Sparco International customer story

Control and flexibility in a future-proof, managed AWS environment.

The customer

Building loyalty strategies and helping their worldwide customers make those strategies successful. That is Sparco International in a nutshell. But of course there is a lot more to it, such as running their own distribution centre for shipping program rewards to customers. This global, 24/7 business called for a lot more IT flexibility than Sparco had. Going more cloud-native on AWS with the right partner brought them that, and more.

Sparco International has been in business for over 20 years. This Dutch company serves customers around Europe in many different sectors and helps them with building loyalty strategies and programs for retaining their end customers. Airlines, cosmetic manufacturers, financial institutions, telecom providers and many more benefit from these strategies, which are tailored exactly to their needs. Sparco also takes care of fulfilment, using their own 2.000 m2 distribution centre, operated from the Netherlands.

In addition, Sparco builds websites for customers’ loyalty programs to make sure traffic is handled in the right way and end customers receive the best possible experience when shopping for rewards.

Industry: e-commerce

The challenge.

The platform of Sparco International was built up in a datacenter of a Dutch independent managed hosting provider. Although this solution met Sparco’s needs to some extent, they were actually looking for more flexibility.

Besides being a relatively costly option, there were some other points on which this managed hosting platform didn’t quite hit the mark. The level of control was insufficient in the sense that they had to rely on the provider for every change to the infrastructure that was needed. Simple things like up- and downscaling and increasing or decreasing memory would therefore take too long or weren’t possible at all within the contract.

An important consideration for using a managed service is that you can rely on the service and support of the provider. In general, this was a concern and Sparco wasn’t happy with the level of service they received. There was an increasing desire for shorter communication lines and more direct methods of interaction with engineers.

An example of this was the process of applying for and renewing certificates for the many webshops and websites Sparco provides to their customers.

For each certificate change Sparco needed to instruct the managed hosting provider to perform some actions. The managed hosting provider needed to create a signing request (csr) manually and then they could buy a new certificate from a certificate provider. The domain needed to be validated by the customer and then the new certificate could be manually uploaded to the load balancer by the managed hosting provider for activation. All in all a time consuming and error sensitive process.

A similar process had to be followed for adding a new website. In addition to following all of these steps, Sparco had to rely on their provider to handle requests properly. This didn’t always work out and often took more time 
than Sparco wanted.

The approach.

Sparco was already using AWS for a number of applications, so they were already familiar with the concepts and terminology of the AWS platform. Sparco’s environment consists mainly of Microsoft components, but they wanted to make an honest assessment of which cloud platform would work best for them. AWS came out a winner pretty quickly after showing Sparco the possibilities for migrating their environment and showing them the ease of use on AWS. Also from a financial perspective, going to AWS would lead to a much more realistic monthly budget.

Sparco International and Oblivion got into contact through mutual networks. But before starting a cloud journey like this one, it is important to really get to know each other and have a good understanding of the situation, approach and the end goal.

Oblivion started off by performing a review of the Sparco environment. We used this occasion to speak with Sparco about technique, but also about all other aspects of migrating to the public cloud such as strategy, operating model and cost management. It soon became clear to them that doing this together with an experienced partner was the way to go.

Together with Sparco, we divided the project into three major parts; the design and build of a secure, scalable and cost effective landing zone, the migration of their environment to AWS and management of the new environment and its costs. Sparco decided to work with us, because we provided them guidance and control. We agreed on doing this project together with their DevOps team, to raise the knowledge level on AWS. For Oblivion this way of working is preferred, because it means that companies we work with are highly engaged.

The solution.

We started by diving deeper in the Sparco applications and the dependencies of all components in the environment. Also we discussed future plans with Sparco. With all information combined, we came to a design of a landing zone, based on the Oblivion CloudFoundation model, which reflected all Sparco’s current and future IT needs.

The new situation consist of three environments:

  • Test
  • Production
  • Shared Services

The Production and Shared Services environments are each run in their own VPC. The workload has been designed to allow maintenance with minimal disruption and withstand an Availability Zone (AZ) failure, so all type resources have been created in multiple AZs.

The web application is hosted on EC2 instances in an Auto Scaling group, 
to ensure that resources are always optimized for any load and that the application will auto-heal in case of failure. The web content is being stored 
on FSx for Windows which is a fully managed file share. The application state is stored in multiple RDS SQL databases. This managed database provides flexibility and performance, while giving Sparco the option to use their existing SQL databases in a managed environment.

All different components have been joined to a new domain in an AWS Managed Active Directory.

The result.

Sparco now has a high performance AWS platform for their applications, on which they can develop with a DevOps way of working. The platform itself is managed and supported by Oblivion. There is direct interaction between Sparco developers and Oblivion engineers for speedy communication and resolution of issues.

With the new platform, Sparco now has total control of the onboarding process, without having to wait for others to issue certificates, IP addresses et cetera. Requests for certificates are now highly automated and are done through the API (CloudFormation). AWS Certificate Manager automatically validates when the domain is owned and in Route 53. Using the same CloudFormation template, certificates are automatically attached to the 
Load Balancer. In many cases this automation can be used for renewal of certificates as well. This saves Sparco a lot of time.

Next steps.

Besides maintaining the new environment, Oblivion also takes care of providing tools and expertise for cost management. By implementing our Cloud Capacity service, Sparco now has full and in-depth visibility of their costs and receives recommendations on how to optimize structurally.

By discovering usage trends, they can now make informed decisions on deploying reserved instances, using savings plans and right sizing.

Thanks to Oblivion, our IT infrastructures are more flexible and scalable than ever before while still being cost-efficient for our workloads. Migrating our platform from private cloud to AWS and training our staff to be able to manage it themselves made us much more independent in further developing our IT landscape.

Lian van Os Manager Project management and Development at Sparco International
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