AWS met our demands for increased infrastructure flexibility and performance. Its extensive partner ecosystem means we can shortlist a range of complementary products for evaluation when we are looking for more functionality
Ms. Mai Wah Cheung Group Chief Information Officer

Next Media is the largest listed multimedia group in Hong Kong with business spanning across Hong Kong and Taiwan. The group is mainly engaged in the publication and printing of newspapers, magazines, and books in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Next Media also delivers content to its audience through internet portal, and mobile websites and applications. Ms. Mai Wah Cheung, group chief information officer at Next Media, describes Next Media as an independent news organization with a propensity for providing highly sensationalized content to its readers.

Hong Kong and Taiwan residents—as well as overseas expats—read Next Media’s digital publications for the latest news and commentary on current events. To meet the needs of readers and advertisers, Next Media must ensure these publications are available with optimal response time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is not always easy in an environment where malicious groups frequently launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to disrupt availability, and Internet service providers can shut down their services any time they feel threaten by the DDoS attacks.

Cheung and her team are responsible for the infrastructure that delivers a range of websites and mobile applications in Hong Kong and Taiwan. For several years, the team had relied on a virtualized infrastructure running in collocated data centers in both countries to develop, test, and run its websites and mobile applications. Soon after Cheung joined Next Media in August 2014, the team asked for HK$300,000 in funds to move the Hong Kong infrastructure—70 servers running 400 virtual machines and the associated storage and networking equipment—to another collocated data center within the city. However, Cheung had become aware that the collocated infrastructure was too vulnerable to outages caused by third parties. In addition, moving the infrastructure to another collocated data center, including asking technology providers to recertify the new architecture, would be time-consuming and strategically unwise. Next Media could not justify purchasing enough capacity to support spikes in demand for every one of its digital titles on major events.

Cheung had considerable experience with the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud in a previous role and directed the Next Media team to shift the infrastructure to the cloud service. She believed AWS represented an opportunity for Next Media to move its business-critical digital properties to a more secure, resilient infrastructure. Further, AWS could provide an environment that would enable the infrastructure team to roll out new mobile applications for magazine publications within the short timelines demanded by the business. In addition, with proper application coding, the AWS cloud could scale to support spikes in demand when website content attracted high volumes of traffic. The AWS cloud could also deliver these benefits for similar operating expense as their existing collocated data center while greatly reducing the company’s capital expenditure on technology.

“AWS met our demands for increased infrastructure flexibility and performance. Its extensive partner ecosystem means we can shortlist a range of complementary products for evaluation when we are looking for more functionality,” says Cheung. “We were also impressed with the way AWS managed its security and its support capabilities.”

Once Cheung decided to move Next Media’s infrastructure to AWS, the IT team had two months to complete the project before its contract with the collocated data center operator expired. The team extended the contract by another month and completed the migration in two and a half months. “Our three team members undertook the project without help from external consultants. Our biggest challenge was locating the source code, thoroughly testing the applications, and putting together code deployment environments. The migration effort itself was quite seamless,” Cheung explained.

The Hong Kong websites and mobile applications now run in a cloud architecture distributed across multiple Availability Zones in the AWS Asia-Pacific (Singapore) Region. The websites and applications run on 300 Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances with Elastic Load Balancing distributing incoming traffic and maximizing fault tolerance. Some of Next Media’s websites and applications connect to a content management system that runs on a software-as-a-service solution that also runs in AWS. Other websites connect to a content management system that runs on premises , connected to AWS via AWS Direct Connect. MySQL databases run on Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). Amazon ElastiCache provides web-based caching while Amazon Route 53 provides highly available and scalable domain name services. Logging is completed within Amazon Redshift while Splunk —third-party software that runs in the AWS cloud— is used for log analysis and analytics. Amazon Redshift is used as the data warehouse for the analytics platform. AWS Elastic Beanstalk provides preset application capacity provisioning, load balancing, scaling, and health monitoring. Next Media is planning to undertake a proof of concept of Tableau, reporting visualization software available in the AWS Marketplace.

Next Media is using AWS Support, Enterprise-level, and Cheung describes the service as “great.” In particular, the business was impressed by the AWS audit of its cloud architecture and the fact the cloud service provider proactively highlighted areas for improvement.

The following figure illustrates Next Media's environment in AWS:

next-media-arch-diag

Next Media is now running all its Hong Kong digital properties in the AWS cloud. The business developed and launched a few new mobile applications for its magazines in the AWS environment, with each project taking less time to complete than usual. “If we were to host these applications in the collocated data center using physical servers, it would have taken us at least an additional two months to complete each project,” says Cheung. “Acquiring the servers alone would have taken up to two months and required a sizeable capital investment.”

The business no longer has to depend on local broadband service providers to run its websites and mobile applications. The migration of Next Media’s data center to the AWS cloud minimized its vulnerability to disruptions caused by DDoS attacks.

Using the AWS Redshift data warehouse has also dramatically reduced the time required to obtain web and mobile traffic-analysis reports. Next Media’s development team recently build a reporting platform in one month. Similar efforts in a self-hosted environment would take at least three months to develop and deploy due to the complexity of setting up the infrastructure.

The AWS cloud has also met Next Media’s requirement to maintain operating costs at the same level as with the collocated data center. Furthermore, the business does not have to invest capital in new hardware: Cheung estimates that moving to the AWS cloud has enabled the business to avoid purchasing up to 50 physical servers. Next Media has also been able to eliminate the need for its infrastructure team to access data center premises to resolve issues or fix problems. This has enabled team members to attend conferences and other events outside the office, knowing that if infrastructure issues arise, they can simply log on to the Next Media AWS environment from their laptops and fix them remotely.

Cheung is very pleased with Next Media’s experience with AWS. “I feel that the Enterprise Support in particular is wonderful,” she says. “I would recommend other companies move to AWS to become more efficient and effective.”

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