iSelect pushes ahead with cloud data migration during COVID-19

In a bid to improve availability, eliminate downtime, and the need to modify IP addresses.

Until earlier this year, iSelect was running hundreds of virtual machines (VMs) on three VMware clusters across two data centres.

But following an investigation into how the company could leverage VMware Cloud (VMC) on Amazon Web Services (AWS) to modernise its data centre infrastructure -- as part of group's broader goal to be completely cloud-native -- and a quick proof-of-concept, iSelect worked with technology partner CMD Solutions to implement an all-in migration.

iSelect head of technology Shannon Henwood said the goal was to achieve three key outcomes: Improve availability, eliminate outages and downtime, and to eliminate the need to modify IP addresses.

At the same time, Henwood was determined to overcome other business challenges by migrating to a solution that would help improve the company's security capabilities, was more resilient, and provided business continuity.

"I didn't want to do this to just move from X to Y, I wanted to add in more security, I wanted more reliability, I wanted to be performant … I said if I'm doing this, then I want those to be at least 50% better," he told ZDNet.

Within two weeks of drawing up initial plans, iSelect migrated over 200 VMs onto VMC and deployed other AWS services, including Cloudwatch, Identity and Access Management, Storage Gateway, and Direct Connect virtual interface.

The process involved initially migrating small, non-critical workloads, before moving the larger workloads that included the company's core website application stack for its Health business, which consisted of approximately 30TB of data and its custom-built CRM.

See also: How to run business critical apps on VMware Cloud on AWS: Mitigating major concerns (TechRepublic)

But the migration was not the only thing Henwood had to worry about.

The project commenced around the same time iSelect moved its workforce of almost 600 employees from working in an office environment to working from home during the onset of the enforced COVID-19 lockdown. This included figuring out how the company's contact centre -- which relied on physical desktops and on-premise custom CRM -- was going to make the shift.

Because of the changing environment, Henwood said he was "cognisant of not killing the network" during the migration process.  

"It was always part of the plan to go cloud-native. Timing was everything. Had I had my time again, would I have done it then? No. But we just needed to do it, and everything fell into place at the same time," he said.

"There was a sense of urgency around that time too to make sure there we were extra resilient in everything, and that DR (disaster recovery) was factored in."

As part of next steps, Henwood said the company remained on track to complete its cloud-first migration strategy. 

"We did have a strategic goal and we still do have a strategic goal to move everything into cloud-first, cloud-native," he said. "Some of our CRM is in Salesforce, part of our website is already sitting in AWS … and we're continuing with that over the next 18 months to finish that off."

Updated 27 July 2019, 4:39pm (AEST): Corrected spelling of iSelect spokesperson.

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