CLSA halves infra costs for content delivery with cloud CDN

Robert O'Grady, Head of Engineering, Platform Services, CLSA Ltd (Hong Kong)Hong Kong-headquartered brokerage and investment group CLSA is not a typical AWS customers one might expect to see. "Companies like ours normally don't go there [on AWS] because we are all scare about security, the internet, and who's hiding out there looking to steal our data," said Robert O'Grady (pictured, left), head of engineering, platform services, CLSA (Hong Kong).

In this story, O'Grady shares what it takes to get an organization like CLSA into a public cloud environment like the Amazon Web Services (AWS).

CLSA (Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia) is a 25-year old brokerage and investment group. Its core business is to deliver financial services reports to brokers and traders. Three years ago, it was acquired by CITIC Securities and is now fully owned by a Chinese bank.

Customers of CLSA are mostly US-based. They would typically access CLSA's financial services reports through CLSA's web portal. Historically without an internal infrastructure in the US, CLSA's web portal was supported by fully outsourced infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) delivered from a North America data center.

"About 1.5 years ago, we decided to claw back some of that money [on outsourced IaaS], be a lot more flexible and to do more," said O'Grady.

"The challenge we faced was how to take this IaaS which was already built in place, fit for purpose, while delivering it a lot cheaper. At the same time, we wanted to enable new technologies to roll out internally, while keeping everything looking the same. So it was a genuinely 'Do the same for a lot less money,'" said O'Grady.

CLSA's cloud sandbox

To enhance the web portal service delivery and to support traffic growth, CLSA reviewed an identified opportunity to improve the flexibility in resource management and to cut down on IT infrastructure costs.

"We went from a fully managed infrastructure to adopting AWS content delivery network services CloudFront. Now we are experimenting with a serverless approach and we are in the middle of that process," said O'Grady.

In late 2015, to entice the busy IT team to actively explore and experiment with the potentials of cloud computing, O'Grady invited some of its key infrastructure staff to investigate and explore the capabilities of Amazon Web Services. "Basically we took some of our really smart guys and said, 'Go and play with Amazon. Come back in a little while and tell me what is surprising what's out there.'"

In Q1 2016, O'Grady secured an initial budget for his two senior engineers to experiment on AWS and to develop interesting applications. We told them "Go and try something new, then come back and impress us with what you can do."

The small cloud pioneer team came back to O'Grady with very positive feedback. "Their initial feedback was 'Wow.' They were really impressed with what was going to be achievable in the Amazon Singapore/Hong Kong region. They also told us that we needed to move fast."

"As a result, we had very happy infrastructure teams, as cloud computing enabled them to be efficient and to turn their designs into reality rapidly and flexibly."