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Finnish gaming company PAF migrates to the cloud

Move to Amazon Web Services cloud brings scalability to gaming company that gives part of its profits to good causes

Finnish international gaming company PAF has partnered with Sumo Logic in an ambitious project to migrate its application stack onto the Amazon Web Service (AWS) cloud. This will enable PAF to scale up significantly to meet future demands.

For PAF, the migration-to-cloud venture answers the need for a cost-efficient way to manage the company’s increasingly distributed architecture. Sumo Logic’s technology is key to PAF’s vision of a seamless and smooth transition to the cloud.

The move consolidates PAF’s existing tools, enabling the company to operate on-premise and in AWS with centralised monitoring.

Ewan Maley, lead architect at PAF, said the project involved careful planning and preparation that incorporated progress reviews coupled with a vision for moving to the cloud.

“That lead-in period set out the benefits we would get from migrating,” he said. “There were some initial proofs of concept conducted to assess viability before moving on to the migration itself.”

Scalability emerged as a major issue for PAF, said Maley. “One of the biggest drivers for the cloud is scalability. In a monolith, if we wanted to scale one single component, the whole stack had to be scaled vertically, resulting in large infrastructure overheads with low utilisation. With the cloud, you have the ability to scale just one part of the system on an as-needed basis and harness the benefits.”

Mariehamn-headquartered PAF is owned by the Åland Islands regional government. Administering an archipelago comprising more than 6,700 islands, Åland is an autonomous Swedish-speaking province of Finland located at the southern end of the Gulf of Bothnia between mainland Finland and Sweden.

Founded in 1966 as Penningautomatförening, PAF has its own gaming development studio and a network of offices across Europe. It was established by Åland government to contribute part of its profits to good causes, including coastguard services, historical sites and sports activities.

PAF generates its core profits from its 400 online games, which include slots, casino, poker, betting, bingo and lotteries.

The company also runs a profitable physical gaming business comprising 1,500 slot machines and 55 gaming tables on cruise ships operating in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and on Åland. In 2017, PAF reported an operating profit of €27.6m on total revenues of €116.5m, and transferred €18m from its profits to the regional government for “good cause” ventures.

Priority and bandwidth proved to be a significant challenge for PAF when migrating from on-premise to the cloud, said Lars-Göran Hakamo, the firm’s lead security architect. “We can’t shut up shop just to get a big migration done, so we opted for incremental steps, onboarding a few teams at a time,” he said. “This also allows us to continuously improve as we go along.”

Read more about migrating to the cloud

Another major challenge was PAF’s responsible gaming business model, but the cloud migration will enhance the company’s ability to operate in a regulated market, said Hakamo.

“The fact that providers such as AWS [Amazon Web Services] and Sumo Logic have gone through various certifications makes it a lot easier for us,” he said. “Being able to show those certifications for the purposes of various country audits helps us on the regulation side of things.”

Partnering with Sumo Logic, which had the capacity to deliver automated software-as-a-service systems to buttress PAF’s hybrid infrastructure for the migration to cloud, helped DevOps teams to move more quickly and support security and compliance regulations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“In the decoupling of services and working with sustainable architecture, we wanted each of the development teams to be autonomous, and to use as much self-service and automation as possible,” said Hakamo. “Due to the rapid development and deployment of the process we now have, we need to have visibility and observability of those services, and of the infrastructure that we are now putting into AWS.”

Cost-efficiency and scale-functionality requirements were other challenges to overcome in both the lead-in and process design phases, said Maley.

“We needed to scale the whole thing, and upgrade every part, even if it was only one part that required it,” he said. “This meant a lot of resource wastage, and a lot of extras added. From the perspective of a payback, the cloud provides the ability to ramp down your own hardware, resulting in cost savings.”

The cloud migration will strengthen PAF’s ability to expand the number of games it offers to customers, using functionality that it did not have previously, said Maley.

“One of the motivating reasons for moving to the cloud was to give us an improved ability to be faster to market,” he said. “With the coupled nature of the monolith, we were quite slow to be able to deliver new games and deliver new functionality, whether it concerned our responsible gaming requirements, or different workflows that we wanted to implement.

“We were quite slow in being able to do that. Now that we have moved to more distributed and independent components, we are a lot faster in getting that functionality out there and in use, as well as the number of gaming offerings.”

Paved path business model

PAF’s cloud migration will also improve its capacity to achieve the “paved path” business model championed by Netflix, which promotes technologies that produce enterprise value.

“By bringing these technologies on, you get them to a mature state and make them generally available for the rest of the company to use,” said Maley. “We can start to grow our technical stack, but in a very maintained, manageable way.

“If we took on everything that AWS offers from the get-go, we could quite easily end up in a minefield where we don’t actually know what technologies are being used. We don’t have the knowledge or resources in-house to be able to support every service that AWS provides.”

PAF’s migration to cloud will also bring advantages in the area of regulation, such as the GDPR, said Maley.  

“GDPR affects everybody in Europe,” he said. “Having the technology in place to enable you to deliver these features more quickly means that the more flexible your technology is, the more capable you are, as a company, to adapt to these new regulations and certifications, if required.

“Looking at technology over the next five years, I would say it is a question of being as nimble as possible with your whole stack.”

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