Foreign exchange service OFX embarks on cloud migration

Aims to complete shift to AWS by end of the year

ASX-listed foreign exchange service OzForex, which trades as OFX, has embarked on a program that will see it move almost the entirety of its production environment into Amazon Web Services’ cloud by the end of 2016.

Given that OFX is almost two decades old — it was founded in 1998 — it is a stretch it describe it as a startup, but chief technology officer Craige Pendleton-Browne says that the move to cloud is part of driving an innovative culture in a heavily regulated sector.

“We operate in a fairly regulated environment and yet we came out of that startup culture,” the CTO says. “The thing that prompted the move to cloud for me is really around innovation and maintaining the ability to be able to be agile.”

It’s hardly the CTO’s first experience with cloud migrations: During a stint at News Limited he moved the company’s development environments to AWS, and while at iCareHealth (later acquired by Telstra Health) he oversaw a partnership with Microsoft Azure.

The benefits of cloud when you’re building products and can remove the time and upfront costs of infrastructure out of the equation are “phenomenal,” Pendleton-Browne says.

“When I first joined News, for example, I had very fixed physical environments – you could only run so much concurrent activity at any one time. When you move all of that into AWS, you can run as much as you want to in parallel and the cost becomes an operational cost rather than a capex cost.”

“I think if we want to continue to be competitive, when we need to be able to respond in the same way a startup would respond,” he says. “When I look at, for example, the traditional way of building a SQL cluster, it could take a couple of days’ worth of work just to get the architecture right, get the stuff installed, get it configured.

“To build the same the environment using AWS’s RDS, it’s five lines of code. That’s just an example of the change you get in productivity and innovation by moving to the cloud.”

OFX currently has development environments running in AWS and before the end of the year it will have most of its production workload running in Amazon’s cloud. Some systems that have external dependencies will take a little bit longer to be migrated, but those that OFX has 100 per cent control over should be moved by the end of 2016

The project, which began in February, has a “fairly aggressive timescale,” the CTO acknowledges.

Despite that, OFX won’t carry out a pure lift-and-shift; instead he says it will be a blended approach that will involve rebuilding some services and doing a lift-and-shift for others in order to carry out the migration as quickly as possible and begin to realise the benefits of the transition.

OFX is leaning on Rackspace and Sourced for the cloud move and post-migration operations.

“OFX had a long-standing relationship with Rackspace and I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Sourced – they did some work for me at previous companies,” said Pendleton-Browne.

“Rackspace are now providing their ‘fanatical support’ for AWS; my long-term plan is to really focus on what we’re really good at doing, which is developing our product,” he says.

“I think one of the key things for me is the partner landscape for AWS has matured significantly over the last couple of years. If I go back four years ago, it was very difficult to get partners that have a lot of experience in AWS and you wouldn’t have got partners collaborating together the way the way it’s happening today.

“I get a lot of benefits out of having both Sourced and Rackspace working on this transformation for us because they each bring different components to it. Rackspace bring the fanatical support model and a real understanding of how you run operations, and Sourced bringing this real understanding of how rebuild your pipeline and how you do you create the ability to be able to leverage AWS infrastructure for development of products.”

At OFX the ultimate objective is to be able to move to a “cost per feature”, the CTO says: “I could actually say ‘this feature’s going to cost me, for arguments sake, three developers for two days, one tester for two days and it’s going to cost me three grand to run the infrastructure and get it into production. It turns it into a variable cost of product development rather than a fixed cost of doing business.”

OFX was founded in Sydney in 1998 as OzForex. Initially it offered information about foreign exchange, and in early 2003 it began conducting international payment transactions.

The company announced in May underlying net operating income of $103.9 million for FY16, up 15 per cent on the prior year, on transactions worth $19.6 billion. It was the first time the company surpassed $100m in net operating income, and came on the back of 150,900 active clients.

OFX in August announced that it would seek to double revenue within three years, using a three-pillar approach based on its brand and marketing, staff and internal culture, and its technology.

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