AWS has changed the way we’ve delivered solutions to our customers. Our relationship with AWS feels like a two-way engagement as opposed to us buying a service from a provider. We feel AWS invests time in helping us in meaningful ways. 
Ken le Roux It Operations and Development Manager

Founded in 1987 and based in Sydney, Australia, Reckon provides accounting software for small to midsize businesses and practice-management software for larger accounting practices in Australia and New Zealand. Reckon distributed and upgraded Quicken Quickbooks in Australia and New Zealand for more than 20 years, and forged an agreement with Quicken owner Intuit to acquire and market the software in the two countries. The business now sells Reckon Account - the desktop software - and a hosted version called Reckon Accounts Hosted, which, with 27 thousand users, is the company’s most comprehensive accounting solution for larger businesses. Reckon also sells its flagship online accounting solution Reckon One, which was built in-house.

In 2013, Reckon was running its accounting products on a physical infrastructure comprised of servers, storage, networking, and associated systems. However, administering this infrastructure distracted the Reckon IT team from adding value to the business by creating new products and adding new features and functions to existing products. “The physical infrastructure represented a massive overhead to the business as we had to support usage peaks, even if this meant buying and maintaining servers and other hardware that remained idle most of the time,” says Ken le Roux, IT operations and development manager at Reckon. “The existing environment also constrained our ability to provide an agile, frequently updated service to our users. For example, to minimize disruption to users of our Reckon Accounts desktop software, we could only issue two updates each year, including a tax-compliance release in July.”

Reckon opted to move to a public cloud and established a range of business and technical criteria that a cloud-service provider would have to meet. These criteria included near-24/7 availability to meet customers’ expectations, and a requirement to prioritize performance and service quality over providing rebates in the event of a problem.

Reckon conducted proofs-of-concept and completed trials on different cloud providers. The business found Amazon Web Services (AWS) to be the best cloud-service provider for its vision and needs.

The trials - involving a specialized product Reckon was preparing for launch - paved the way for a week-long ‘lift and shift’ of Reckon Accounts Hosted and associated infrastructure to AWS. Le Roux says, “From the trial, we saw how quickly we could move our product and associated infrastructure to the AWS platform. It was very cost- effective to use AWS, and AWS could ensure the scalability, reliability, and availability we need for our 24/7 service to customers.” Reckon is also planning to move Reckon Docs - its corporate search and company-registration service used by six thousand accountants, financial planners, and lawyers in Australia - to AWS.

According to le Roux, the AWS migration would not have been possible without AWS CloudFormation, which also plays a role in managing Reckon’s Auto Scaling groups. The tool enabled Reckon to create and manage a series of related AWS resources. “With the migration completed, we now deploy all our servers and associated components using AWS CloudFormation. Control of our Auto Scaling groups relies on AWS CloudFormation to a degree, while we use the same AWS CloudFormation script to roll workloads into our staging and production environment,” says le Roux.

The Reckon Accounts Hosted file, session hosts, and load-balancing servers run on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances, with Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) providing persistent block-level storage volumes. “We use Auto Scaling to scale out our session host clusters each weekday morning to cater to a huge spike in traffic as users jump onto the platform,” says le Roux. “We also had to carefully plan our configuration of Amazon EBS, considering every file a user accesses resides in our database.” The business uses Elastic Load Balancing to route and load-balance traffic across the Amazon EC2 instances.

“To cope with the ‘morning storm’ of traffic we experience on Reckon Accounts Hosted, we steadily increase our number of AWS session hosts from 4:30 a.m. each weekday,” says le Roux. “We start with the 40 hosts we run overnight and increase this number to 330 during peak periods when we have 5,500 to 6,500 connections. We build 290 hosts from scratch every day. As traffic declines throughout the day, the hosts terminate.”

Reckon also uses AWS Elastic Beanstalk to manage tasks such as capacity provisioning, load balancing, and scaling for the infrastructure running Reckon One, and Amazon CloudWatch to monitor the Reckon One application and cloud resources. The business has recently expanded Reckon One to service small and midsize businesses in the United Kingdom. Using AWS Elastic Beanstalk to automate capacity provisioning, load balancing, scaling, and application health monitoring helped Reckon accelerate launch of Reckon One in that market.

For Reckon Accounts Hosted customers, AWS is enabling the business to regularly push out updated or enhanced versions of the application, giving customers frequent access to new and improved functionality. Reckon is also using AWS to improve the agility and responsiveness of the hosted software by enabling users to access certain data, features, and functions without launching the application.

The cloud infrastructure is important enough for Reckon to train its engineers and developers to achieve a high level of technical proficiency in AWS. One senior system engineer established his own private AWS account to gain as much hands-on experience as possible before undertaking formal AWS certification. This engineer is now a member of the AWS Warrior program that recognizes the best system architects in top-tier customers and enables them to share knowledge with their peers. “We have three team members certified in AWS. I have made it a requirement for all members of our technology team to take at least the AWS Essentials course to gain an understanding of the fundamentals of the AWS Cloud, while some people are electing to take more advanced courses,” says le Roux.

After moving its most important services to AWS, Reckon conducted a post-implementation review that concluded the business could be more effectively using its Enterprise Support Plan through AWS Support. “Considering we are putting all of our key customer-facing solutions onto the AWS Cloud and want to be in a position to release large-scale customer solutions in the future, we wanted faster and preemptive responses,” says le Roux. “I am now putting a more rigorous structure around our support engagement, including educating the team to log more support tickets and starting informal weekly catchups with AWS.” 

Reckon has enjoyed several benefits using AWS, including improved availability, scalability, and agility. The team is able to report on a range of metrics important to stakeholders including support and senior management. These metrics include the number of active and inactive users of Reckon products, how many session hosts are running, and the level of storage utilization. “We provide reports internally on screens in our operations areas, and on the web, so people within the business can log in and view them whenever they want to,” says le Roux.

Le Roux is very pleased with the simplicity and responsiveness of the AWS infrastructure relative to the physical infrastructure in Reckon’s on-premises data center. This was highlighted when Reckon wanted to establish a direct network connection from its data center to AWS using AWS Direct Connect, “We had to upgrade the firmware on one of our core networking units, and made some architecture changes including adding more failover capabilities and up to $30,000 worth of upgrades. This whole process took about five weeks. With AWS, I simply had to log in, make a request, and receive a confirmation email a few hours later,” he says.

While cost was an important consideration, Reckon was more concerned about scalability and elasticity to support increases in traffic. If needed, the business can now comfortably support far more than the 330 servers operating at peak times during working days, and does not have to maintain and pay for a fixed infrastructure geared to peak utilization. From January to June 2015, the business achieved 99.999 percent infrastructure availability for the first four months and 99.991 percent for the other two months.

Le Roux is also extremely pleased with the rewards obtained from its relationship with AWS. “AWS has changed the way we’ve delivered solutions to our customers. Our relationship with AWS feels like a two-way engagement as opposed to us buying a service from a provider. We feel AWS invests time in helping us in meaningful ways,” he says.

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