When we told our business managers we could save up to 90% on application hosting, they jumped at the chance. The decision to move to AWS was made there and then.
Alexandru Costescu Cloud Operations Team Leader, Netop

Netop builds software for remotely accessing and supporting devices, managing classroom technology, and serving customers online. Used by half of the Fortune 100, Netop, the Danish developer’s secure remote access and live chat solutions help businesses provide better customer service, reduce support costs, and meet security and compliance standards. Netop’s classroom management software also aims to empower schools and teachers to maximize the use of technology for improved student achievement. In classrooms around the world, Netop helps teachers enhance learning and keep students safe, using Vision classroom management software for Chrome, Windows, and Mac. Six million users rely on Netop Vision to easily monitor and modify student activity on laptops and Chromebooks. Aside from Denmark, the organization has offices in the United States, Switzerland, and Romania, and partners representing Netop in more than 105 countries.

Since it was founded in 1981, Netop has had to constantly innovate to meet the rapidly changing world of IT. Whereas it once was the only company to offer remote control solutions, it now faces increasing competition from other vendors. “There are two ways we can differentiate ourselves: by being more secure and by providing an excellent customer experience,” says Alexandru Costescu, cloud operations team leader at Netop’s development center in Eastern Europe. “This is especially important for banks, for example, which make up a large portion of our customer base.” Netop was running its customer-facing applications as a service in a private cloud in one data center in London, but this was becoming costly as the company grew. The cloud was difficult to scale and was very time-consuming for the three-person cloud-operations team. “We had to manage and update every component of the cloud ourselves, meaning innovation was often put on the back burner,” says Costescu. Another concern was that the data center represented a single point of failure. “As a result, we could never really claim our solutions were highly available.”

Because Netop is a global organization, any solution needed to work worldwide. The company chose to work with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in no small part because it operates from many AWS Regions and Availability Zones. Taking advantage of the AWS Cloud infrastructure would help Netop provide a highly available infrastructure to customers wherever they are while still being managed by the Netop team in Romania. Another major goal for Netop was to find a cheaper way to host its applications. Costescu and his team wanted a cloud provider that could offer lower costs, deliver robust security and compliance, and reduce management overhead by being both easy to use and simplifying deployments. “After assessing the market, we saw that AWS had more features than other cloud providers, and it was one of the first to have major security certifications, including PCI DSS, SOC 1, and SOC 2 certifications,” says Costescu.

Migrating Netop’s applications to AWS took just four months, two months quicker than planned thanks to the flexibility of the platform. “Because we use a lot of open-source technology, we could find Amazon Machine Images (AMI) very easily for what we needed to do,” says Costescu. “We also took the opportunity to make some architectural changes so the applications could work with load balancers and modern protocols like HTTPS.”

Netop’s three applications—which all have a similar hosting structure—are deployed to Amazon EC2 Container Service (Amazon ECS) as a backend, Amazon ElastiCache to improve database speed, and Amazon CloudFront as a content distribution network. Costescu says, “We’ve continued to make changes, moving from monolithic applications to a set of microservices, which we can develop and deploy in a more agile way using Docker and Amazon ECS.’’

Costescu and his team have run several AWS pilot projects, looking for new ways to bring value to the business. One uses AWS IoT to connect Raspberry Pi devices with sensors to monitor environmental conditions in places people rarely go, such as warehouses, and to trigger alerts using AWS Lambda functions. The cloud-operations team has also begun using Amazon Aurora to improve the performance of its MySQL databases. “So far, we’ve seen Amazon Aurora outperform MySQL by 30 percent,” says Costescu. “As a feature set, we’re offering much more than we could offer even six months ago.”

Saving money was Netop’s original impetus for switching to AWS—and those savings have been realized. The company was spending between $700,000 and $1 million a year on its old data center, and it now spends about $110,000 a year. “When we told our business managers we could save up to 90 percent on application hosting, they jumped at the chance. The decision to move to AWS was made there and then,” says Costescu. “What’s more, we run multiple production and development workloads on AWS and have double the processing power for a fraction of what we were paying just for production in our old data center.”

But the benefits don’t end with money. Netop has been able to achieve both goals that Costescu said were important for differentiation: security and excellent customer experience. “Our clients look for a more secure and compliant product, and using AWS helps us deliver that,” explains Costescu. “It gives us a raft of compliance and security attestations that we use to reassure our existing customers and attract new ones, especially banks.”

Netop has also been able to improve uptime with AWS from 97 percent to 99.97 percent. “We use AWS Regions and Availability Zones to reduce the risk of downtime,” Costescu says. “We’ve split our environments between the EU and the United States, which makes it easier to serve customers that need environments that comply with certain legislation. AWS has a much wider geographical footprint than we could achieve by building data centers or renting racks around the world.” AWS also supports Netop’s development center in Romania, says Costescu. “We have a great relationship with AWS. We have conference calls twice a month, and AWS sends solution architects to work with us on new projects.”

Netop serves its customers well by providing low latency, which is crucial when taking remote control of another computer that’s half way around the world. Costescu says, “Using the AWS network as a backbone is much faster than having our own data centers and creating VPN tunnels or renting fiber-optic links—and much, much cheaper.”

To keep its customers happy and attract and retain new customers, Netop has to be on top of its game—and that means focusing on innovation above all else. “Because we’ve ‘Dockerized’ nearly all our services, we can now deploy code in five minutes, whereas it used to take days,” says Costescu. In the old data center, Netop updated its products on a three-month cycle, but this has now quickened to a cycle of between one and three weeks, depending on the application. “This speed of development is great for our customers.”