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400 servers to one cloud - Finnair takes rare opportunity of low demand to drive systems migration

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There is never a good time to migrate 70 applications hosted on approximately 400 servers across to the cloud, but the COVID-19 pandemic has presented an environment that has allowed the Nordic flag carrier Finnair to achieve a flexible, scalable system ready for the recovery in post-pandemic travel.

The investment, designed to ultimately deliver longer term cost savings, is complex, but the reduced travel demand has provided the ideal time for the airline to undertake the move, turning to its Amazon Web Services (AWS) partner Nordcloud to support the journey.

Nordcloud, now part of IBM, has 10 European hubs and more than 500 employees, and has now delivered more than 1,000 cloud projects for companies ranging from mid size to large corporates. Its Managed Cloud Migration allows companies to reduce the financial and operational risk of migrating to the cloud, which is a factor that often causes most alarm for businesses making the transition.

Finnair’s project was particularly big and complex, involving approximately 400 servers and 70 applications which were vital to Finnair’s daily operations.

The estate was a mixture of Windows, SAP, VMware, legacy Windows 2008, Windows 2003 and even Windows 2000, Oracle, and IBM AIX software. In addition, some parts of the technology estate, such as the ticketing booths, had not been touched for 20 years, and required updating before the migration was even possible.

Nordcloud and AWS partner under joint governance model to ensure full transparency

Nordcloud worked with AWS to run an Optimization and licence Assessment (OLA). It conducted a full total cost of ownership (TCO) evaluation and business case for Finnair and identified the potential for substantial savings in both capacity and licence costs.

Together, Nordcloud and AWS provided the plan to build the business case for the migration to AWS, as well as showing how to modernise workloads once the move had been made. Along with cost savings the move also provides Finnair with the scalability and flexibility to support future growth.

Then two things happened at the same time – COVID-19 stopped air travel overnight and Finnair was nearing the end of its existing contract with its previous provider.

Lockdown provides opportunity to migrate in months

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Finnair saw a rare opportunity to drive the migration forward. With the drastic reduction in travel, mission-critical applications weren’t operating at normal capacity, which reduced the business risks of migration. And, of course, with air travel virtually stopped, the company also had an urgent need to reduce costs.

Time was of the essence – Finnair needed to migrate fast while demand was very low. By using AWS Application Migration Service and AWS CloudEndure Migration Factory Solution, Finnair was quickly able to lift and shift their Windows and Linux-based applications to AWS with minimal disruption and make the move at the necessary speed. In just seven months Finnair had moved all of its Microsoft workloads onto AWS and ended its data centre contracts on time.

“People didn’t think the move could be executed in such a short timeframe, especially given constraints around coronavirus”, says Tiina Flytström, head of infrastructure and cybersecurity at Finnair.

Finnair exits old data centres and flies to the cloud

Finnair’s reliance on SAP for maintenance and operations software and IBM’s AIX and DB2 software was reduced with a shift to AWS-native solutions Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and SAP Hana on AWS.

Workloads on Windows, SQL, and legacy workloads on Windows server 2008 were also migrated to AWS. Finnair completely exited their data centres between September 2020 and March 2021. The migration went smoothly, despite the challenges of working under pandemic restrictions.

“The migration result was a wonderful surprise! People didn’t think it could be executed in such a short timeframe, especially given constraints around coronavirus”, explains Ms Flytström.

“But we executed the migration as planned. Basic incidents have more or less disappeared, and given that every incident is costly, this is a great result. Even though the TCO calculation process was fast, we are on track, and the business is saving a very significant amount of money.”

Successful migration brings improved cost control and savings

Finnair was initially considering other hyperscalers but chose to work with AWS because of the “great experience” they had previously had running other workloads on it, and due “to their culture, their focus on innovation and the availability of experienced experts” to support with migrating critical workloads specific to the airline industry.

The migration has provided the airline with two key financial programmes that supported the transition.

Firstly, Nordcloud coordinated with AWS experts to help Finnair access AWS funding to offset the initial cloud migration costs. Funding came from the AWS Migration Acceleration Program (MAP). This included funding for a migration readiness assessment and building the business case. There was also matched funding from AWS during the mobilise phase for creating a landing zone and making a migration plan.

Secondly, through access to Nordcloud’s Managed Cloud Migration process. A normal migration racks up a variety of upfront costs – there is the initial consultancy, creation of a landing zone, followed by the actual migration costs.

Even after this stage companies still need to pay out to transition to managed services so that they can optimise their cloud infrastructure to achieve the best value. And for at least some of this period organisations are in a cost migration bubble – also paying for their existing infrastructure to run in parallel.

The Managed Cloud Migration process provides a way to avoid any capital expenditure in favour of monthly operational expenditure. This means organisations can start to benefit from their cloud migration faster with no upfront costs and less financial risk.

This integrated approach to migration and managed services helps companies optimise their infrastructure as they migrate, reduce licence and capacity costs, speed up feature releases, and achieve value faster.

Migration leaves Finnair fit for the future

While the focus was on migrating Finnair quickly and without disruption while also rapidly cutting costs, the migration has also provided the airline with the benefits of a future-ready and agile infrastructure able to bounce back as travel restrictions end. AWS services have provided the foundation for Finnair to continue its digital transformation, contributing to future growth of the company.

The change has also helped the wider organisation move to a more DevOps culture while increasing flexibility and cost savings.

AWS has provided both the scalability to cut capacity quickly when the pandemic struck, but it has also left the airline with an infrastructure that can cope with the continued uncertainties that airlines must deal with.

Finnair will be able to scale up very quickly as travel restrictions change and demand for air travel returns, while keeping a tight control on costs until that moment comes.