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FINN completes Covid-delayed migration to the cloud

Norwegian online advertising marketplace completes cloud migration in a single night after months of delay due to the pandemic

Norway’s leading online marketplace for classified advertising has completed its migration to the cloud following delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Schibsted media group-owned (FINN) moved 850 microservices to the cloud following a concentrated push by management to complete the project despite a prolonged Covid-related delay.

The migration involved moving FINN’s high-traffic website from an on-premise datacentre to the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in an overnight transfer. The distributed system comprised more than 800 applications, 145 databases, 16TB of data and 183 virtual machines. FINN’s migration strategy incorporated a compact downtime window to minimise disruption to its online marketplace platforms. 

FINN selected Kubernetes as its open source container orchestration platform in 2016, which strengthened its “cloud-ready” mindset and paved the way for the development of a migration strategy, said Morten Hanshaugen, FINN’s director of infrastructure and operations.

“We had a fairly mature platform on top of our infrastructure,” he said. “We were at a crossroads where we could either use a lot of time, energy and money to reinvest in our datacentre, virtualisation and stacks, or migrate to the cloud. Moving to the cloud made sense, given that we would get abstraction layers that better mirrored what we had built on top of it.”

In January 2019, the company began to appraise different cloud providers, then drew up a shortlist of candidates that included Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and IBM Cloud.

The evaluation process culminated in August 2019 when FINN’s parent, Schibsted, decided on a polycloud solution with the GCP as the preferred option for most of its services. The aim was to move everything from its old datacentre to the GCP while keeping FINN up and running.

The migration to cloud involved an acceptable degree of downtime risk, said Nicolai Hoge, FINN’s  CTO.

“It was overly ambitious to believe we could complete the migration to the cloud without any downtime, especially given that the project involved 850 microservices, over 100 databases and super-heavy traffic in our Norwegian site,” said Hoge. “Once we had resolved to accept more risk and the reality that we would experience downtime, it definitely made things a lot easier for us after that.”

FINN’s management added moving to the cloud to its list of top priorities in January 2020 – but that was before the full force of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the negative economic repercussions that followed.

The profound changes inflicted by Covid-linked lockdowns caused FINN to remove the cloud migration project from its priorities list. Its focus as March edged into April was to safeguard its core business operations, said Hoge.

“When the pandemic hit in March, we sent everybody home,” he said. “For FINN and the management team, our top priority was to make sure our services worked. Our second and third priorities were to contribute to society and ensure the company had a solid financial position going forward into and through this crisis. At that point, the cloud migration project was just not a priority any more.”

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Against the backdrop of a serious contraction in traffic flows in March and April, FINN actually saw an uptick in business. With the onset of the summer months, the company saw record high traffic and volumes of adverts.

In July, FINN decided that the cloud migration would be its highest priority project, said Hoge.  

“By June, we were conscious that we were lagging behind with the project and needed to do something if we were going to achieve our target goals by the end of 2020,” he said. “This resulted in the company changing its priorities again, and cloud migration became the number one priority for the whole company.

“This was a crucial decision and development, and doing all that needed to be done by our home-based teams proved a different kind of challenge.”

FINN’s management team decided on 15 September as the day to migrate the company to the cloud. Its infrastructure team met virtually on that day to prepare for the move to cloud and go through the pre-cutover checklist. With team members operating from different physical locations, video conferencing became a primary tool for contact and communication.

“The infrastructure team had been working intensively since cloud migration became a priority again in June,” said Hanshaugen. “The project teams were feeling the urgency, and a sense of growing responsibility. Team individuals put in lots of hours and became more focused in their work than would normally be the case. I would even say team members became somewhat disconnected from the world and totally consumed by the project work.”

For FINN, the migration to cloud included moving a critical cluster that supports the company’s personalisation engine for adverts that runs on Apache Cassandra. This was achieved by migrating to DataStax Astra.

Launched in 2000, the website has more than 50 million visits each month. Recent online digital marketplace acquisitions by Schibsted have enhanced FINN’s growth prospects across the Nordic region, driving new revenue opportunities in key segments such as recruitment, cars, housing and travel.

Schibsted’s shopping spree in 2020 included the acquisition of UK-based eBay Classifieds’ Danish businesses, and

“Having Schibsted as our owner is a huge advantage,” said Hoge. “Our mission is to create digital marketplaces in partnership with our parent. Some opportunities will develop in other companies in the group, while we will pursue other opportunities in-house at FINN.

“We currently have sister sites in Sweden and a big presence in Finland and Denmark. We are definitely interested in opportunities across the four Nordic countries.”

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