Sallie Mae Goes All-in on the Cloud in Just Months with AWS Managed Services


Sallie Mae is a US-based bank that provides financing and know-how for college-bound students, and it offers products and resources to help customers make new goals and experiences possible beyond college. “Sallie Mae’s mission is to help our customers build prosperous futures. Most of our customers are digital natives. To gain a competitive advantage in the financial services market and become more customer-centric, we needed to move with greater speed and a greater sense of urgency,” says Donna Vieira, chief marketing officer for Sallie Mae.

Housing its data in a collocated facility worked against that goal. “If we wanted to move forward faster as a company, we needed access to innovative and creative technology solutions that let us try things out, test hypotheses, build something small that we could easily keep if it worked, and just as easily toss if it didn’t. We could not do that in the data center infrastructure we had,” says Rebecca Tyrrell, vice president of technology delivery and architecture for Sallie Mae. If the customer-focused goals of the bank demanded speed and innovation, cloud platforms and services seemed the obvious answer.

Sallie Mae Meets Deadline for Accelerated Data Center Exit with AWS Managed Services

Everyone says they put customers first. With AWS Managed Services, we saw first-hand how customer-obsessed they were."

Mike Bandy,
Vice President of Infrastructure and Operations, Sallie Mae

Understanding How Cloud Services Work in the Financial Sector

Amazon Web Services (AWS), as a leading cloud services vendor, was the clear choice to be Sallie Mae’s cloud provider. “The strength that AWS had in the market was important to us, particularly in the way it approached its cloud strategy and worked with its customers,” says Mike Migliore, senior vice president of application delivery for Sallie Mae.

Still, the team needed to know more about how services worked in the real world, particularly in the financial sector. “We spent time in the AWS environment, talked to other financial institutions using AWS, and spent time with consultants,” says Tyrrell. “We schooled ourselves so we could fully understand what cloud services could do for us.”

As a bank, Sallie Mae is subject to federal security regulations. Any cloud service or provider had to ensure the institution would be in compliance. “For AWS, security was built in, not bolted on. We saw significant innovation around the AWS security space. That gave us confidence that we could build a compliant and highly secure platform. More importantly, it made federal regulators and auditors confident as well,” says Jerry Archer, chief security officer for Sallie Mae.

Impressed by what they learned in their due diligence, the next step for the bank’s technical team was convincing other stakeholders. “We had a variety of audiences to bring on board, from our management team to federal regulators. We came up with a solid game plan that secured the buy-in of everyone involved,” says Dan Kennedy, chief information officer for Sallie Mae.

Meeting Deadlines with the Help of AMS

Although the technical team’s discovery process was lengthy, the move to the cloud had to be much faster. With the contract for its collocation facility coming to an end, the bank needed to complete its cloud migration in just five months.

It took the Sallie Mae team four to five days to move the first server to the cloud, but the team’s migration plan required moving hundreds of servers at a time over several weekends—a seemingly daunting task. The team turned to AWS Managed Services (AMS), which provides AWS skill and expertise to enterprise customers as they adopt cloud services at scale. “Everyone says they put customers first. With AWS Managed Services, we saw first-hand how customer-obsessed they were,” says Mike Bandy, vice president of infrastructure and operations at Sallie Mae. “The AMS team reviewed our project plan and realized that the ingestion process would not keep up with the workloads that had to be transitioned. They worked with us to dramatically improve the ingestion process, so we could keep pace with the timeline that we had committed to.”

During those weekend migrations, the AMS team worked onsite with Sallie Mae. “The technical expertise offered by the AWS Managed Services team was tremendous,” says Bandy. “They understood what our challenges were and always offered solutions to meet them.”

Migrations Are Only the Beginning

With the aid of AMS, Sallie Mae met its deadline to go all-in on cloud services, but that wasn’t the end of the process. Enterprises often require advice after migrations on how to optimize services, input on other ways to use cloud services, and help for internal teams to gain cloud skills. AMS helped the bank to automate patching, which has cut downtime by 25 percent. In addition, Sallie Mae now can add resources on the fly to support additional site traffic, such as during the summer peak season, when students and their parents most actively seek school-financing options. “The infrastructure is there when we need it and can be returned once our seasonal demand diminishes,” says Bandy.

Sallie Mae has also experienced measurable operational efficiencies since moving to AWS. For example, the company developed and executed a disaster recovery (DR) plan that improved DR simulations by more than 50 percent. Sallie Mae has also reduced planned maintenance efforts by 30 percent through automating software patching. The bank has decreased overall costs by 30 percent and met its savings objectives in the first year.

Additionally, Sallie Mae uses AWS Professional Services to help the company define and focus on business goals. Migliore says, “Now that we have our cloud platform, we’ve begun our journey to become more cloud-native and reshape the applications at the heart of our core business.” Kennedy adds, “This process initiated a very meaningful change to the culture of Sallie Mae. Our business partners are fully on board and enthusiastic about the opportunities that exist.”

Working with AWS Professional Services, Sallie Mae is focused even more on its customers. “With our digital transformation, Sallie Mae is unlocking business value through the speed and innovation we are finding in the cloud,” says Vieira. “We are now able to put our customers first and deliver the cohesive, personalized experiences they are looking for from us.”

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About Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae is a US-based bank that provides financing and know-how for college-bound students, and it offers products and resources to help customers make new goals and experiences possible beyond college. The bank finances private student loans for postsecondary education and provides free tools for scholarship searching, college preparation, and financial planning.

Benefits of AWS

  • Access to innovative and creative technology for testing services
  • Highly secure platform that complies with federal regulations
  • Executed a digital transformation in just 5 months
  • Gained access to skills and expertise to assist with cloud adoption at scale
  • Reduced planned maintenance effort by 30 percent
  • Decreased overall costs by 30 percent

AWS Services Used

AWS Managed Services

As enterprise customers move towards adopting the cloud at scale, some find their people need help and time to gain AWS skills and experience. AWS Managed Services (AMS) operates AWS on your behalf, providing a secure and compliant AWS Landing Zone, a proven enterprise operating model, on-going cost optimization, and day-to-day infrastructure management.

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AWS Professional Services

Adopting the AWS Cloud can provide you with sustainable business advantages. Supplementing your team with specialized skills and experience can help you achieve those results. The AWS Professional Services organization is a global team of experts that can help you realize your desired business outcomes when using the AWS Cloud.

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