We have achieved a 30% reduction in operational expenditure in moving from our previous environment to AWS on demand, and a further 34% by reserving Amazon EC2 instances over 12 months.
Cobus Bothma Enterprise Systems Manager

Founded in 1998 in Perth, Western Australia, Present Group helps companies commission and complete projects. Its services include inspecting, testing, commissioning, handing over, starting up, ramping up, optimizing, operating, maintaining, shutting down, and decommissioning projects. Present Group has offices in several Australian capital cities as well as Cebu in the Philippines, and Singapore. The business’s clients include prominent companies such as Rio Tinto, Xstrata, and Origin, and Present Group has completed projects at power stations, refineries, mines, and ports.

Present Group started operations running a data center at its office in Perth, installing racked storage, servers, and networking equipment, and then adding virtualization to improve server utilization and minimize its environmental footprint. However, the business was forced to look at other options when upkeep proved to be expensive and time-consuming. “The administrative overhead and effort required to maintain and update our environment continued to be a challenge,” says Cobus Bothma, enterprise systems manager.

The business reviewed its options and started exploring cloud computing services that would enable it to pay only for the infrastructure resources consumed, while delivering the reliability and availability required for its business-critical systems. These systems include an Epicor Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system which tracks business resources such as cash, raw materials, production capacity, and the status of business commitments such orders and purchase orders. An experience with one cloud service provider failed to provide the expected benefits as the provider could not deliver the elasticity that Present Group believed was intrinsic to the cloud. This proved to be a considerable constraint as month-end reporting processes placed immense pressure on the database servers. The business could not add capacity to support demand peaks, resulting in some reports stalling or taking longer to run.

Present Group evaluated cloud providers and determined that Amazon Web Services (AWS) could best meet its requirements. Initially, the company was particularly concerned about migrating the Epicor system to the cloud, as the business would grind to a halt if the system was not available. After carefully evaluating the benefits of moving to AWS, the business decided to make the jump. “We wanted to move to a genuine cloud and once we looked at cost, the ability to provide consumption-based computing, migration risks, economies of scale, and the availability of information, moving to AWS was a no-brainer for us. What we found during the transition and onboarding was that the AWS account and technical team, and the partners we used to undertake the migration and scaling, helped us ensure the ERP system was running efficiently and effectively,” says Bothma.

Present Group’s decision to avoid re-architecting its infrastructure at the same time as the migration, primarily due to time and budget constraints, helped ease the transition. “We effectively moved the environment as it is to AWS so we could continue achieving our performance metrics for the ERP and other systems,” explains Bothma. “Stage two of the project will involve looking into how we can leverage the multi-availability zone architecture capabilities of AWS, so we can split out the workloads to further ensure business continuity. It’s a matter of timing as to when we will complete that process.”

To minimize the risks presented by the first-stage migration, Present Group set up a direct connection between its existing hosted environments to the AWS Asia Pacific (Sydney) region using a service provided by Amcom, an AWS Direct Connect Partner. “Once we had set up the interconnectivity between the two environments, we started planning our workload transition,” says Bothma. “Because our ERP system was so critical to our business, we decided to use a third-party replication software to copy information from the ERP system running in the current environment, and the AWS infrastructure. This process worked well and our accounts team was able to keep working on the system while we transferred into AWS, with only an hour or two scheduled downtime when we finalized the database migration.”

Present Group completed transitioning all its workloads into the AWS infrastructure within three months, and decommissioned its old environment. The business relied primarily on the internal skills and competence of ITOC Australia, an AWS Consulting Partner, to complete the first-stage project, with AWS team members on hand to answer questions about billing and console management. The Present Group infrastructure is distributed across multiple Amazon Virtual Private Clouds (Amazon VPCs), with Sophos UTM—a third-party threat management system from the AWS Marketplace—and a demilitarized zone in one Amazon VPC. This enables the business to safely publish services externally, and to provide secure access to the ERP system for team members using the internet or a virtual private network (VPN). About 31 Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances run in the Present Group VPC, distributed across two AWS Availability Zones to balance the availability risk. These instances are set to auto-recover in the event of a problem with the underlying equipment. The organization uses third-party software to provide file-level backup for SQL and Epicor ERP databases to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) buckets, and has written a Windows PowerShell script to create automated snapshots of instances daily and weekly. Its technology team plans to finish moving all the Present Group web domains across Amazon Route 53, and uses Amazon CloudWatch to monitor applications such as the ERP system and its associated resources.

Present Group has developed its internal skills in AWS by requiring a number of team members to undertake training, and is planning to put its system administrators through training to qualify them as AWS Certified SysOps Administrators. This will help the organization become more self-reliant and to re-architect its infrastructure to leverage load balancing and elasticity capabilities of AWS. Present Group is already using AWS Support, Business-level, and is extremely pleased with the response times and ability to contact the support team over a range of channels, including instant chat. “Due to the technical expertise and strong service mentality of the support team, I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to escalate an issue,” says Cobus Bothma.

The figure below illustrates Present Group’s environment in AWS:

present-group-arch-diag

Despite not having to re-architect its infrastructure to optimize the performance of critical applications such as its ERP system, Present Group has achieved a range of benefits from AWS, including increased system performance. Moving the ERP system and associated database server into AWS has improved the performance and minimized disruption to month-end financial processes. “We’ve reaped some big financial rewards from automating processes such as shutting down noncritical servers when they are not in use. We have achieved a 30 percent reduction in operational expenditure in moving our previous environment to AWS on demand, and a further 34 percent by reserving Amazon EC2 instances over 12 months in exchange for a discounted hourly rate. Delivering these outcomes has made our business case easier for the remainder of the project,” says Bothma.

Present Group is also achieving availability levels well within business requirements, ahead of re-architecting its environment to improve fault tolerance, and eliminated delays to internal projects. For example, prior to AWS, pages in a Microsoft SharePoint collaboration system rendered slowly because the technology team could not add capacity fast enough to support demand. Once the system moved to AWS, the scalability and elasticity of the infrastructure enabled Present Group to maintain SharePoint collaboration performance while supporting growth.

Present Group is also now able to support the rapid recruitment and onboarding of new employees during a period of strong growth, because of the scalability of AWS.

With the re-architecting of its AWS infrastructure well underway, Present Group sees no reason to consider other cloud providers. “Our overall experience has been brilliant and we look forward to working with AWS well into the future,” says Bothma.

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