Why Did We Pursue The Cloud? Interview With Our AWS Pioneers

September 6, 2018 Marta Michałowska

PGS Software is an Advanced Consulting Partner for Amazon Web Services (AWS). We stand out with rapid growth regarding the number of certificates we have been awarded, as well as the level of our advancement. In less than a year and a half, the number of AWS certificate holders at the company has exceeded 100. Enjoy this interview with Łukasz Panusz, Michał Brygidyn and Wojtek Szczepucha, the advocates of Cloud development and the first individuals at PGS to receive the Amazon Web Services certificates.

Where did the idea to specialise in AWS solutions come from? How did it start?

[Łukasz Panusz] It wasn’t really an idea – it was simply a natural way forward for the company. As early as 2011, PGS Software was dealing with the Cloud in various areas but these were uncoordinated actions taken for our clients. As the results of these projects were quite cool, we started sharing them with other people in the organisation, showing that certain problems could be handled differently. This is how we first started building Cloud-ready applications and architecture. At the turn of 2015/2016, the market interest was so considerable that we had to take firm steps to prepare our staff for the new projects and challenges we were faced with. We showed people a piece of new, innovative technology with which they can do a lot more than when using their old frameworks. I arranged the first lightning talk about the Cloud, which was very successful. In June, the first group of volunteers from Wrocław gathered to learn more about AWS. Of the 36 that signed up for the workshop, 27 participants – including Wojtek and Michał – lasted to the end and became certified. Naturally, they both supported and encouraged Cloud development at PGS, shaping today’s reality.

Michał, you are responsible for AWS training. How can we help people who want to learn more about the Cloud?

[Michał Brygidyn] After the workshop that Łukasz held for us, we understood how much knowledge we needed to take in to pass the AWS exams. We discovered how to learn in a way that made the process run more efficiently and ensure the certificate would be awarded in the end. Furthermore, we wanted more and more people in the company to acquire the necessary qualifications, which is important with a business partnership in mind, but also to crown our efforts and provide proof of our “degree of initiation”. To help encourage this, we developed a step-by-step guide for learning about the Cloud. Initially, this guide was not formal. We held preparatory workshops that took all of us a lot of time and did not always produce the best results. To this end, we switched to self-learning, modifying the learning path a bit so that everyone could sit down and learn at a convenient time. It worked and, consequently, an increasing number of people received their certificates.

After a while, along with this growing interest, we decided to try and meet the needs of people getting ready for the certificate test. Thus, we came up with an internal exam for them, so that they can make sure that the knowledge they’ve acquired is sufficient and that they are now properly prepared. Because of this, an original application was created, which was based 100% on AWS. To date, 100 people have used it, all of which have then passed their external exams. So far, we are proud to say that we have achieved a 100% pass rate.
How is this application going to develop?
[Michał Brygidyn] The app was greatly appreciated by our staff. With it, we can conduct exams in various fields – not just for AWS. This turned out to be a very good way to standardise learning and those wishing to take an exam become certain that they’re properly prepared for it.
[Łukasz Panusz] Additionally, we know we have made enough effort to prepare our colleagues for the exam and we are willing to pay for it, regardless of whether they pass or fail. If they pass the internal test and do not pass the external one, we will pay for them to take it again. We believe the responsibility rests with us, as we might not have done enough to make them adequately prepared, and we feel this is fair for our employees.
[Michał Brygidyn] We have heard people saying that the internal exam is more difficult than the external one. To be perfectly frank, this is very good news.
[Łukasz Panusz] The exam programme itself, the application, and the difficulty of the questions caught the attention of people from the Amazon training centre. They often ask us how we are doing and how the app is developing.

Why should businesses move to Cloud-based infrastructure?

[Michał Brygidyn] Because it’s cheaper, when done the right way, and it’s faster when it comes to new issues. If something doesn’t work, you can easily remove it and keep going. If you use native services correctly, the costs of a server room facility, and the labour costs of system administrators can be significantly reduced. You can use Amazon Web Services for a fraction of this amount.

