Delaware North originated in 1915 as a peanut and popcorn concessions vendor; today, it’s a major food and hospitality company serving half a billion customers each year. Its on-premises data center was becoming too expensive and inefficient to support its global business operations, so it turned to AWS to move most of its enterprise applications and operations to the cloud. The move, which reduced its server footprint by more than 90 percent, is expected to save Delaware North at least $3.5 million in IT acquisitions and maintenance over five years. Using AWS also helped Delaware North enhance its security compliance, improve disaster recovery, and deliver services to customers and internal teams much faster than in the past.

If you’ve lined up for a hot dog at a sports stadium, purchased a magazine while waiting for a flight, or loaded up on souvenirs at a national park, there’s a good chance that you’ve encountered Delaware North. Though the company deliberately keeps a low profile, it is a leader in the food-service and hospitality industry, serving more than 500 million customers annually at more than 200 locations around the world, including venues as diverse as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, London Heathrow Airport, Kings Canyon Resort in Australia, and the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field in Wisconsin.

That global presence has turned Delaware North into a $3 billion enterprise. But its worldwide operations caused IT pain, including high costs and strained resources. The company struggled to constantly manage, upgrade, and replace about 225 servers that kept business operations going.

“As the company continued to grow, the demand to rapidly deploy new solutions to meet customer requirements increased as well,” says Kevin Quinlivan, Delaware North’s chief information officer. “This fact, combined with the need to constantly upgrade aging equipment, required an even greater commitment of resources on our part. We had to find a better strategy.”

The construction of a new headquarters building brought focus to its strategic planning—and led to a decision to migrate its datacenter infrastructure to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Delaware North’s data center migration began with small IT steps and C-level business demands for measurable benefits that could convince an executive committee that the AWS cloud was the right approach.

In early 2013 the IT team moved about 50 websites, most of them containing static marketing content about Delaware North business venues, to AWS. The project was successful, and discussions turned to taking cloud-based computing initiatives to the next level. This coincided with the construction of the company’s new global headquarters building. “The new headquarters created a tremendous opportunity, offering us a chance to do something brand new,” says Quinlivan. “It opened the floodgates on ideas.”

The evaluation process centered on three criteria. First, a cloud solution needed a broad set of technologies that could handle all of Delaware North’s enterprise workloads while delivering support for critical functions. Then, from an operational perspective, Delaware North wanted the features and flexibility to modify core IT processes for greater efficiencies and lower costs. This included eliminating redundant or time-consuming tasks like patching software and pushing test and development tasks through outdated systems that, in the past, added months to the deployment of new services.

Finally, there were financial requirements. “We are an ROI-driven company,” says Quinlivan. “There had to be solid cost-benefit justification for moving away from our existing data center environment.”

Delaware North vetted multiple cloud vendors, conducting cost and technical analyses on their offerings and paying close attention to reports by third-party analyst firms such as Gartner.

“From a CIO’s perspective, I looked very closely at the reputation and value proposition that each cloud vendor brought to the table. I needed to feel very good about the final decision,” says Quinlivan. “AWS had a compelling offering on all the criteria. It had a clear lead over the competition.”

He says the deep technology stack available on AWS was more than sufficient to meet the company’s technical and operational requirements. And the pricing structure of the AWS offerings, which includes paying only for what is used, provided total cost of ownership benefits that Quinlivan could present to senior leaders.

“We compared the costs of keeping our on-premises data center versus moving to the AWS cloud, measuring basic infrastructure items such as hardware cost and maintenance,” he says. “We estimate that moving to AWS will save us at least $3.5 million over five years by reducing our server hardware by more than 90 percent. But the cost savings will likely be greater due to additional benefits, like the increased compute capacity we can get using AWS. That lets us continually add more and larger workloads than we could using a traditional data center infrastructure, and achieve savings by only paying for what we use.”

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A cost comparison done by Delaware North showed that it could save $3.5 million based on a five-year run rate by moving its on-premises data center to AWS and using three-year Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances (RI) and Reserved Instance renewals.

Delaware North needed a detailed migration strategy to minimize disruption to company operations. It received assistance from AWS Professional Services in the design phase and worked closely with Cloudreach, an AWS Premier Consulting Partner, on the project execution. “Cloudreach was instrumental in helping us continue to run a 24/7 global business while migrating our entire enterprise infrastructure,” says Scott Mercer, head of the IT department’s service-oriented architecture team.

Delaware North moved almost all of its applications to AWS, including enterprise software such as its Fiorano middleware, Crystal Reports and QLIK business intelligence solutions, its Citrix virtual desktop system, and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, which is used to manage workstations.

The most dramatic physical change was the elimination of 205 servers; everything running on that hardware was migrated to AWS. The IT department decided to keep about 20 servers on premises at the new headquarters building to run communications and file-and-print tasks. “We erred on the side of caution to ensure there is no latency with these tasks, but once we reach a certain comfort level, we may move these to the cloud as well,” Mercer says.

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The Delaware North operations running on AWS.

Six months into its cloud migration, Delaware North was realizing benefits in addition to its data center consolidation, including cost-effective security compliance, enhanced disaster recovery, and faster deployment times for new services.

“Robust security in a retail environment is critical for us because of our many retail operations, and AWS is enormously helpful for that,” says Brian Mercer, the senior software architect for the project. “By leveraging the security best practices of AWS, we’ve been able to eliminate a lot of compliance tasks that in the past took up valuable time and money.”

He adds that the company also has increased its disaster recovery capabilities at a lower cost than what was available in its previous data center deployment. “It significantly improved our business continuity capabilities, including seamless failovers,” he says.

The solution is also helping Delaware North operate with greater speed and agility. For example, it can bring in new businesses—either through contracts or acquisitions—and get them online much faster than in the past by eliminating the need for traditional IT procurement and provisioning. It used to take between two and three weeks to provision new business units; now it takes one day. The Delaware North IT team is also using AWS to overhaul its operations by eliminating outdated and cumbersome processes, cleaning up documentation, and leveraging the benefits of running test and development tasks in combination with rapid deployment of services through the cloud.

“Our DevOps team can now spin up the resources to push out a service in just minutes, compared to the weeks it used to take,” says Scott Mercer. “With AWS, we can respond much faster to business needs. And we can start repurposing time and resources to deliver more value and services to our internal teams and to our customers.”

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  • A Premier Partner of the AWS Partner Network (APN), Cloudreach provides cloud-native systems integration that can support a wide range of AWS solutions across full project and operations life cycles.
  • For more information about how Cloudreach can help your company build and manage your AWS environment, see the Cloudreach listing in the AWS Partner Directory.

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