Evolve Media

Mission Beats the Clock with Evolve Media’s Migration to AWS

Executive Summary

Evolve Media, LLC is a global content publisher and marketing solution provider with more than 40 media brands drawing an audience of 120+ million readers. The 20-year-old company required an experienced managed cloud services provider to plan, support, and execute its migration from a collocated data center to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) – and do so within a three-month timeframe.

Mission and Evolve successfully completed the cutover of 50 applications before the deadline, sparing the customer from additional data center costs and establishing a more technologically-efficient and cost-effective infrastructure on AWS going forward. Evolve Media has already reported saving 20% on infrastructure costs because of the transition to AWS, and expects it can save 30-40% through further cost optimization. The customer is also benefiting from a simplified infrastructure, and Mission’s engagement throughout the migration and post-migration processes has significantly deepened the Evolve's AWS knowledgebase.

“I’ve worked at Evolve Media for nine years, and the company has been around nearly two decades now. In all that time we have never before had a partner that we could count on the way we count on Mission. The Mission team was there leading our particularly time-sensitive migration every step of the way – even during the 18-hour shifts as our deadline approached. That kind of trust in a partner is something we’d never had. I knew the people on Mission’s team cared – and really understood AWS migrations.”

Francisco Bernal
VP of Operations

The Challenge

Evolve Media sought an AWS managed services provider with the expertise to modernize and migrate its technology stack from a collocated data center to the AWS Cloud. Doing so would enable Evolve to move over to a desired microservices architecture and application infrastructure. This goal included complete application containerization and virtualization to make Evolve’s environment cloud-first and far more easily scalable.

Evolve understood that a successful migration could give the company better operational and performance capabilities moving forward, as well as more efficient capex and opex optimization. The customer’s contract with its incumbent data center hosting provider included a set fee – which a move to an elastically-priced cloud provider would eliminate. 

However, even after Evolve decided to pursue the migration to AWS, the company continued to extend its data center contract by months at a time – nearly another year – as day-to-day technical and product duties got in the way of making progress on the migration project. This delay eventually highlighted the need to onboard a managed services provider capable of bringing the migration project to completion, before even more data center contract extension costs were incurred. The time and effort that would have been required from Evolve’s internal technical team to complete the migration would have been inefficient.

“We had a string of dramatic experiences and hectic moves, with one colo hosting provider going out of business and then another going bankrupt,” said Bernal. “You couldn’t make this stuff up. As a result of needing to focus on reacting to these short-term challenges, we also ended up paying far more than we should. Then we found ourselves in a situation where we had just a three-month window to leave our incumbent data center. It was get out – or lights out. That sparked our drive to finally pursue our long-term goal of moving to the public cloud.”

Failing to address this migration would mean continuing to pay higher data center fees somewhere, while also continuing to miss out on the operational advantages available through AWS. Evolve was most eager to leverage the benefits of AWS’ on-demand features, automated code deployment, infrastructure automation, elasticity, and the general efficiency and performance improvements that AWS offered. In particular, the customer really wanted to move away from managing its own MySQL server, and move to data services managed via AWS.

Why AWS

Evolve vetted AWS alongside other cloud providers. AWS was selected because it was the only technology Evolve had full confidence in. It provided elasticity, myriad microservices, managed services such as RDS for database management and EKS for container management, and cost efficiency for on-demand services. Importantly, due to the very small window of opportunity to get the migration completed, Evolve leveraged the AWS Partner Opportunity Acceleration (POA) Program to accelerate migration efforts – a significant value-add to the customer.

“We vetted other public clouds, but just didn’t see a fit,” said Bernal. “Everyone in our industry has run something on AWS at some point. You know how AWS functions, what they do, and the technologies they have. We knew it would work, and it just made sense.”

Why Mission

Evolve first connected with Mission on a recommendation from AWS. The customer further vetted, and then selected, Mission based on the provider’s depth of experience with AWS migrations and managed DevOps. Mission’s expertise supporting AWS customers within the media & entertainment industry also factored into Evolve’s decision to move ahead.

Mission stayed in regular contact with Evolve for more than a year prior to the customer acting on the migration; Mission remained proactive in communicating with Evolve both virtually and via scheduled in-person meetings at AWS Summits. During this year, Mission took the time to assess Evolve’s migration readiness and, alongside AWS, also assisted the customer by providing the AWS knowledge Evolve needed to prepare its initial infrastructure modernization work. This pre-migration contact and interaction paved the way for a more seamless transition to the cloud when the time came to move to AWS.

In October 2019, Evolve came to Mission expressing it now wanted to push ahead with an AWS migration, but the customer didn’t have much in the way of available budget to commit to the move. Knowing how valuable this transition would be to all involved, Mission worked closely with AWS to create a co-funded scope of work to help ease the financial burden around the initial transition – giving Evolve the leverage it needed to sign off on the migration.

