Building a Modern, Resilient Infrastructure Using the AWS Well-Architected Framework with the UK’s National Biodiversity Network Trust
National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN) is a nature charity that supports the United Kingdom’s conservation sector through an extensive public online atlas of biodiversity records. Its small team sought to modernize a convoluted infrastructure that it had been managing manually, resulting in performance issues and hidden costs that took time away from NBN’s core mission. NBN turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to learn how to properly structure its architecture and operate in the cloud. With help from CirrusHQ, an AWS Well-Architected Partner, NBN built a highly scalable, performant, cost-optimized architecture that improved security and disaster recovery protocols, saved developer time, and reduced data processing time by 30 percent.
Using AWS Well-Architected to Optimize Architecture in the Cloud for NBN
NBN works with 160 organizations that collect information about wildlife from volunteers. These organizations feed data through various pathways into the NBN Atlas, one of the world’s largest repositories of publicly available biodiversity data. Over 20 years, the Atlas had become a conglomeration of seven separately hosted websites that were monitored, maintained, and backed up manually by two NBN developers. “We were fighting fires a lot,” says Helen Manders-Jones, NBN Trust’s lead developer. “We were trying to stop our infrastructure from falling over and needed control. We were overwhelmed by it all.”
AWS introduced NBN to AWS Partner CirrusHQ and AWS Well-Architected, which helps cloud architects build secure, high-performing, resilient, and efficient infrastructure for a variety of applications and workloads. In early February 2022, CirrusHQ conducted two sessions of AWS Well-Architected Review to assess NBN’s backend services as well as the front-end portal through which it interacts with researchers. CirrusHQ recommended remediations built around the six pillars of the AWS Well-Architected Framework: operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, cost optimization, and sustainability. “The Well-Architected Review highlights strengths and weaknesses,” says Peter Jackson, Business Architect at CirrusHQ. “As an AWS Partner, we come in and help organizations benchmark and elevate their capabilities. They move on a trajectory to make the most of AWS.”
Using AWS to modernize and upgrade our infrastructure and code increases the efficiency of accessing biodiversity data for the organizations that rely on us.”
Chief Executive, National Biodiversity Network Trust
Saving 30% Processing Time While Reducing Costs
In 2 weeks, CirrusHQ provided a road map and helped NBN to address immediate concerns. Because NBN worked with an AWS Well-Architected Partner to remedy more than 25 percent of its high-risk issues, it received a $5,000 Service Credit Voucher through the AWS Well-Architected Funding Program. “Because we’re a nonprofit, it was absolutely vital that AWS funded and supported this work,” says Lisa Chilton, NBN’s chief executive.
CirrusHQ helped NBN to strengthen security, increase operational visibility, and streamline deployment within a modernized architecture optimized for cost. NBN implemented the AWS Well-Architected Tool, which helps organizations review the state of applications and workloads against architectural best practices, identify opportunities for improvement, and track progress over time. To increase visibility, NBN uses Amazon CloudWatch, which collects and visualizes near-real-time logs, metrics, and event data in automated dashboards to streamline infrastructure and application maintenance. “We save about 1 day a week on resolving issues,” says Manders-Jones. “That gives us more time to work on enhancing and improving the solution.” NBN uses Amazon CloudWatch dashboards to track that it has correctly sized and provisioned its instances of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which offers secure and resizable compute capacity for virtually any workload. NBN isolated its production environment from deployment and spins up Amazon EC2 instances only as needed, which helps to reduce its carbon footprint. The reconfiguration also saves time. The configuration of testing pathways used to take 45 minutes and now requires only a few clicks. NBN also has reduced the 36 hours previously required to sample its 200 million biodiversity records by 30 percent. When a search coincides with a background data load, NBN Atlas users no longer encounter errors and time-outs.
CirrusHQ also helped NBN to provide greater visibility into its AWS bill using AWS Cost Explorer, which helps organizations to visualize, understand, and manage AWS costs and usage over time. NBN instantly accesses cost breakdowns across workloads, which saves the charity around $4,000 yearly. “We have alarms if a forecasted bill is going to exceed expectations,” says Manders-Jones. “It’s the first time that we’ve had this kind of insight, which has stabilized billing and made it less stressful.”
With help from CirrusHQ, NBN centralized security logs, secured its AWS root account, and streamlined identity and access management by deleting old accounts and establishing least-privilege access. To further improve reliability, NBN implemented AWS Backup, a cost-effective, fully managed, policy-based service that simplifies data protection at scale. The use of AWS Backup automates NBN’s previous tedious manual backups, implements a robust disaster recovery plan, and diminishes costly redundancies. “Overall, it’s a lot of little tweaks, nudges, and alignments that have given NBN resilience, confidence, and benchmarking,” says Jackson. “There’s a confidence boost, and that’s where the ‘wow’ comes in.”
Addressing Biodiversity Challenges through Modernization
NBN plans to complete its first phase of infrastructure modernization by spring of 2023. After a 6-month pause to add new functionality and enhancements, the organization plans to upgrade its data processing pipeline. “The world of biodiversity is changing fast, and we need to be able to grow and evolve,” says Chilton. “Using AWS to modernize and upgrade our infrastructure and code increases the efficiency of accessing biodiversity data for the organizations that rely on us. We’re focused on data and on tech, but fundamentally we're here to help protect wildlife, to restore nature, and to help the planet.”
About the Customer
Established in 2000, the National Biodiversity Network Trust is a charity that serves the United Kingdom’s conservation sector. The organization maintains the NBN Atlas, a publicly available online repository for more than 200 million wildlife records.
AWS Services Used
- 30% reduction in data processing time
- Strengthened security and disaster recovery
- Created greater visibility into compute resources
- Saved 1 day per week in developer time
- $4,000 yearly savings from cost transparency
About the AWS Partner CirrusHQ
CirrusHQ is a cloud managed and professional services partner for AWS. The company works globally with commercial, public-sector and not-for-profit organisations to enable IT transformation, competitive advantage and new ways of operating using AWS. CirrusHQ is an experts in cloud strategy, architecture, migration, devops and 24x7 operational management and cost reduction of cloud services.
Published March 2023