Off the back of an 18-month IT transformation phase, Australian company REA Group sought to craft a new Cloud strategy to enable global consistency, increase productivity from its developers and deliver new capabilities often.
The business operates real estate and commercial property advertising sites realestate.com.au and realcommercial.com.au in Australia, which have a combined 8 million entries per month and 650 million page views. It also operates offshore in Italy and has operations staff “scattered” around the world.
REA head of IT and operations, James Wilson, said the company was facing three major hurdles when trying to reach its business goals, with the first being scale.
“We’re a rapidly growing online business and a lot of that growth is being funnelled back into IT, so we’ve pretty much doubled the number of software developers,” Wilson said. “If we want to get the maximum productivity out of a product developer to have an environment that looks, feels and behaves like realestate.com.au, we need to ensure they can test their code regularly.”
The business is a “big Agile shop” and has extended the processes through from software delivery to operations.
“Essentially we’re breaking down the barriers of software delivery and operations to get a better outcome for the business so we hire operations guys who can cut code, we rotate our operations guys through delivery teams so they actually get to work with developers and we also rotate our developers back through operations.”
The organisation had a “creaky” on-premise dev testing environment, Wilson said, which began to hamper productivity along with the increase in the number of developers.
Moving into FY2012 and coming to the end of the rip-and-replace technology transformation, the major focus shifted to the delivery of new code, capabilities and functions every couple of weeks.
“A lot of our processes and technology was all geared up to one project and it wasn’t really for taking the portfolio across our business and deploying lots of new feature sets all through one pipeline, so that was another problem we had to solve.”
Operating internationally, Wilson said there was also the need to align technology for consistency at all REA’s property sites around the world, the majority of which were attained through acquisition and were running many different platforms.
“We could see there was an opportunity for us to find a way to get our products out to the market for new opportunities much quicker with improved developer productivity, continued deployment, and the streamlining of global systems.”
The company opted for a hybrid Cloud model with a mix of both private and public cloud to enable staff to push code through a single deployment pipeline.
“For our private Cloud, which we’ve put in place across our three physical data centres globally. We invested in VMWare’s VSphere and VCloud, which are all API-driven, to ensure our deployment pipeline talks to our private Cloud.”
For public Cloud, REA has invested in Amazon Web Services, using a mixture of products including EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), S3 for storage and FWS (Fulfilment Web Service) for development and testing, with a plan to roll out to production staff by the end of 2011.
“Putting Amazon Web services in for dev testing essentially gives us an unlimited amount of capacity for our developers to test their code, but from my understanding, Amazon are looking after it and I don’t have to worry. So that was a big tick in the box.”
The build of the deployment pipeline, Wilson said, was extensive but essential to avoid having to maintain multiple sets of processes for different environments.
“The ability for us to have a simple system of processes across one market and the ability to spin up new products or launch new products for the websites globally was a key factor in selecting Amazon Web Services, they have multiple availability zones around the world and they add to that list regularly so we have a resource in any of those zones.”
Wilson advised companies to go back to basics when crafting a Cloud strategy to the particular business needs, and to avoid simply choosing the latest and greatest technology.
“We chose Amazon Web Services because they give us global reach and we chose VMWare because we get easy access to skills,” he said. “It was important to maintain vendor neutrality because our business changes so quickly and that’s where the APIs came in.”
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