“Evolve Media is a relatively small fish in the vast AWS sea. Having Mission there in the middle helps us a ton. We have extra confidence in running our cluster, because we have someone to come in and help if we need it. Mission enables our small technical team to instantly add the AWS expertise we require.”

Francisco Bernal
VP of Operations

The Solution

Evolve’s AWS migration began in December 2019 and included a rigid timeline driven by the end-of-March expiration date of Evolve’s data center contract. The customer required Mission to deliver a successful cutover of all of its applications to AWS ahead of that deadline.

Mission began by performing discovery on Evolve’s existing application infrastructure for the purpose of migration. Evolve was initially interested in a 100% “boil the ocean” approach to the migration. However, Mission worked with Evolve to instead identify its most critical workloads and remove unnecessary work to expedite and make the migration more efficient.

Mission then configured, built, and deployed a best-practice Landing Zone in the Evolve Media AWS account to support the infrastructure in line to be migrated from the existing data center environment. Next, Mission created a proof of concept around native container management systems – migrating the Evolve Media containers, virtual machines, data, images, objects, and files, and configuring and deploying the underlying networking, authentication, and stack infrastructure in the Evolve AWS account. Mission also assisted Evolve with its infrastructure security, including certificate management. Finally, Mission worked with Evolve to cutover the environment: providing all testing, validation, and a warm handoff of the new AWS cloud production environment to Evolve Media. 

In total, the project involved migrating all 50 of Evolve’s applications across its five business verticals: its media website, video platform, forums, ad creation stack, and AdOps applications. AWS services utilized in the migration and by Evolve in its AWS environment include Amazon EKS, Amazon EC2, and Amazon Aurora. The third-party services used include Elasticsearch, Terraform, WordPress, and custom applications built by Evolve Media.

Throughout the migration, Mission and Evolve worked well as a team – with Evolve more focused on its own applications and Mission more focused on AWS infrastructure. The partners collaborated effectively on the database migration, successfully moving Evolve from a self-managed MySQL database to Amazon Aurora. To assist Evolve in keeping up with its workload and to eliminate communication headaches, Mission proactively set up daily calls between the teams for the final four weeks of the migration. After these hectic last few weeks, Mission and Evolve completed the migration on the last day of Evolve’s data center contract – with four hours to spare before every server was turned off in the data center.

Results and Benefits

By moving from set-fee hosting in a collocated data center to an on-demand cloud infrastructure with AWS, Evolve Media is instantly saving 20% compared to the colo – and expects it will be able to reduce costs even further, to 30%-40% savings. At the same time, the customer now benefits from a significantly simplified infrastructure; for example, Evolve’s internal DevOps team no longer needs to self-manage Kubernetes, nor SQL.

“For our small Tech Ops team, a big benefit of working with Mission is that everything just works,” said Bernal. “AWS makes us efficient. For example, if we’re working on one of our media sites and we need to test search functionality, we no longer have to create a VM, download software, install Elasticsearch, and spend more time and effort making it work. Instead, we have Elasticsearch running in a couple of clicks. It’s a major difference.” 

Critically, Evolve is now an educated customer that knows how to leverage AWS solutions. Mission was cognizant of making sure Evolve was involved early in the process of building out its AWS environment, helping them understand what was happening and why. This accomplished the goals of a more seamless handoff at the end of the migration, and instilled a feeling of ownership and command of AWS technology in Evolve’s team (which was not present prior to this engagement).

“With AWS and Mission, it’s completely up to us how we run things and how much we pay at the end of the month. We’re not tied to monthly bill, nor overpaying for a small infrastructure. We’re not in a situation where we might need more specs but can’t get them because we’re tied to a monthly cap. AWS has a lot of good options for companies like ours, where budgets are tight. We’re in control. Our business has the leeway to pare down or ramp up however we need.”

Francisco Bernal
VP of Operations

What's Next?

Evolve Media is participating in Mission’s Cloud Foundation / AWS Resale offering. This gives Evolve access to the Mission Cloud Managed Platform, and the customer works closely with Mission’s cloud analyst team on an ongoing basis to continuously optimize spend. Evolve reports it may also pursue further cloud infrastructure optimizations, dependent on the company’s budget constraints.


AWS Services USED
  • Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)
  • Amazon EC2
  • Amazon Aurora
Third-Party Integrations
  • Terraform for automation
  • Elasticsearch
  • WordPress
  • Custom applications built by Evolve Media
About Evolve Media

Headquartered in Los Angeles with 5 offices across seven countries, Evolve Media is a premium publisher of media destinations for influential men and women (sites include Game Revolution, The Fashion Spot, and Total Beauty, among others). Evolve also provides its brand partners – including Disney, Clorox, and Mattel – with proprietary advertising and publishing technologies to efficiently reach and engage with targeted audiences. The company’s marketing technology solutions excel at combining content and audience with brand messaging to allow brands to initiate or take part in conversations.

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