The company has been very happy with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its one and only public cloud provider, he said during a keynote talk at the Open Networking User Group (ONUG) conference this morning.
Stansbury was speaking, not only as an ONUG member, but as a host: ONUG Spring 2016 was held on Intuit’s campus this week. (So, full disclosure: This story was fueled by a lot of Stansbury’s free coffee.)
While it’s true that the cloud helps with Intuit’s seasonal peaks (the company’s franchise product is TurboTax), the real motivation was to speed up its developers. For example, AWS lets developers create new test environments at will, without worrying about permissions or provisioning.
The migration did take a lot of work. Business processes had to be standardized, as each unit had been using its own rules since Intuit’s earliest online days. And, of course, security was paramount, considering Intuit’s tax and personal finance applications involve loads of sensitive data.
“One has to think through, very, very carefully: If you’re going to put something in a validly hostile environment, what are you going to do with your customer data?” Stansbury said.
He didn’t go into details about Intuit’s cloud-security strategy, other than to say it was a “layered defense” with attention paid to minimizing “blast radius” — the area that’s vulnerable after a successful breach. But he noted that Intuit went through some “very interesting tradeoff discussions of how much revenue we were willing to give up” in order to provide security and ensure uptime for customers.
Preventing Brain Explosion
While some executives would balk at relying on just one public cloud, Stansbury said he prefers to stick to one supplier rather than spread the work among a few.
In the case of the cloud, that’s partly because the migration has been complex: “Trying to figure it out in two or three, I think our brains would explode,” he said.
More importantly, Stansbury believes he can maximize his gains by standardizing on individual suppliers.
When he arrived at Intuit, the company had just adopted server virtualization, doing so with multiple vendors. “Of course, that completely de-optimized for the advanced capabilities that some of the virtualization vendors had at the time, so it relegated everybody to lowest common denominator.”
What if Intuit wants to adopt a second cloud provider later? Stansbury feels it’s better to deal with that problem when it arises, rather than applying “dollars I might not have to spend” to adopt a just-in-case second vendor today. “I would rather spend the dollars in the future if I have to port to another cloud vendor.”
’Tis the Season
For one thing, Intuit’s business has predictable spikes tied to the U.S. income tax cycle: W-2 arrivals, April 15, and the extension deadline. Stansbury said there’s also a January surge due to New Year’s resolutions. (You may infer that this surge decays as the year wears on.)
“So being able to buy the VM hours that we actually need when we need them, and being able to dehydrate them when we don’t need them, is a very good way to keep the costs under control.”
Intuit also takes advantage of AWS’s reserved instances, a feature that lets you purchase capacity one to three years ahead of time.
The real key, though, is to feed the cost information back to the teams that own it. “If they see the dollars flying by, if they see the meter running,” then they’re going to be motivated to keep their costs under control, said Stansbury.
Photo: Stansbury (right), interviewed by Ernest Leftner of BofA.