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GoCardless migrates to cloud and gets Google engineering capability

Fintech has moved from an IBM infrastructure as a service to Google’s cloud platform

Payments firm GoCardless has migrated to Google’s cloud platform to support its expansion, while gaining the benefit of Google engineers attacking its problems.

It has already cut costs by 25% and saved significant time that was previously spent provisioning new servers.

Founded in 2011, GoCardless collects direct debits for businesses, ranging from very large organisations such as accounting software supplier Xero right down to small window-cleaning businesses.

The company sets up direct debits for customers, does things like know your customer (KYC) checks, and works with the bank to receive payments. As a fintech, it aims to make it easy for businesses to set up direct debits.

In 2011, the company was just three people in a bedroom, but today it has more than 300 staff, mostly based in London. It also has offices in Germany, Australia, France and will open in the US soon.

It currently handles about £850m in payments per month, and more than 42,000 merchants worldwide use the service. Most of these (40,000) are in the UK, but GoCardless is targeting international expansion.

It was the company’s rapid growth and ambition that led it, towards the end of 2017, to recognise that it needed the scalability of the cloud for its infrastructure.

At the time, it was using Softlayer infrastructure as a service from IBM, which meant a datacentre was managed for it, while it provisioned everything in the datacentre.

“That worked fine up until a certain point of scale,” said Neil Turner, vice-president of engineering at GoCardless. “It became too much effort to build new machine and the lead time is a lot higher than in the cloud environment.”

Read more about cloud migrations in financial services

As well as achieving cost and time savings, the company’s global expansion will benefit from having a standard platform through the Google cloud wherever it goes. “As we go international, we need to be able to set up presences in other regions on a cloud platform and it was decided to move to Google’s cloud platform [GCP],” said Turner.

But the most interesting benefit for Turner has been access to Google’s engineering resources. “I basically get Google’s engineering capacity attacking my problems,” he said. “There is a whole load of stuff on the GCP that I get through the relationship with Google that it would be impossible to build or hugely expensive and take me away from my day-to-day challenge of solving business problems.”

In terms of in-house tech skills, GoCardless has about 70 engineers, with the number of data scientists in the teens and eight IT security experts.

GoCardless assessed Amazon and Microsoft before settling on Google. Turner said there was some technical capability that came as standard, which the company liked. This included open source container technology Kubernetes and Google’s approach to data, which, said Turner, “aligns with what we wanted to do going forward”.

He added: “Some of the techy bits provide a great environment to be engineering in.”

But choosing Google was just the first step. It then took about 10 months to get ready for the migration.

The company had to take the migration to GCP slowly, said Turner, because of service level agreements with customers, which meant it could not afford to go down for long periods.

It performed the transition in stages, with its internal infrastructure migrated to the cloud first, followed by its testing environment, before moving its production environment in September 2018. The infrastructure was unavailable for just eight minutes during the migration.

The effort is already paying off. It now takes minutes to provision a new server, rather than hours. “This is all managed as code, so people don’t have to fill in forms or use a website,” said Turner.

Read more on IT for financial services

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