Healthdirect Australia's punt on AWS puts the company in the cloud

When Healthdirect Australia decided to overhaul its business strategy, it took the chance of working with Amazon Web Services to move its infrastructure into the public cloud.

Five years after being established as a telephony-based contact centre by the Council of Australian Governments, Healthdirect Australia changed its business strategy to become a digital health information service provider.

As part of making that change, the company adopted an approach that software applications were going to be crucial if it were to offer its digital services across its brands, including Pregnancy Birth and Baby, after hours GP helpline Mindhealthconnect, and National Health Services Directory.

In making that decision, Bruce Haefele, Healthdirect Australia chief architect, explained that the company took the punt to engage Amazon Web Services to assist with helping it redevelop its content delivery platform.

However at that time of making the decision, AWS hadn't yet established a local presence in Australia -- but for Healthdirect it was crucial, Haefele said. He explained the work it was going to be doing was for government, and had to be compliant with certain security standards.

"At the time we had a government mandate that came from the Department of Finance where you just couldn't put any government workloads into the public cloud.

"We took the position that because we had a bit of latitude, we weren't committed to comply with all the government standards at that stage. Obviously we had to comply with the Privacy Act, but we didn't fall under the Information Security Manuel (ISM)," he said.

Haefele revealed the company went through months of preparation work in anticipation that AWS would open its local datacentre. Some of the preparation work undertaken included negotiations between the company's and AWS' lawyers to ensure Healthdirect would remain compliant with all the government security standards; convincing the board that moving onto AWS was the company's best option; and testing some workloads with AWS.

Fortunately, Haefele said when the board approved the move, AWS opened its local datacentre, and it was then a matter of rebuilding the platform on AWS because the company was greenfield.

"We were lucky enough to not have a lot of baggage. We only had one website at that point," he said.

Shortly after moving to AWS, Healthdirect was awarded a contract with what was then known as the Department of Ageing to help build a consumer-facing ageing gateway. Winning the contract also meant that the company and AWS had to be compliant with the federal government's IMS.

However, unable to become compliant within the five-month deadline that they were given, Haefele said Healthdirect established, as an alternative, an infrastructure in a traditional environment. Earlier this year, this infrastructure was migrated onto AWS.

Haefele said the only applications the company continues to keep on-premises are encryption keys.

He added that since the company moved onto AWS, he has recognised how agile the business has become.

"We were finding that we had a complex infrastructure and it would take two months to deploy. But clearly that wasn't going to be responsive enough for the work we do with government," he said.