Cascadeo AWS Case Study: MacDonald-Miller

About MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions

MacDonald-Miller is a full service-design build mechanical contractor in the Pacific Northwest. With over 1,000 talented professionals, 10 locations and our own prefabrication shop, no project is too big or too small. We’ve helped shape the local landscape for over half a century with buildings that operate in the most efficient manner possible. We like to think we’re saving the planet one building at a time.

Facility managers, owners and tenants can all rest assured that our experience as industry leaders lends itself well to tackling the complexities of their industries--healthcare, biotech/labs, industrial, marine construction, commercial office buildings, and residential projects. We’ve done it all. And if we have our way, we’ll keep doing it for the next 50 years.

The Challenge

Internal IT infrastructure, including an internal datacenter, was built over many years. The company decided to migrate their applications to the AWS cloud for its scalability, flexibility, and support for automation.

Deployment automation and configuration management was fundamental to the project from its inception, as the company’s leadership correctly identified the typical “lift-and-shift” approach as a dead-end strategy for sustainable operations.

The company’s legacy line-of-business applications have a dependency on MSSQL with MSDTC. MSDTC support and the live migration of a large database to AWS was an added challenge.

Why Amazon Web Services

Per the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant report, AWS has always been a leader in Cloud Infrastructure as a Service with respect to completeness of vision and the highest ability to execute. On top of this, AWS offers multiple services for automation including resources provisioning, configuration management, and application deployments. AWS OpsWorks, AWS CodePipeline, AWS Lambda and AWS CloudFormation have been used to automate the company’s network monitoring system (Zenoss), application servers, and VPC in the cloud.


The figure below illustrates VPCs in the cloud:



Figure 1: VPCs in AWS with On-premise Network Integration



The figures below illustrate automated deployment of VPC and Zenoss in the cloud:


Figure 2: VPC in AWS



Figure 3: Automated Zenoss Deployment in AWS



Benefits of Automated AWS Infrastructure

Automated deployment of applications brings several benefits both to engineers and managers alike. When deployment is designed to be repeatable and automated, anyone can perform the deployment allowing engineers to focus on more critical tasks. Repetition makes the whole process less error-prone; thus benefitting the management implicitly. Moreover, these solutions can be extended to provide for other requirements such as multi-region deployments or a simple case of disaster recovery.

Live Migration of MSSQL with MSDTC Support

By leveraging third-party software SIOS DataKeeper, the live migration of the production core MS SQL Server database system was made possible. Initially, an EC2 instance was configured as a failover cluster member to the existing production database, with volume-level replication across an AWS Direct Connect private interconnect. Failover and failback between EC2-based MSSQL and legacy on-premise MSSQL server infrastructure was exercised. The final outcome was a multi-AZ MS SQL on Windows Server EC2 instances with volume-level replication across AZs and WSFC failover / clustering capabilities including MSDTC.

PayScale

About PayScale

Headquartered in Seattle and launched in January 2002, PayScale has been giving light to a once dark area by providing salary, benefits and compensation information. The service not only helps job candidates be informed of what they are worth but also helps companies make competitive salary offers. PayScale has collected the world’s largest salary information database with over 50 million individual salary profiles. The service works by enabling individuals to submit their job and salary profiles and be compared to other individuals in the market. With this volume of information, the company has been able to statistically induce and cater real-time salary information.

The Challenge

PayScale hosts several large Microsoft SQL Server databases with high I/O workload. It is imperative to have measures in place to protect data and be able to recover from any failure without compromising performance of production databases. The company wanted to update their Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan for the databases in the event of a full data center outage and needed a backup site with the infrastructure that could not only keep up with demand and can easily scale but also secure. This is where Amazon Web Services (AWS) was clearly the right choice.

Why Amazon Web Services

Due to the workload of the databases and other existing technologies in place, it was determined using native SQL Server Database Replication would provide the least intrusive way of copying data to the DR site. Amazon EC2 became the natural choice for the DR server. Although Amazon RDS service is available, having a Microsoft SQL Server on EC2 allowed a deeper level of database administration needed to setup this particular replication.

In terms of security, the Microsoft SQL Server DR instance is placed inside a VPC. Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) is a logically isolated virtual network in AWS in which instances and other resources can be securely provisioned. The VPC service allowed staff to connect to the Microsoft SQL Server DR instance via their existing VPN while protecting the instance from unauthorized access.

Data is replicating asynchronously from the datacenter to AWS over VPN connection. A staging instance was setup to be the publisher for the DR databases. The figure below shows the resulting database DR architecture.

Benefits

Aside from providing a DR site for the databases, AWS also became a playground for doing database development and load testing. It became easy to launch a test environment by launching a SQL Server instance with the EBS snapshot of the DR instance. PayScale also has realized upfront cost savings by using AWS Reserved Instance as opposed to the infrastructure on hardware. AWS has helped the company’s agility with cost savings and business continuity.

Cascadeo continues to support and provide MS SQL advice to PayScale to keep the systems running.

