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The Flood that Led Renaissance to the Cloud

Renaissance wanted someone with serverless experience to work alongside their team throughout the transition and guide them toward best practices from the start

The Flood that Led Renaissance to the Cloud

Renaissance makes tools that power dental practices behind the scenes, so they can streamline insurance claim submissions, manage payments, and track everything on the go.

When Renaissance reached out to Trek10, they had just decided to transition from a traditional data center to a cloud-based infrastructure on AWS. They wanted someone with serverless experience to work alongside their team throughout the transition and guide them toward best practices from the start.

“When you’re embracing new technologies, there are going to be unknown unknowns. We were looking for a partner, an expert who worked directly with our team, so we could make informed decisions and move as efficiently as possible.” - Seth Ely, Director of Product Development & Strategy at Renaissance

But Renaissance also wanted to take an active role in their journey to the cloud, not hand everything off to a consultancy to do for them. They appreciated that Trek10 could think beyond project-based work and offer them Team Support—a way for Renaissance’s engineers to run their own project and get back-up from Trek10 as needed. Instead of Googling pros and cons of various approaches, they could have a conversation with an AWS expert already versed in their particular team, infrastructure, and business.

“Every tech worker usually dreads opening support tickets, but I’ve been so impressed with the responsiveness from Trek10. It’s faster and cheaper to talk through things with Trek10 than it is to figure it out ourselves because they’re so quick to get back to us and such experts in what they do.” - Kris Grimes, Senior Vice President Engineering & Operations at Renaissance

Why Cloud?

Renaissance was using a traditional data center and their servers were getting hit with real-world problems: seasonal cottonwood build-up that clogged up their HVACs and caused the system to overheat, and then a sudden flood.

“We didn’t want to focus on infrastructure anymore when someone else could solve that. We wanted to be able to focus on the day to day things we needed to do.” - Seth Ely, Director of Product Development & Strategy at Renaissance

When Renaissance started thinking about where to move their data center, AWS Cloud was appealing for a couple of reasons. First, they wouldn’t have to deal with physical infrastructure anymore. Second, it would give them a great opportunity to scrap the bloat in their existing infrastructure—business logic and background applications that had built up over time—and start fresh with streamlined deploy pipelines and more rigorous documentation and automation.

“We thought about containerization, but then we looked into serverless and it seemed like it would help us skip to a higher level of maturity. We wanted something easily DevOps-able, something easy to maintain via code, and a resilient architecture that wouldn’t require a lot of manual intervention.” - Seth Ely, Director of Product Development & Strategy at Renaissance

Building a Solid Cloud Foundation

Renaissance wanted to create structured deployment pipelines their team could build on for years to come, with a strong emphasis on security and visibility from day one.

They got to work setting up an ELZ (Enterprise Landing Zone) on AWS cloud. Renaissance deployed VPCs and got running on AWS Organizations. They put logging in place—VPC logs for network flow, CloudTrail for control-plane visibility. Then they set up some basic deploy pipelines.

“Trek10 was always available for help and consultation, and helped us have the best possible security practices from the start. We didn’t have to predict at the get-go what exactly we didn’t know; we had on-demand help that made us so much more efficient.” - Seth Ely, Director of Product Development & Strategy at Renaissance

For security, Renaissance worked with Trek10 to implement credential audits for IAM users and define IAM policies. They instrumented SIEM logs and limit alarms on their accounts so they would know about approaching limits well in advance.

“Our security team is, understandably, a pretty risk-averse group. But the cloud security experts at Trek10 clearly knew what they were talking about and they won our trust. They helped us move quickly and safely at the same time.” - Kris Grimes, Senior Vice President Engineering & Operations at Renaissance

Renaissance’s airtight deployment process today looks like this:

Azure DevOps deploys CloudFormation templates using Ansible and StackSets, which distributes CloudFormation templates across their AWS Organization. The CloudFormation templates contain security groups, VPC configurations, and a number of other infrastructure components. Ansible applies all the right assets and deploys them, ensuring that each account has the right level of access.

“This is already helping our dev cycles. We’re getting to where we have a much more robust pipeline, with integration tests, unit tests, static code analysis, and the ability to deploy to any environment.” - Seth Ely, Director of Product Development & Strategy at Renaissance

Planning for a Serverless World

As Renaissance got to work designing their new serverless architecture, there were a lot of “this or that?” decisions to make.

Should they use AppSync or API Gateway for their authorization system? Should they try to leverage a single table design in DynamoDB? Should they implement a Step Functions state machine?

Their approach was to do research on pros and cons, brainstorm with Trek10 along the way, and build PoCs to figure out what worked best for them.

“In our team culture, design discussions are ad hoc and happen organically—Trek10 was able to be present and participate in those discussions, then inject expertise around all the options available to us.” - Seth Ely, Director of Product Development & Strategy at Renaissance

After some discussions and strategy, Renaissance’s finalized re-architecture plans look like this:

Their serverless architecture uses AWS Lambda, DynamoDB and S3. They decided on using mostly AppSync with a custom authorization system, and a DynamoDB single table design makes their app even more performant.

“One of the things that surprised me most is how many ways there are to do things in AWS. That’s the nature of AWS moving so fast, plus different perspectives and ideas architects bring to the table.” - Seth Ely, Director of Product Development & Strategy at Renaissance

Saved by Serverless in the Wake of COVID-19

The new, cloud-native rPractice launched in February 2020, and the timing could not have been better.

COVID-19 shut-downs across the US in early 2020 forced 70%+ of dental offices—their core customer base—to close. Had Renaissance not shipped their serverless-first rPractice application only a couple of months before, they would have been pouring money into an on-premises data center with no way to size down their instances and cut costs.

“This could have been really bad for us. But because of the work we did with Trek10, we were able to size down our loads in AWS when we needed to. Having this flexibility in such a critical time kept our business healthy.” - Kris Grimes, Senior Vice President Engineering & Operations at Renaissance

Kris also thinks about how remote work culture is growing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, possibly for the long term, and is glad Renaissance has the infrastructure in place to promote this kind of environment for their employees.

“By getting rid of our on-prem data center, we made it so that no one has to be on-site. Plus, we can take what we were spending in rent and utilities and put those resources toward product development instead.” - Kris Grimes, Senior Vice President Engineering & Operations at Renaissance

If you’d like to read more about Renaissance’s journey from on-prem to the cloud, check out the first part of their story here.