Cars, smartphones, skyscrapers, and movie special effects: These are just some of what millions of people around the world are making with Autodesk software. The 35-year-old company offers software products aimed at the architecture, construction, engineering, manufacturing, and media and entertainment industries. Headquartered in California, Autodesk has 10,000 employees in offices around the world.
To streamline development and time-to-market, Autodesk has been steadily expanding its use of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and decreasing its data-center footprint. Although the company has benefited from its embrace of AWS, setting up new AWS accounts posed a challenge for the company’s two-person AWS Operations Team, led by Alan Williams, an enterprise architect at Autodesk. Manual processes for account setup resulted in two-week turnarounds on new-account requests and risked human error. Also, because the resulting configurations were static, making any changes or updates required a team member to sign into hundreds of accounts, one at a time.
As the number of AWS accounts in use at Autodesk grew, it became increasingly clear that the account-creation process was a bottleneck. Williams began envisioning a solution that could automatically set up new AWS accounts and update existing ones. He decided to call the new solution Tailor, a nod to the idea that it would deliver accounts that were “tailor made” for Autodesk teams, including all required company configurations and controls. Given that just two people would be responsible for the new solution, it also needed not to impose new maintenance or patching duties.
Williams decided to build Tailor using a serverless architecture to minimize the time and cost required for infrastructure management. Tailor uses multiple AWS services, including Amazon DynamoDB (DynamoDB) for data persistence and Amazon API Gateway (API Gateway) for API endpoints. Automating all Tailor processes from end to end is AWS Lambda, a serverless service that runs code in response to events. With Tailor, Autodesk developers now submit an online form to request a new account, and an API triggers the account-creation process. The solution, which also supports querying accounts by account number, email address, or IP address, took only one month to develop and launch.
By building Tailor on the AWS serverless platform, Autodesk easily accomplished its goals of saving time, reducing costs, and strengthening security.
Because new accounts are now available in 10 minutes instead of two weeks, the process is about 99 percent less expensive than before. “Prior to implementing Tailor, our cost to provision each account was about $500 in employee time,” says Williams. “With Tailor, it’s just shy of $6 per account, which means we can create about 10 times as many accounts for the same cost. It’s now much faster and cheaper for my team to give the business what it needs.”
AWS Lambda and a serverless architecture keep other costs down, too. ”Building Tailor on a perpetual infrastructure alone would have cost us as much as $500 more each month,” says Williams. “The operational costs of applying security patches and maintaining configuration management of the servers would have cost at least another $100 a month. By using a serverless architecture based on AWS Lambda, we barely exceed $100 a month for all the functions that support Tailor across all three AWS Regions we support.”
Security is now stronger too because Tailor ensures uniform configurations and controls, provides visibility into account security profiles, and augments the Autodesk SecOps Team’s ability to identify development teams whose servers show vulnerabilities. “With Tailor on top of AWS Lambda, we can look across all our accounts, easily understand our security profile, and rest assured that what’s in one account is in all accounts,” says Williams.
On the business side, the automated account creation provided by Tailor translates into faster, more agile Autodesk development teams. “Giving development teams access to newly released AWS services is one of the processes that used to require us to sign in to each account, one by one,” says Williams. “Now, whenever AWS releases a new service, AWS Lambda helps us automate releasing it immediately it to all our development teams at once.”
Building Tailor on a serverless architecture made it easy for Williams to modularize it for easier sharing with other divisions, or as an open-source package with non-Autodesk entities that have a use for it.
After seeing the AWS Lambda and Tailor serverless architecture in action, Autodesk issued guidance recommending a “serverless-first” approach to all new architectures. The company is now also using AWS Lambda to automate SSL certificate issuance and renewal and perform canary testing before new code is deployed, with plans to continue expanding use wherever it makes business sense.
“Whether we’re serverless or not, we are always going to be coding,” says Williams. “Going serverless with AWS Lambda relieves us from managing servers and lets us concentrate on building features. That has real value in terms of time, cost, agility, and innovation.”
Learn more about serverless computing.