Cascadeo AWS Case Study: beBetter Health

About beBetter Health

beBetter Health has been helping companies deliver successful wellness programs for over 25 years. The beBetter System helps employees take action toward improving their health, provides employers with strategies to reduce health care costs and boost employee productivity, and gives brokers everything needed to implement an effective wellness solution.

The Challenge

beBetter Health launched an initiative to build a new Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product to better meet the changing needs of its wellness customers. For earlier web applications, beBetter Health had served its customers from its own, traditional datacenter infrastructure, which had multiple single points of failure and a history of unplanned outages. For the new product, the team wanted to focus its resources and efforts specifically on development and rapid deployment of the new applications without having to simultaneously build and support a new infrastructure.

Given the limited domain knowledge by its own staff and the need to support existing internal IT systems, beBetter Health knew it needed a partner with the solid AWS experience in order to meet its objectives for product go-to-market. beBetter Health partnered with Cascadeo Corporation due to their ability to quickly design, build, and operate a scalable, highly-available AWS infrastructure that could underpin its product performance.

Why Amazon Web Services

beBetter Health chose to build its new application services on AWS after evaluating alternatives including building its own, virtualized infrastructure. Several factors drove the decision including:

To achieve beBetter Health's business objectives, Cascadeo built a secure AWS VPC connected via a VPN to the legacy datacenter and migrated its production servers to an initial three-node deployment using EC2 instances. Cascadeo scaled up the infrastructure to 14 nodes using ELB and RDS to meet increasing demand across beBetter Health's services. As part of the operational strategy to take full advantage of the AWS product suite, Cascadeo has helped beBetter Health to evaluate, test, and deploy new AWS services as they become available.

The Benefits

beBetter Health has been able to keep its operating costs very low, even with many constituents putting new demand on the AWS environment. The costs do grow from month to month but can be monitored and managed effectively by beBetter Health's technical stakeholder who holds a global view of both the constituent demand and the AWS deployment. At the same time, beBetter Health has obtained better uptime, significantly reduced unplanned outages, and increased application performance leading to a better overall user experience. Lastly, AWS has given beBetter Health greater operational flexibility, which has enabled rapid revision of the production environment without wasted time and capital expense. According to beBetter Health's technical lead, "Without Cascadeo, beBetter would not have been able to achieve these results in AWS. Anybody can take a Ferrari out for a lap, but to get the most out AWS, you need some one at the wheel who knows how to drive one."

Chef Certification

About Chef

Chef helps customers automate their infrastructure, allowing for accelerating time to market, managing scale and complexity, and safeguarding systems. Whether your network is in the cloud, on-site, or a hybrid, Chef can automate how you configure, deploy and scale your servers and applications, whether you manage 5 servers, 5,000 servers or 500,000 servers. It's no wonder that Chef has been chosen by companies like Facebook, GE, and Amazon for mission-critical challenges.

The Situation:

Due to an increase in demand for professional services, Chef created a certification process that would link their customers to an eco-system of qualified Chef engineers to leverage for their respective initiatives. Cascadeo was selected as one of the initial partners to complete the training and certification process.

The Chef Certification Program is designed to thoroughly assess, train and verify skills and abilities to successfully deploy Chef, as well as establishing a pattern towards continuous delivery for customers. Chef takes a hands-on approach with partners on joint projects to ensure best practices are well understood and implemented. Additionally, the partner certification program includes active participation in the Chef and DevOps communities, as well as having an internal practice manager to ensure proper knowledge transfer. The certification program is currently invite-only.

As a result of this process, Cascadeo was announced as one of the first Chef certified partners at ChefConf 2015.

The Certification process:

Receiving the Chef certification required several criteria to be met. Cascadeo's engineering team needed to attend a number of Chef-led training sessions and workshops. In addition, Chef shadowed several joint engagements, and also reviewed a range of projects we had previously completed as validation of our work product, approach, and methodologies. Lastly, we needed to have one of our engineers lead a multi-day Chef training seminar.

The Outcome:

Cascadeo's DevOps practice enables our clients to focus on developing their products and services, accelerate time to market, and decrease operational overhead. By providing our clients with certified Cloud and Chef engineers, Cascadeo empowers our clients to integrate proper deployment methodologies, change management strategies, and continuous integration and delivery into their development cycles.

Cascadeo partners with our clients' DevOps, IT, and engineering teams to provide ongoing support, training, infrastructure as code scripting, and CI/CD pipeline methodologies. By leveraging Cascadeo's expertise, customers can more effectively deploy, manage and support all of their environments on 24x7x365 basis.

As part of our partnership with Chef, our engineers have access to additional support services from Chef, get to interact with key individuals and product teams at Chef, and continue to receive and participate in ongoing trainings. This ensures we are leveraging the most current methodologies and best practices for mission critical applications and operations.

Quote:

"Having Cascadeo as a partner strengthens our ability to work with customers across the board. Combining Cascadeo's Chef expertise with their abilities to work with client environments allows us to deliver great solutions together." -- Mahir Lupinacci - Director of Business Development, Chef