The RSA Group is on a mission to move all of its customer-facing websites to the cloud by 2016, in a bid to boost performance and cut costs.
The global insurance group operates in the consumer market, through its More Than brand, and also serves the needs of enterprises through its commercial arm.
Its products are available for consumers to buy directly online, while its business customers have the option to use one of its vast network of brokers who use a separate website to build corporate insurance packages for their customers.
Either way, the group’s websites represent a major sales channel for the company, and are where a large proportion of the interactions it has with customers originate, prompting its move to the cloud to support them.
So far, this has seen its two biggest brands, the aforementioned More Than and RSAbroker.com, move to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, having first started experimenting with off-premise technologies a couple of years ago, says RSA’s head of development, Daniel Huddart.
“One of the reasons why we’re doing it is because it enables us to reduce the cost of our infrastructure because instances are far cheaper, but it also allows us to increase the control we have over those services and improve their quality,” he says.
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Furthermore, moving to the cloud has enabled it to take a speedier, more DevOps-style approach to rolling out changes to its websites.
“One of our business objectives is to be able to build new features, deploy them for customers to use, get feedback and improve, and work that cycle as quickly as we can, and through using cloud we’ve managed to do that,” he explains.
“That means a developer can build a new feature or fix a problem so they can push that code all the way through testing, all the way through assurance process and into production – and that process can take a few hours.”
Legacy tech limitations
Previously, the organisation’s websites were underpinned by a mix of fixed and virtual machines, explains Huddart. “They were all static services so you would have a fixed number of services for a fixed number of tasks,” he says.
This way of doing things meant it could take up to a month to release an updated version of one of its websites to introduce a change, whereas now it can push out updates multiple times a day if needed – and respond more quickly to customer requests as a result.
“Customers might say they want to see a new service that will allow them to manage their products online. Now, I could bring in a team to build and test that, but in a traditional model we’d only have a fixed number of servers and a fixed number of testers and developers to work on that at once,” says Huddart.
Cost savings and performance boosts
As a result of the move, RSA claims to have seen a 75% reduction in cost and a significant uptick in the performance of its sites.
“If you think about traditional IT, you’re paying for those servers 24/7, 365 days of the year, and most IT teams work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. So that hardware is sitting there all night and all weekend and all through the holidays doing very little,” says Huddart.
“In a cloud environment, I can literally spin up hundreds of servers first thing in the morning, the team can have one each or as many as they need, and when it gets to 5pm we power down. So, we’re only paying for the hardware as and when it’s really needed.”
As well as the oft-quoted scalability benefits of cloud, the company has also been actively exploiting its automation features so that any bugs in the system can be quickly fixed.
“When we put a new service on the cloud, all of those servers are spun up and built using autonomous tools, so we don’t have anyone physically configuring servers now, it’s all done through a script,” he explains.
This means it takes him the same amount of time to spin up 100 servers as it would previously have taken to deploy a single one, saving the company time and resources.
That’s not to say the company is looking to the cloud as a means of doing away with its IT team completely, with Huddart also hailing its use of AWS as a key lure for new staff.
“Part of my role is about growing, hiring and training a really skilled workforce of developers. One of the things you find when you go and recruit top talent into the team is that they really care about using good tools,” he says.
“When they ask me what we would use if we came to work at RSA, and we say Amazon cloud for our test and development and for our production services on the web, that really has a positive impact. So, for me, good tools and good people go hand-in-hand.”