I’ve heard it is not so cheap…

[Wojciech Szczepucha] Migrating applications to the Cloud is not easy; it’s not a copy and paste type of endeavour. Lift and shift will always be more expensive – but, also, well worth it. Transitioning to Cloud-based services is a refactoring process. If the client’s infrastructure ends its life cycle, loses support or it becomes necessary to spend several hundred thousand, (or even several million) euros to modernise it, moving the entire infrastructure to the Cloud makes sense, finance-wise. It will be a considerable expense, but still smaller than building a new application from scratch.

Amazon and every other Cloud provider gives you the foundation on which you can build whatever you like. It does require a lot of time and effort, however, which also means money. The first processes will not be cheaper, but later, when you start operating in the Cloud, it is very economical. Yet the key benefit of Cloud-based services is shared responsibility: you don’t lose any sleep over such matters as server room maintenance, cooling or the power supply. There’s nothing to worry about on your end.

There is also the option of scaling on top of it. Hardware in the server room is another huge cost and you have no guarantee that the entire infrastructure won’t fall apart if a power blackout occurs. In the Cloud? click! Everything works as usual.

Clients sometimes express safety concerns. How are we prepared to protect Cloud-based apps and data?

[Wojciech Szczepucha] We have it covered – security is very important. The Cloud keeps changing and, therefore, we keep learning new things and following new technologies. Projects are more and more interesting, but also increasingly difficult and continually demanding. It’s certainly quite an adventure. Imagine that you open up your AWS Console mobile app and you see a new service, which wasn’t even available yesterday, or something that you knew and have previously used now looks completely different. This results in a continuous learning process, endless development and the necessity to customise procedures for emerging changes on an ongoing basis. Such change is becoming a normality and everyday reality, just like the Cloud itself. It is not simply something to swot up to pass the exam and then forget.

Today’s IT is often compared to medical studies: if you want to grow and do it right, you must learn all the time.
I remember the time of shared web hosting services… Do clients mind that they are in a virtual Cloud and have no control over their data?
[Michał Brygidyn] They do, but it is our job is to raise awareness about security. Data can be encrypted on the client’s side and then no one has free access to it.

Are there any sectors reluctant to move to the Cloud? Banking, perhaps?

[Łukasz Panusz] Banks have changed their attitude. Barclays and Capital One have shown that the financial services industry can successfully use public Cloud computing solutions and make the most of them. We need to keep in mind that Cloud providers are certified for various regulations and industry requirements, so they are very carefully audited. Each of them typically has more than 30 certificates for various sectors, including the medical, aviation, and financial industries, where the requirements for reliability and security are very strict.
[Michał Brygidyn] Not to mention that U.S government agencies are moving to Cloud computing.
[Wojciech Szczepucha] The public administration sector is cautious by definition and has so far maintained its own infrastructure. Yet today in numerous countries – and Poland is no exception here – many various entities are turning to the Cloud.

What are the plans regarding cooperation between PGS Software and AWS?

[Łukasz Panusz] There is one more level of partnership ahead of us.
[Michał Brygidyn] Yes, we still have the highest level of consultancy partnership to achieve, as well as several competences in various fields to acquire, such as DevOps, Migration, and Well Architected. Once we’ve done this, our clients will know for sure that we have sound knowledge and well-documented achievements in these areas.
[Łukasz Panusz] This is an additional path of horizontal development.
[Michał Brygidyn] Plus, there are individual development paths for people wishing to become trainers in AWS and train other developers or clients.
[Wojciech Szczepucha] Clients will not perceive us as yet another certified company. AWS recommends us as a reliable partner and gives us key recommendations.
So, what’s next? Will IT organisations continue to take further steps towards going full Cloud?
[Łukasz Panusz] Yes. The Cloud gives us tools that allow us to implement solutions and experiment more quickly and boldly. Cloud computing is the future of the IT industry. I cannot imagine otherwise. For me, personally, it would be like throwing out a large piece of cake with the cherry on top – which would be sad.

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