Demonstrating the power of VMC on AWS with iSelect

About

iSelect grew out of a need to compare complex products in an easy, yet accurate way. Its vision is to make Australians’ lives easier by saving them time, effort and money, supporting them to compare and purchase insurance, utilities and personal finance products.  

While a digitally native company, iSelect has been in the market for two decades, and is now in the midst of a ‘Smart Tech’ cloud modernisation strategy to ensure its infrastructure is aligned with future business needs.

Overview

iSelect was previously running hundreds of VMs on three VMware clusters across two Data Centres. With a remit to modernise its data centre-based infrastructure and expedite its transition to the cloud, iSelect considered multiple approaches, including cloud native. However, after a single node Pilot on VMware Cloud (VMC) on AWS, the long term benefits were clear and iSelect committed to a rapid all-in migration.

The challenge

iSelect faced several business challenges:

  • Time – iSelect wanted a solution that could be deployed in weeks, not months, to support overarching goals.
  • Security and Resilience – recovery time was previously taking hours, not minutes. iSelect needed a solution that eliminated or minimised outages as their website is visited by customers 24×7.
  • Business continuity – iSelect needed a solution that could manage short-term disruption while maintaining an end-point aligned to its Smart Tech strategy.
  • Workforce challenges – when the project commenced, iSelect was moving its entire workforce to work from home during the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown. Of almost 600 employees, only two were left in the office. This created extra complexity in undertaking a significant project at speed.

The solution

iSelect chose a Multi-AZ Stretched Cluster due to its mission-critical workloads. This enables these workloads to automatically reboot into the alternate AZ in the event that the cluster in one AZ goes down. Synchronisation of the vSAN data across both AZs is automatically handled over the AWS high-speed interconnects.

CMD was able to work around the Direct Connect delay by creating an IPSec tunnel over public internet for the first few weeks of the project. VMware’s Hybrid Cloud Extension (HCX) was used to stretch the vLANs from the On-Prem environment to the VMware SDDC (Software Defined Data Centre) using the IPSec tunnel. This enabled the team to migrate some initial Non-prod workloads and get the broader iSelect team comfortable with VMC on AWS.

There was a significant amount of uplift and remediation work required to get the On-Prem VMware clusters up to compatibility for VMC on AWS. This included creating vSphere Distributed Switches (vDS), implementing vLAN tagging and ensuring individual VMs were running compatible Hardware versions.

Once the 1Gbps Direct Connect was in place, CMD worked with the iSelect team to kick-off the mass migration of VMs. They were able to take advantage of VMware’s new Replication Assisted vMotion (RAV) feature to replicate batches of VMs in the background and then control the cutover time without requiring a reboot of the VM. This met iSelect’s requirement to keep downtime for its Production websites to a minimum.

Services deployed

AWS Services

  • New AWS Account (linked to VMware Shadow Account)
  • Direct Connect VIF
  • Storage Gateway
  • IAM
  • CloudWatch

Third-Party Services

  • VMware Cloud (VMC) on AWS
  • vCentre

Throughout the migration, the iSelect team was involved at every step to ensure a smooth handover.

“Nothing with CMD was too hard, everything was collaborative, and any question was a good question to be asked. Knowledge on how to support the new platform was transitioned throughout the project. And there’s still a lifeline if we need it. That working relationship has been invaluable.”
– Shannon Henwood, Head of Technology, iSelect

The result

Once high-speed connectivity was in place, over 200 VMs were migrated over a two-week period. This was achieved with zero outages, no down time, no need for modifying IP addressing and on budget. Recovery now occurs seamlessly in minutes.

Demonstrating the power of VMC on AWS for rapid, non-disruptive Cloud migrations, this puts iSelect in a great place to continue its Cloud Adoption and Modernisation program with low-latency connectivity to native AWS services.

“It gives me the ability to build muscle memory in Cloud. We can ramp up activities that previously would have been too difficult, because we’ve proven the art of the possible.”
– Shannon Henwood, Head of Technology, iSelect