Vanguard Increases Investor Value Using Amazon ECS and AWS Fargate


Security is of the utmost importance in the highly regulated financial services industry. So when The Vanguard Group (Vanguard) considered migrating from its on-premises infrastructure to Amazon Web Services (AWS), it had to make a careful decision. “Vanguard is a risk-conscious company,” says Bill McEwan, head of cloud compute platforms at Vanguard. “But the value proposition of AWS was worth taking a closer look. Once we became comfortable with that path, we started to migrate quickly and aggressively to the cloud.”

Since beginning its migration to AWS in 2015, Vanguard has seen significant benefits. For example, Vanguard’s use of AWS services removed the need for its IT department to manage servers. As a result, developers have more time to build innovative new microservices and enhance current applications, increasing Vanguard’s speed to market from 3 months to 24 hours.

But speed to market is not the only benefit Vanguard has seen. Vanguard opted to use Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), a fully managed container orchestration service, alongside AWS Fargate. AWS Fargate is a serverless compute service that removes the need to provision and manage Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. And by taking advantage of a new purchase option for AWS Fargate, the financial services firm reduced its unit costs by 50 percent.

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AWS Fargate Spot has reduced our unit costs and reinforced our business case to migrate to AWS. We’re delivering more value for our dollars each month with this optimization. Returning value to our shareholders through increased efficiency is core to our company-wide mission."

Tim Treston
Senior Manager, Cloud Business Office, Vanguard

Improving Security through Containerized Applications

Vanguard is a client-owned financial services company headquartered in Pennsylvania. It currently employs over 17,000 people—including 3,000 developers. Vanguard’s microservices environment encompasses approximately 1,000 different applications, and its goal is to migrate 90 percent of them to AWS by 2024.

Before its migration, Vanguard used an on-premises system for decades. To keep up with advancements in the technology space and anticipate future business needs, the company knew it needed to expand its infrastructure. Migrating to the cloud also meant Vanguard could begin implementing DevOps practices, enabling it to produce more microservices at a faster rate. “Our migration to AWS is really about the maturation of IT at Vanguard,” says McEwan. “I would argue that the technology and its associated benefits are the tip of the iceberg. And when you think about big, powerful concepts like DevOps, our journey to the cloud is what’s helping us get there.”

Vanguard began its migration after determining the scope of the scalability, cost efficiency, and disaster recovery capabilities it needed to support long-term growth. It performed a paper exercise study about available cloud providers, and Vanguard consequently chose to migrate to AWS. “What put AWS ahead of the crowd was its key management service,” explains Matt Lanza, senior enterprise architect at Vanguard. “We can now keep control of key material to the extent that we need to so that we are comfortable with storing our data in the cloud.”

By using Amazon ECS and AWS Fargate to manage its applications, Vanguard enables internal teams to specify and pay for resources per application and improves security through application isolation by design. Vanguard also uses Amazon ECS to run Amazon ECS clusters using AWS Fargate and provide serverless compute capacity for containers. AWS Fargate significantly reduces the need to choose instances and scale cluster capacity and runs each task in its own isolated compute environment. “Using AWS Fargate, we could get much more stability because we didn’t have to provision infrastructure for our applications to run at scale,” says Lanza. “AWS Fargate is fully managed from a security perspective and a maintenance perspective. If any issues are present, they would be self-contained to just that single application rather than impacting hundreds or even thousands of applications.” By using these AWS services, Vanguard is reducing labor and hardware costs.

Moving toward a Consumption-Based Cost Model

By migrating to a consumption-based cost model from a model based on preprovisioning hardware, Vanguard has greater transparency and accountability over its infrastructure costs. “In a shared provision-based model, it is often difficult to align infrastructure spending to real business value,” says Tim Treston, senior manager of the cloud business office at Vanguard. “With a consumption-based model, we now have transparency down to the lowest asset levels. This information is valuable because we can understand where Vanguard is investing our infrastructure budgets and have real conversations with key stakeholders about the opportunity cost of these investments. Having this transparency today is helping us move our cloud program forward and drive efficient growth.”

Cost optimization is a priority for Vanguard’s business; by lowering its costs, the company can deliver more value to its investors. To uphold this core value, Vanguard’s cloud business office and Amazon ECS teams met monthly to review migration costs and identify areas for optimization. When it learned of AWS Fargate Spot, a new purchase option for AWS Fargate that enables developers to launch tasks on spare capacity with a steep discount, Vanguard realized it could reduce costs further. “AWS Fargate Spot was an evolutionary step,” says Lanza. “When it came out, we very quickly strategized how to adopt it on a large scale. Now when we deploy applications, they can automatically run on available spare capacity. This can happen without our team having to do anything.”

After implementing this automation, Vanguard reduced costs by 50 percent, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per month on its Amazon ECS and AWS Fargate bills. “AWS Fargate Spot has reduced our unit costs and reinforced our business case to migrate to AWS,” says Treston. “We’re delivering more value for our dollars each month with this optimization. Returning value to our shareholders through increased efficiency is core to our company-wide mission.”

Increasing Resiliency, Continuing Growth

“By using AWS services, Vanguard seamlessly architected a system based on a consumption model that enhanced transparency, increased deployment frequency, and reduced costs, thus enabling the migration path for Vanguard microservices to run using Amazon ECS on AWS Fargate,” says Brian Kiefer, head of the Amazon ECS and AWS Fargate solutions at Vanguard. The company has over 850 production applications running on AWS services across its major lines of business in the United States, Australia, and Europe and has grown nearly 275 percent since May 2020 using AWS Fargate and Amazon ECS solutions. As Vanguard continues to migrate to AWS, it plans to increase its resiliency by adopting multi-region strategies for critical workloads.

The company looks forward to continuing to build innovative solutions on AWS. By having a constant dialogue with several AWS product teams, Vanguard can provide direct feedback to improve and streamline its use of AWS services. “We’ve grown a lot as an organization in observing how we can use AWS resources,” says Lanza. “We now feel like we have a lot of influence over where we’re going.”

About The Vanguard Group

The Vanguard Group is a financial advisory firm that serves as one of the world’s largest investment management companies. Based in Malvern, Pennsylvania, Vanguard operates 19 locations worldwide and manages over $6.2 trillion in global assets.

Benefits of AWS

  • Increased speed to market of microservices from 3 months to 24 hours
  • Reduced unit costs by 50%
  • Saved hundreds of thousands of dollars on monthly Amazon ECS and AWS Fargate bills
  • Strengthened disaster recovery, scalability, and resiliency

AWS Services Used

Amazon ECS

Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) is a fully managed container orchestration service.

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AWS Fargate

AWS Fargate is a serverless compute engine for containers that works with both Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS).

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AWS Fargate Spot

AWS Fargate Spot is a new capability on AWS Fargate that can run interruption tolerant Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) Tasks at up to a 70% discount off the Fargate price.

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Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.

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