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How MLSE Unlocked the Speed of Innovation by Migrating to AWS with OpsGuru

Marcus Fortino, Director Sales, OpsGuru
How MLSE Unlocked the Speed of Innovation by Migrating to AWS with OpsGuru

Recently, OpsGuru had the opportunity to sit down with Anil Pillai, Vice-President of IT Infrastructure and Operations for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE). During this chat, Pillai shared the process of migrating to AWS and the build-out processes for MLSE’s hospitality environment and MLSE Digital Labs. 

During this discussion, we took a deep dive into the motivation for and execution of MLSE migrating to AWS successfully, including challenges they experienced along the way, how they used Amazon EKS to build a self-service platform with well-defined KPIs and migrated mission-critical workloads.  

Read on to discover how MLSE engaged with OpsGuru and AWS Professional Services to help with the high-profile migration using core AWS services like Amazon CloudFront, Amazon S3, and Amazon ECS. 

Revolutionizing Digital Apps in the Cloud

Driven by the allure of agility and the ability to convert capital expenses into operating expenses, MLSE began its cloud journey in 2016. Initially, they took a self-taught approach to cloud adoption and chose not to work with a partner. However, it didn’t take long before the benefits became apparent, leading MLSE to decide to explore more significant endeavours within the cloud.

In 2017, MLSE capitalized on an opportunity to execute its first significant lift and shift to the cloud. This involved migrating their point of sale (POS) systems which support their extensive food and beverage and concessions operations across multiple locations. Despite the complexity of migrating roughly 1000 POS systems and some design decisions that impacted their ability to scale, the project was deemed a huge success and a catalyst for adopting a cloud-first strategy.

MLSE realized the need for a cloud-native architecture to support its ever-expanding digital landscape. Their CTO led their transformation, orchestrating the shift from a traditional IT organization to a consolidated technology and digital team. This reimagined MLSE as one of the largest sports tech companies globally, specifically in digital apps.

The transition presented MLSE with new challenges. They needed to support development teams in building customer-facing web applications, which required enhanced productivity and scalability. Their existing approach, though improved, needed more sustainability and scalability. Technical debt accumulated, highlighting the need for a more standardized, forward-facing strategy.

MLSE adopted infrastructure as code, realizing the importance of automating and improving operations. Opting for Terraform enables them to cater to diverse development needs while being flexible enough to accommodate their multi-cloud experimentation. However, they still needed help with the absence of templates and consistency in their approach.

It was at this point that MLSE realized that if they were going to continue to create a strong infrastructure, they would need help to make these transitions successfully. They needed both a better account structure and governance model with a focus on building a platform that would be scalable for the future. 

Enter OpsGuru. 

Shifting Towards a Future-Oriented Cloud Strategy

MLSE's partnership discussions with OpsGuru about migrating to AWS presented an opportunity to address their scalability concerns head-on. Rather than merely lifting and shifting their existing infrastructure, they sought a future-oriented approach. 

While they had attempted self-navigation in the cloud, they realized that isolated decisions were not resulting in cumulative design and outcomes. As MLSE's development teams surpassed the infrastructure team's AWS knowledge, it became evident that external guidance was beneficial to unlocking further opportunities , and enabling scalability. 

Recognizing the expertise and experience offered by the OpsGuru team, MLSE opted for an external partner to guide them toward their goals for migrating to AWS.

MLSE's primary goals were focused on unlocking developer velocity, enhancing stability, reducing technical debt, and lightening the infrastructure and operations team's burden. MLSE envisioned the cloud working for them rather than merely working in the cloud. 

Mobilizing MLSE’s Migration Journey with AWS

OpsGuru leveraged the AWS Migration Acceleration Program (MAP) to expedite its migration journey and maximize innovation. 

The MAP experience with OpsGuru was unlike anything MLSE had experienced before, with close attention to detail, and a focus on understanding stakeholder wants and needs. 

