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Choice Hotels Speeds Deployment, Supports Cloud Migration Using AWS Training and Certification

2021

Choice Hotels is a global lodging franchisor with more than 7,000 hotels in over 40 countries and territories. It relies on innovative technology to provide guests with positive experiences and help hotel owners successfully run their businesses. Following that mission, in 2018, Choice Hotels began its journey to the cloud, migrating from colocation data centers to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Choice Hotels has a commitment to continuous learning, so as part of its migration strategy, it decided to use AWS Training and Certification, which helps companies build and validate employees’ cloud skills through digital training. With upskilling, Choice Hotels increased employee engagement, enabling the company to take advantage of AWS services, accelerate speed to market, and cut costs.

Japanese businessman checking in at hotel
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After using AWS Training and Certification, we have seen a consistent cost decrease, even as we enable employees to work on AWS.”

Jill Alexander
Senior Director of Cloud Platform Engineering, Choice Hotels

Supporting Transformation Using AWS Training and Certification

Born in 1939 as US hotel chain Quality Courts United, Choice Hotels represents 10 percent of US hotels and has 2,000 employees, including 500 in technology. In 2018, the company transformed its central reservation system from a 30-year-old monolithic application to a microservices application on AWS. That success, plus later financial and technical assessments, convinced Choice Hotels to go all in on AWS in 2019. “We viewed AWS as the most advanced cloud provider, and it offered a strategy for microservices implementation,” says Jill Alexander, senior director of cloud platform engineering at Choice Hotels. By early 2021, the company had migrated 60 percent of its systems to AWS.

Choice Hotels formed a cloud solution team to keep abreast of emerging AWS services. It also realized that it could better optimize if more employees were familiar with using AWS. In Phoenix, Arizona, the company’s technology team has engineers, program managers, and business systems analysts who have varying degrees of cloud skills and fluency. The cloud intimidated many staff members because they would have to learn new skills after 10–20 years of traditional IT. “Choice Hotels wants employees to have a career path and do new, exciting things,” says Alexander. “Training helps us level the playing field by meeting them at their level and developing their cloud skills.”

Choice Hotels invested in its employees by using AWS Virtual Classroom Training, which offers a live classroom learning experience. Over a 6-month period, Choice Hotels trained 400 employees in 22 AWS Virtual Classroom Trainings. Employees had the opportunity to receive general training and targeted technical training in architecting, developing, big data, machine learning, security, and DevOps. Of the 20 employees on the cloud engineering solution team, 8 achieved AWS Certifications, including AWS Certified Solutions Architect and AWS Certified DevOps Engineer. To help employees get certified, Choice Hotels dedicated time to employee development. In return, the company saw an increase in excitement and adoption of AWS technologies, enabling it to migrate faster and take advantage of the services AWS offers.

Less than 3 months after training, Choice Hotels has a 93 percent adoption rate of its Harness continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) software. “People are now more comfortable in the cloud,” says Alexander. “We didn’t segment this training. An infrastructure person could take an advanced architecting course. We saw a dramatic shift in how staff embraced the migration. They were more willing to engage and more comfortable sharing ideas to make things go quickly.”

Putting Training on AWS to Work

Choice Hotels used AWS Training and Certification to give employees new perspectives on working in the cloud, encouraging them to consider things like costs as they build. “Many developers never see the impact of spinning up 20 servers,” explains Alexander. “After using AWS Training and Certification, we have seen a consistent cost decrease, even as we enable employees to work on AWS.” For example, the company’s use of introductory courses like AWS Technical Essentials—which dives into the foundations of cloud computing, storage, and networking on AWS—has helped onboard employees to the cloud. “Staff know to ask, ‘How much compute will this need? What services?’” says Alexander. “They put into practice what they learn, and that changes how we plan for costs, calculate total cost of ownership, and present business cases as true representations of costs and benefits.”

Since the training, Choice Hotels has increased speed to market. The company now performs multiple deployments a week compared to single large deployments previously. Before training completed, Choice Hotels staff created a containers proof of concept on Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS), which offers the flexibility to start, run, and scale Kubernetes applications on AWS. The company also supports that proof of concept by using AWS Fargate, a serverless compute engine for containers. “Architecting courses explained the services available,” says Alexander. “We knew that we needed to develop and adopt a container and serverless architecture to save money and increase speed to market. Training is helping us go from proof of concept to enterprise rollout in less than 1 year.”

The company has a small team responsible for supporting all databases within Choice Hotels across multiple technologies. To increase understanding, support, and advancement of its data strategy, the company encouraged employees from the IT team to enroll in training. “We want developers to have a sense of how a database schema works and the opportunities there are to use AWS-managed databases,” says Alexander. “As we move into the database assessment for the next year’s migration, it’s been helpful to have more people who can assist with the plan.”

Almost 80 Choice Hotels employees went through security training, such as AWS Security Essentials, which covers fundamental AWS security concepts, and Security Engineering on AWS, which demonstrates how to efficiently use AWS security services. “Security is everyone’s responsibility, not just the security team’s,” says Alexander. “Now people understand that they have to figure out security as they code rather than leave it till the end.” Employees who completed big data and machine learning courses have used Amazon EMR, a cloud big data solution for processing vast amounts of data using open-source tools, to create fraud detection components.

Identifying Further Training Needs

By training 400 employees, Choice Hotels optimized its staff’s skills to match its technology optimization and innovate faster to provide a better experience for guests. The company is creating a skills assessment for the cloud solution engineering and infrastructure teams to pinpoint additional training needs. That assessment will be available to other departments as well.
 
“The migration is partly about getting teams to embrace the journey—because it is a paradigm shift,” says Alexander. “Our ability to execute on this migration is significantly better. The longer we take to migrate, the more expensive it is, and the longer it takes to realize cloud benefits. Getting people on board and moving faster will pay dividends.”

About Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels is a global hotel franchisor, with 7,000+ locations and nearly 600,000 rooms in more than 40 countries and territories. 1 in 10 US hotels is franchised under a Choice Hotels brand, including Cambria, Comfort, Clarion, and Sleep Inn.

Benefits of AWS

  • Achieved a 93% CI/CD adoption rate
  • Plans to move from proof of concept to enterprise rollout in less than 1 year
  • Trained 400 employees across 22 AWS Virtual Classroom Training classes in 6 months
  • Trained about 80 employees in security
  • Performs multiple deployments a week
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Decreased costs

AWS Services Used

AWS Technical Essentials

In this introductory course, you will learn about AWS products, services, and common solutions. You will learn the fundamentals of identifying AWS services so that you can make informed decisions about IT solutions based on your business requirements.

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AWS Certification

You can benefit from a wide range of expert insights, resources, and programs as you progress toward achieving AWS Certification. Whether you’re just starting out or adding another certification, AWS can help you effectively validate your cloud expertise.

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AWS Virtual Classroom Training

AWS Classroom Training offers live classes with instructors who teach you in-demand cloud skills and best practices using a mix of presentations, discussion, and hands-on labs. Ask questions, work through solutions in person, and get feedback from AWS-accredited instructors.

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