Evernote decided last year that it wanted to move away from running its own data centers and start using the public cloud to operate its popular note-taking service. On Wednesday, it announced that the lion's share of the work is done, save for some last user attachments.
The company signed up to work with Google, and as part of the migration process, the tech titan sent a team of engineers (in one case, bearing doughnuts) over to work with its customer on making sure the process was a success.
Evernote wanted to take advantage of the cloud to help with features based on machine learning that it has been developing. It also wanted to leverage the flexibility that comes from not having to run a data center.
The move is part of a broader trend of companies moving their workloads away from data centers that they own and increasingly using public cloud providers. While the transition required plenty of work and adaptation, Evernote credited Google for pitching in to help with the migration.
There was definitely plenty of work to do. Evernote’s backend was built on the assumption that its application would be running on the company’s twin California data centers, not in a public cloud. So why go through all the work?
Many of the key drivers behind the move will be familiar to cloud devotees. Evernote employees had to spend time maintaining the company’s data center, doing things like replacing hard drives, moving cables and evaluating new infrastructure options.
While those functions were key to maintaining the overall health and performance of the Evernote service, they weren’t providing additional value to customers, according to Ben McCormack, the company’s vice president of operations.
“We were just very realistic that with a team the size of Evernote’s operations team, we couldn’t compete with the level of maturity that the cloud providers have got…on provisioning, on management systems, et cetera,” McCormack said.“ We were always going to be playing catch-up, and it’s just a crazy situation to be in.”
When Evernote employees thought about refreshing a data center, one of the key issues that they encountered is that they didn’t know what they would need from a data center in five years, McCormack said.
Evernote had several public cloud providers it could choose from, including Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, which are both larger players in the public cloud market. But McCormack said the similarities between the company’s current focus and Google’s areas of expertise were important to the choice. Evernote houses a large amount of unstructured data, and the company is looking to do more with machine learning.
“You add those two together, Google is the leader in that space,” McCormack said. “So effectively, I would say, we were making a strategic decision and a strategic bet that the areas that are important to Evernote today, and the areas we think will be important in the future, are the same areas that Google excels in.”
Machine learning was a highlight of Google’s platform for Evernote CTO Anirban Kundu, who said that higher-level services offered by Google help provide the foundation for new and improved features. Evernote has been driving toward a set of new capabilities based on machine learning, and Google services like its Cloud Machine Learning API help with that.
While cost is often touted as a benefit of cloud migrations, McCormack said that it wasn’t a primary driver of Evernote’s migration. While the company will be getting some savings out of the move, he said that cost wasn’t a limitation for the transition.
The decision to go with Google over another provider like AWS or Azure was driven by the technology team at Evernote, according to Greg Chiemingo, the company’s senior director of communications. He said in an email that CEO Chris O’Neill, who was at Google for roughly a decade before joining Evernote, came in to help with negotiations after the decision was made.
Once Evernote signed its contract with Google in October, the clock was ticking. McCormack said that the company wanted to get the migration done before the new year, when users looking to get their life on track hammer the service with a flurry of activity.
Before the start of the year, Evernote needed to migrate 5 billion notes and 5 billion attachments. Because of metadata, like thumbnail images, included with those attachments, McCormack said that the company had to migrate 12 billion attachment files. Not only that, but the team couldn’t lose any of the roughly 3 petabytes of data it had. Oh yeah, and the Evernote service needed to stay up the entire time.