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Alberta Motor Association Increases Agility While Taking Strong Security to the Cloud

Automobile services provider Alberta Motor Association needed to streamline the process of provisioning virtual environments for its agile web team. By deploying an F5 solution in Amazon Web Services (AWS), the organization sped deployment, decreased time to market, and boosted efficiency—while maintaining the same robust security policies used on-premises.

Business Challenges

 

The Alberta Motor Association (AMA) is a membership organization and part of the Canadian Automobile Association and American Automobile Association family. In addition to providing roadside assistance to motorists travelling in Alberta, AMA also offers a wide range of other services, from driver education and insurance to financial and travel agency services. AMA has been an F5 customer for several years, using F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) in its data centers to ensure high availability for its internal and external applications. The organization also employs BIG-IP Application Security Manager (ASM) to protect its customer-facing web applications. “I’d say that the F5 appliances have been some of the most critical pieces of our infrastructure,” says AMA Network/Security Analyst Chris MacKinnon.

When the organization’s web team ran into some problems building out a series of virtual environments, MacKinnon called a meeting to discuss the challenges. “The web team had been presented with a project that included them building staging, development, and production environments, so they put in a request to set up about 40 virtual machines,” says MacKinnon. The problem was the timeline. The deliverable for the project was six to eight weeks out, but it took nearly six weeks to get the request through the traditional, process-oriented AMA organization.

While the web team needed a faster turnaround time to do their jobs effectively, the AMA executive team was more concerned about security. “With all the recent breaches in the news,” MacKinnon says, “security is always at the top of their minds.” IT needed to come up with a solution that not only increased the agility of the fast-moving web team, but also maintained the high level of security for confidential customer data required by executive leadership.

“We paired F5 with AWS to build a solution that not only met the web team’s agility needs, but also fulfilled our corporate security requirements.” Chris MacKinnon, Network/Security Analyst, Alberta Motor Association

Solution

 

MacKinnon remembered hearing about F5’s new cloud-optimized licensing, which included a pay-as-you go option from directly within the AWS environment. This option allows customers to only pay for the F5 services they consume. “So we contacted our rep,” MacKinnon says, “and got the information. And quickly we found the virtual appliance, set it up, and started playing around with it.”

AMA deployed BIG-IP LTM in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud to load balance the traffic between its two Amazon availability zones and keep its applications highly available. In addition, the organization relies upon BIG-IP ASM to ensure that those web applications hosted in AWS receive the same high level of protection as the applications AMA hosts on-premises.

Amazon’s intuitive web interface allows the AMA web team to quickly spin up servers and provision applications, scaling capacity both up and down as requirements change. “The whole setup just works fantastically,” MacKinnon says. “When we move an application up to the cloud, we just take our existing, on-premises ASM policy and export it. And the same thing is true between availability zones. We update one policy and it automatically just pushes out to the other zone.”

Indeed, the solution is working so well for AMA that MacKinnon is considering moving all the web team’s applications to the AWS cloud. “The web team doesn’t want anything hosted on-premises anymore,” MacKinnon says. “It’s just so much easier.”

All in all, the control of F5 application services combined with the agility and scalability of the AWS cloud-computing platform has been a match made in heaven for AMA. “We paired F5 with AWS to build a solution that not only met the web team’s agility needs,” MacKinnon says, “but also fulfilled our corporate security requirements.” 

“We’re moving more and more toward secure cloud-based solutions, and our relationship with F5 will make that transition much more comfortable.” Chris MacKinnon, Network/Security Analyst, Alberta Motor Association

Benefits

 

Alberta Motor Association deployed an F5 solution in the AWS cloud that allowed the organization to speed the deployment process, decrease time to market, boost the efficiency of the web development team, and move the business forward—all while supporting the strict security requirements of executive leadership.

Decreases IT workload; uses fewer resources

Spinning up virtual machines in AWS consumes far fewer resources than it once did for AMA. “It used to be that I’d get a ticket for a request for a physical server,” says MacKinnon. “I had to go find the server, find space in the rack, find a cable, find a switch.” This traditional process was both time-consuming and labor-intensive. 

But with AMA’s web applications hosted in the AWS cloud—and supported and optimized by F5 application services—MacKinnon and the IT team have found their heavy workload dramatically decreased. “The reduction in time and effort required are huge benefits,” he says. “It makes our job so much easier.”

Self-provisioning boosts agility 

After deploying the BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP ASM modules in the AWS cloud, the AMA web team is also working more efficiently. “They’re able to roll out applications in minutes,” says MacKinnon. “And with a few clicks, they can build entire environments for testing and development.”

MacKinnon has given the web team access to the BIG-IP ASM module, so they can now build all the profiles themselves and self-provision in AWS. “Instead of spending two days on configuration,” says MacKinnon, “we’re spending half an hour. It just helps the whole business move forward faster.”

Delivers on-premises security—in the cloud 

“The whole reason we’re able to do this is because we have such a high level of confidence in BIG-IP ASM,” says MacKinnon. “We went through a series of vulnerability assessments and penetration testing with ASM activated—and every time we passed with an excellent rating.”

The AMA team also appreciates the native security features in AWS, such as two-factor authentication. “Amazon’s done a great job implementing security controls on their side, too,” says MacKinnon. And because F5 technology seamlessly integrates with AWS, AMA is able to standardize—and strengthen—their security posture across the board. “All in all, from a security perspective, we’re able to apply the same principles, the same processes, and follow our standards both on premises and in the cloud.”

Eases the transition to the cloud

As a long-time F5 customer, the AMA IT team is very comfortable working with all the modules of the BIG-IP system. When they moved some of their customer-facing web applications into the cloud, they were impressed with the consistency of services between applications hosted on-premises and those in the AWS cloud. “There was a very small learning curve,” MacKinnon says. “Once we figured out the 10 percent difference that comes from working with Amazon, we were working just like normal. Everything was consistent.”

That consistency of application services drove additional increases in productivity, which is good news for the organization moving forward. “We’re moving more and more toward cloud-based solutions,” says MacKinnon. “And our relationship with F5 will make that transition much more comfortable.”