palani. “It avoids the overhead of tying up servers to test an idea or for development requests.”
Signature uses production data for detailed reporting, and on the AWS Cloud, it’s easy to spin up an Amazon EC2 instance to run the report. “We run the instances in parallel so everyday business functions can continue without interruption,” says Palani. “We make sure that the data is synched between the instances so that the reporting was accurate.”
“Running our Oracle applications on AWS gives us the agility and flexibility to focus on what we do best,” says Vartan. “From the very beginning, I knew that we had made the right decision in trusting AWS and CTR to manage our Oracle business applications. Running on the AWS Cloud and having CTR manage the underlying technology enables Signature to put our business at the forefront.”