Greg Dowmont, Cloud engineer at AND Digital, explains how moving from a monolithic platform to microservices using Amazon Web Services (AWS) can bring business benefits and help technical teams shift to a DevOps mindset.
The monolithic challenge
A common problem for AND customers, especially larger organisations, is that they struggle with monolithic IT infrastructures. As companies grow, systems are expanded. Or systems are ‘borged’ together as a result of a takeover or merger, with little strategic thought for the future.
The result is a resource-heavy set-up with very little visibility into what individual applications are doing and how they interact with other components. Every update requires more resources just to support the same number of users, and procurement of new capacity is slow and expensive. The worst examples are IT systems which dictate what the company can do, not the other way around.
Recently, AND Digital has been working with a large retail client that was pushed to its limits by just such an unwieldy and monolithic set of applications that ran several of its customer websites. The release schedule had become unmanageable: several teams were working on different parts of each app, so every new release required complex cooperation between the teams.
The company needed to find a way to control costs and increase transparency. By helping it break down its applications into a smaller, microservices model, using AWS Fargate, AWS App Mesh, and AWS X-Ray, we were able to improve overall performance, accelerate the speed of new releases, and increase automation across the board.
Migrating the apps, but bringing the team along too
Moving to microservices does more than just increase the transparency of systems. It also allows you to re-build internal processes. By creating smaller teams with total responsibility for different aspects of the platform, the approach helps empower people by giving them back control over their work. Of course, this does not just happen on its own. AND Digital offers a range of coaching and mentoring services to expand our customer’s skills and capabilities, and to build the best collaborative teams.
Our aim is always to leave teams with the skills they need so that by the end of the project they don’t need us.
In the case of the large retailer, we set up weekly meetings to discuss major decisions with the wider business as the project progressed. Our focus on people helped keep people aligned on what was needed and aware of the benefits the project could bring.
Pre-migration, the cadence for deployment had been monthly, with a rollup of changes from all of the different squads. Post-migration, each squad could deploy independently of one another as often as they choose. Squads adopted a format for other applications to access their data, leaving them free to make any internal changes they wish. AND worked carefully to negotiate this change for both the developers and the people managing the project, allowing greater autonomy for each squad.
We also looked at how to automate the deployment, build process, and development pipeline. Previously, each step had been largely manual and took place in isolation, and it could take up to six weeks to provision a new environment. After we had streamlined and automated processes, using infrastructure-as-code tools like Terraform, provisioning times were reduced to just six hours.
A change in mindset
Changing minds and working practices is harder than changing systems. Moving to Agile, DevOps working practices will help you get the most out of your migration and your people.
AND Digital’s steps to DevOps:
Communicate clearly and honestly at every stage of the process.
Empower teams by giving them real ownership of their work – ideally from development to deployment. That autonomy will speed development and remove staff frustrations.
Expect pushback and resistance. People can feel threatened when asked to change established ways of working. You need to invest in time and training to reassure them and help them understand the positives of the change.
Push the process beyond the IT department – the wider the change, the greater impact it will have on the whole business.
Do not underestimate the complexity of implementing Agile working. We have the experience to successfully help your business, and your people, on this journey.
Want to know more?
AND Digital can help you in your Cloud journey. We have a wealth of expertise in Cloud migration initiatives and can help you decide whether a move to microservices is the right choice for your workloads.
To learn more about AWS Fargate, AWS App Mesh, and AWS X-Ray, including how they can control costs and increase transparency, talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.