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Rapid migration: Moving a business to the cloud in just five hours

Norway's largest online marketplace Finn.no moved more than 800 microservices, 145 databases and 16TB of data on to Google Cloud in less than a day

Digital transformation has accelerated across most industries in 2020, but the IT team at e-commerce platform Finn.no in Norway took this to new extremes when they migrated all their company’s systems to the cloud in five hours.

This impressive feat involved moving more than 800 microservices, 145 databases and 16TB of data which underpins Finn.no, Norway’s most popular classified advertising site, from the company’s data centres to Google Cloud.

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Finn.no is Norway’s leading e-commerce platform. (Photo courtesy Finn.no)

Finn CTO Nicolai Høge told Tech Monitor his team’s decision to take this unusual step was based on two factors: the cost and time required to maintain the company’s existing servers during a more gradual migration, and a surge of traffic caused by the Covid-19 pandemic which put these servers under greater strain.

“It was a trade-off decision,” he says. “Doing it gradually was more complex for us, so [by migrating in one go] the actual job got easier, but the risk went up because we had to take Finn down, and we don’t usually do that. The last time the site was down was several years ago, and we pride ourselves on keeping it live because we have 24/7 traffic.”

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Established in 2000, Finn is Norway’s busiest website and the go-to platform for selling anything from clothes to cars and even houses. With more than 3.5 million users a week, its infrastructure needs to be up to scratch.

“We were in a situation where we either had to reinvest fairly heavily in technology for our old data centre, or look at other options,” says Morten Hanshaugen, Finn’s director of infrastructure and operations.

“It was clear it made sense to invest in concepts and a technology roadmap that develops by its own mechanisms rather than having an on-premises data centre that we needed to maintain.”

Having selected Google Cloud, Hanshaugen says a gradual move away from on-premises infrastructure proved impossible.

“We tried to make a hybrid cloud overlay, but we would have had to upgrade everything in the local data centre to make it work,” he says. “It was a shame because it would have been great, but it wasn’t to be.”

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The Finn.no team, clockwise from top, Morten Hanshaugen, Bente Ulvestad and Nicolai Høge. (Photos courtesy Finn.no and Caroline Roka)

In the run-up to the big switchover, carried out overnight on September 15, the team underwent a major cloud readiness programme across the business.

“Our teams took ownership of checking their applications to ensure they would run nicely,” says Hanshaugen. “The teams got to use their time quality-checking their applications, which made us more comfortable doing the changeover, and made the applications themselves better.”

Having carried out a test migration in their development environment, the actual change itself went largely without a hitch.

“We had a timeline to follow with checkpoints to ensure we were on track,” Bente Ulvestad, Finn’s senior software engineering manager, explains. “So we were able to see that we were running to time. There was one issue with an application not behaving as expected, but we had plenty of time to fix that and continue as planned.”

The actual process took just four hours and 30 minutes.

Delivering a personalised experience

Finn’s machine learning team was already using cloud-based applications to develop systems which give users of the website a customised experience, something which is becoming increasingly important for online retailers.

Høge says the Finn.no cloud migration will help the rest of the business scale-up, as well as offering things like increased security to its customers.

“For us it’s now about becoming cloud-native and taking advantage of the opportunities that are there,” he says.

“As a marketplace, personalisation and adapting the experience to the individual users are going to be super-important and now we have the technology and resources to do that properly.”

Lessons from a swift cloud migration

Høge, Ulvestad and Hanshaugen formed part of the core team for the migration, and Høge says the company has learned several lessons from the project.

“Plans are great but being able to change them is even better,” he says. “We were going to do this gradually, but had to accept quickly that we needed to do things differently because of the situation we were in.

“Prioritisation was also important. The whole company, from the business side, to sales and everyone else accepted that the cloud migration had to be the priority, and that gave us the power and mandate to move fast.”

Ulvestad adds that empowering the team was central to the project’s success.

“We put a lot of trust in them to figure things out and do the work [to prepare for the migration],” she adds.

“The organisation as a whole didn’t start thinking about this until August, six weeks before the big deadline. The infrastructure team had been working on it for a long while, but for most developers, it felt like we had six weeks to get this done. Having that common goal really helped us during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a fun project to work on, gave us an energy boost and we’re really proud to have completed it on time.”

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock/Dario Lo Presti

Matthew Gooding

News editor

Matthew Gooding is news editor for Tech Monitor.