We had an idea to run a new school-catchment-area feature and had it running by the following morning with AWS. Now it’s one of the major features of our sites.
Paul McManus Technology Director

Domain Group provides real estate information and services to Australians through mobile applications, the web, and newspapers. The company's services include property marketing and search tools, customer relationship management technologies for real estate agents, and data and research services for property buyers and sellers, real estate agencies, government agencies, and financial markets. Domain Group is owned by Fairfax Media, one of Australia's largest diversified media companies, and employs about 500 people.

Until 2013, Domain Group had shared on-premises data center infrastructure and an operations team with other Fairfax Media properties. This meant the shared infrastructure team had to support an infrastructure and maintenance program that operated across all properties, and could only focus on the critical tasks. Internal processes also restricted Domain Group's ability to launch updates, applications, and websites quickly to compete with rivals. Lengthy hardware procurement approval processes within Domain Group added several weeks to the time needed to deploy new websites and infrastructure services. These processes prevented Domain Group from responding quickly with new server capacity to support marketing campaigns or seasonal increases in real estate activity.

“It would take us a week to provision, test, set up, and deploy new virtual infrastructure. If we had to obtain approval for capital expenditure on servers, the process could take months,” says Paul McManus, technology director at Domain Group. These extended approval cycles also prompted the Domain Group operations team to take shortcuts–reusing existing servers for multiple applications rather than creating dedicated clusters per application–when adding features and support to existing applications to avoid requesting new hardware.

Because of the seasonal nature of real estate, Domain Group's infrastructure was nearly fully used during spring, but the decrease in agents’ advertising activity during winter reduced use significantly.

Domain Group had to invest capital and resources to support demand peaks while continuing to maintain underused hardware when demand decreased. In addition, the servers running Domain Group's websites, mobile applications, and other services were aging and running an old version of Windows, with a storage system at near capacity hosting 14 TB of property images.

In 2013, Fairfax decided to operate Domain Group as a stand-alone business, with a dedicated technology team and infrastructure to realize its full potential. Domain Group hired dedicated DevOps engineers and reviewed its options for implementing an agile, reliable, and high-performing infrastructure.

Domain Group evaluated several cloud and hosting providers before selecting Amazon Web Services (AWS). “We chose AWS for its Australian presence and services. For example, Amazon ElastiCache could improve the performance of our websites and Amazon Simple Storage Service could host our property images securely and reliably,” says McManus.

By February 2015, Domain Group decided to move its in-house data center and entire IT architecture–including a SQL Server transactional database supporting a mobile website, a desktop website, a commercial real estate website, and a range of search, email, and property data micro services–into AWS.

“It was all about agility and the ability to experiment with AWS, and these were the primary features that influenced our decision. AWS team members provided technical insights and inputs to help us keep the project on track and were particularly helpful in ensuring load balancers were ‘warmed up’ so we could transition to the new environment without disruption,” says McManus. Domain Group completed the migration in three months, with the help of the AWS Support team.

Domain Group uses AWS Support, Enterprise-level to ensure its infrastructure and applications run without interruption, and McManus describes the experience as “absolutely awesome." He says, "AWS Enterprise Support exceed the support we previously received from any of our other partners, and I think that is one of the reasons we are so comfortable with the platform.”

The figure below illustrates Domain Group's environment on AWS:

domain-group-arch-diag

Domain Group's Architecture on AWS

Domain Group has become a more agile and responsive business since migrating to AWS. The real estate services organization is deploying new applications, websites, and services more quickly, delivering faster server response times, scaling its infrastructure to support demand peaks and troughs, improving application and website availability, and provisioning new compute resources quickly and cost-effectively.

“The value of infrastructure as a service and Auto Scaling has resulted in a massive reduction in our time to market as we skip the entire CAPEX approval process. We only use what we need right now and scale on demand–instead of buying for peak load plus expected growth,” says Mark Cohen, chief technology officer at Domain Group.

The business can now configure a new Windows instance in 10 minutes and spin up a copy of its production environment in staging to test how Domain Group applications meet user demands. Domain Group has used these capabilities to add a new school-boundary feature–a predefined geographic area associated with a school–to its residential property website in a less than three hours.

“We had an idea to add a new schools-catchment-area feature and had it running by the following morning with AWS. Now it’s one of the major features of our sites,” says McManus. User experience has also improved with the Domain Group AWS infrastructure now responding 50 percent faster on the server side to user requests for web pages.

Domain Group has eliminated the problem of underused hardware by automatically scaling its infrastructure up during peak periods and during marketing campaigns, and scaling down during less active periods such as winter. The scalable and elastic capabilities of the AWS platform allowed Domain Group to take this approach in a cost-efficient manner.

The business is now able to dedicate more staff to building features for their users since they no longer need to perform basic tasks like changing disks and upgrading memory. Application availability has risen to 99.95 percent and prompted an 83 percent decrease in after-hours service calls to the technology team.

McManus is excited about how AWS can help Domain Group further improve the speed and ease of software development. “The platform gives us the opportunity to further innovate in the way we deliver software,” he says.

To learn more about how AWS can help web applications, visit our websites details page: http://aws.amazon.com/websites/.