Qantas.com takes AWS route to the cloud

Following a long deployment process, Qantas has now gone live in Amazon Web Services, with plans to shift more applications into the cloud.

Qantas has predicted moving into the cloud will save the company AU$30 million over five years.

The first step the company has taken to achieve this has been moving its website, Qantas.com, into Amazon Web Services' cloud platform. The recently relaunched website was the company's first "cab off the rank" to move into AWS, in partnership with Sourced. Qantas announced last year it was in the process of moving its website into Amazon Web Services' cloud platform as part of the company's next phase of shifting its workloads into the cloud.

Updates that previously took Qantas months to deploy now only take 30 minutes and infrastructure costs have been reduced by 90 percent.

The journey for the airline giant started a year and a half ago when Qantas.com's technology stack -- server, operating system, database, application service, and content management system -- was either nearing end of support or was already out of support.

"We were operating an important application for Qantas with lots of risk -- and that included potential risk to security vulnerabilities, and risk in terms of stability and resilience -- which could potentially mean an outage of Qantas.com, and that has a very big impact on our business because being the brand and face of Qantas, any outage of Qantas.com is brand damage to the company and also a potential revenue loss of as high as AU$1 million per hour," said Jessica Lin, manager of Qantas' applications for centre of excellence at the recent Amazon Web Services Summit in Sydney.

Lin said the other two drivers for the company to change was the desire to push out new features and applications more quickly to keep up with competition and consumer expectations; and the cultural shift within the company to be more risk adverse and less cautious about the adoption of change.

Some of the more specific goals Qantas was looking to achieve, according to Lin, included the ability to create new products and deliver them faster to consumers; to be able to scale capacity to meet customer demand and volumes, such as when traffic to the website increases during a sale; the ability to fail fast with new software; and to test applications quickly.

Introducing greater automation was also on top of the list for Qantas, Lin said, and explained it would give the business the capability to increase compute power or storage with a click of a button, order a replica of an application so it can be tested in isolation, enhance overall application delivery speed, and reduce human error when it comes to quality and security control.

The company ran an initial proof of concept to gain executive sponsorship and demonstrate there was value in migrating to the cloud. The proof of concept saw a small part of Qantas.com move into AWS.

"Qantas.com was an ideal use case because it's an application everyone recognises," Lin said.

While the initial thought that moving into the cloud was for cost saving purposes, Lin said it was later realised the "true benefit" of cloud was capability uplift where it allows the company the speed to innovate faster and push out new products.

"[The] cost saving is still there but it has become more of an icing on the cake," she said.

Lin added that during the initial process of moving Qantas.com into AWS, there was an assumption the company would be able to move Qantas.com as a whole with minimal changes made to the application itself, only to recognise during the migration that the company would not be able to benefit from the move completely.

"We changed our course and rewrote our apps from the ground up so we could transform the application to become more cloud native, to be more of a microservice architecture, so we could truly take advantage of Amazon cloud," she said.

Another learning point that was recognised by the company was the need to move Qantas.com in an iterative way, rather than moving the website as a single platform. Lin noted this approach gave the company the opportunity to "get comfortable with the platform before moving more critical applications".

Lin pointed out that as part of the current transition process the company is managing Qantas.com out of two separate datacentres: One in AWS and the other in an on-premises datacentre. Akamai Technologies has been appointed to manage the two sites through using URL pattern matching.

"We're testing our migration throughout the entire process and not just testing the application itself; it's also testing the automation and the processes we put in place of the cloud platform so we can continuously fine tune, and optimise the process and solution."

Last November, the company went live with its first application, the weather application, as it was a low-risk application. A month later, the destination guide on Qantas.com went live on AWS, which Lin highlighted was a lot more critical because it's a revenue generator as well as the company's content management system.

In addition to the migration, the company has been moving more microservices architecture into AWS since the end of last year.

"Between the function of releases, we have small releases going live such as hot patches to applications, and even small bug fixes. We see the delivery cycle is a lot more frequent than we could achieve before."

The company has also observed nearly 100 percent uptime on Qantas.com.

"So when customers visit our site it's always up and functioning as expected. But it doesn't mean failures don't happen; they still happen but the difference is our application can recover itself gracefully through auto-healing and auto-scaling ... no one needs to be woken out of bed to respond to incidents like they did before," Lin said.

Qantas also now has complete visibility of its platform including the usage and cost of the platform and the health of its applications, and with this Lin said she is able to speak to the business in a more "data-driven fashion".

"It gives more confidence and comfort level in what product we're pushing out to our customers. Also the conversation with our suppliers is more fact driven. We can talk to our supplier to say the SLA has not been met and we have the facts to back up that statement. Instead of relying when we talk to a supplier with gut feel or with emotions ... now it's a more rational conversation driven by facts."

Qantas also plans to move more applications into the cloud including big data for data mining purposes, and its flight planning application, which was used as a proof of concept during testing phase.

"In the past it would take three to four months to get a solution that would be optimal to help us decide whether it's possible to fly in that market. In the proof of concept we took the application and ran it parallel on Amazon cloud and saw 70 to 80 instances; we were able to complete the algorithm within an hour's time."