OpsGuru’s stakeholder questionnaires and envisioning processes allowed the internal stakeholders to come together and express what was important to them and what they hoped to get out of the significant financial commitment and people effort being made with this transition. 

It also provided an opportunity for the OpsGuru team to showcase the extensive knowledge and skills the team were bringing to the project. 

The MAP program consisted of three phases: assessment, mobilization, and migration. 

Phase 1: AssessmentThe MAP program begins with the assessment phase, where OpsGuru and MLSE worked on building a solid case for change. By articulating what was important to them, MLSE's internal stakeholders laid the foundation for successfully migrating to AWS.

This process helped them understand the significant investment required and align their goals for the project. The support from the local AWS team and access to a vast partner network provided MLSE with valuable guidance during this phase.

Phase 2: MobilizationDuring the mobilization phase, OpsGuru implemented its migration plan. They tested the feasibility, piloted workloads in AWS billing, and established the necessary frameworks and guardrails. This phase allowed MLSE to carry its plan forward with confidence. 

 To achieve this, OpsGuru guided them to establish self-service methodologies that provided organizational guardrails while offering developers an intuitive and easy-to-use environment. They focused on adopting an 80-20 rule, making 80% of commonly used tools and functionalities available to the development teams from day one. 

 This approach proposed by OpsGuru was aimed to facilitate developer buy-in and accelerate value realization — both of which would be key factors in the overall success of the project. 

Phase 3: Migration and ModernizationThe migrate and modernize phase marked the final stage of MLSE's migrating to AWS. MLSE consciously anchored its approach to Kubernetes, leveraging its benefits for containerization. The focus was building a solid networking foundation, ensuring seamless connectivity between on-premises resources and the cloud.

MLSE successfully migrated their Point of Sale (POS) systems, including those in BMO Field, the home of Toronto FC and Toronto Argonauts. This migration led to immediate improvements in app performance, order accuracy, and overall customer satisfaction.

The MAP process set the tone for how OpsGuru could guide MLSE’s migration journey and once the envisioning and planning phases were complete, the construction of the Statement of Work (SOW) began. The process further solidified the decision to work with OpsGuru, showcasing how deeply the OpsGuru team understood the client’s capabilities and the alignment with their vision. 

Unlocking New Possibilities Through Migrating to AWS

With OpsGuru, MLSE was able to implement an end-to-end secure and scalable containerized environment leveraging Amazon EKS.

One of the project’s significant achievements was accelerating MLSE’s development process. Working with OpsGuru enabled MLSE’s app teams to build faster, dramatically improving project timelines and operational costs. 

For example, the second iteration of a public-facing app for the NHL was constructed in just two weeks, significantly reducing the time and expense compared to the previous version. The staging and production environments deployment took only a few hours, freeing up infrastructure teams to focus on integrations and other priorities.

Having built a solid foundation, MLSE is now focused on expanding its cloud adoption and unlocking new possibilities. They plan to migrate their data and integration workloads, again adopting the successful 80/20 rule. MLSE is excited about the potential of accelerating research and development, business intelligence, and data science initiatives. 

Overall, by choosing to work with OpsGuru for this project, MLSE's journey migrating to AWS with the MAP program has been a remarkable success. 

 When asked about how working with OpsGuru impacted the MLSE teams, Anil had this to say —

 “When we started we had no real idea on how big the impact would be. We knew the dev teams would be more self-sufficient, we knew security and governance adherence would be better, we knew architecturally we had a good foundation and we knew that our infrastructure and operations teams wouldn’t be stretched. But we didn’t know how fast we’d be able to accelerate. We’re thrilled with the results.”

By leveraging AWS and partnering with OpsGuru, MLSE has transformed operations, reduced technical debt, and improved customer experiences. The immediate value they realized through faster development, improved app performance, and enhanced operational efficiency demonstrates the power of a well-executed cloud migration strategy. 

Now, with a strong partnership established with OpsGuru, MLSE continues to explore new opportunities in the cloud. The future looks bright, with increased scalability, flexibility, and innovation on the horizon.

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