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AFGRI Agri Services is a leading agricultural services company with core competencies to enhance, support and guide the growth of agricultural enterprises. AFGRI eAccounts is a banking platform like no other. It is designed to enable farmers and allows them to manage their entire financial operations on one convenient platform. They can also view and receive invoices, calculate storage rates according to grade and grade type and draw reports of grain delivery. AFGRI’s vision is to unlock agricultural potential and its banking platform eAccounts had to be built on infrastructure that enables all the above and more. As farmers and their needs grow, so will the scale, innovation, and capabilities of the platform. AFGRI contacted long-term tech partner, Synthesis Software Technologies, and within as little as six months, eAccounts was sitting on AWS (Amazon Web Services) Cloud and reaping its benefits.
The development of the eAccounts digital platform by Synthesis began in 2014 and launched in 2015. Over the years it has expanded into many areas of the organization. Since its launch, the application and its database have been hosted on-premises by one of AFGRI’s service providers. However, the on-premises solution was holding AFGRI back from the major innovations it sought to implement. The on-premises solution was not fit for purpose compared to their vision and created many challenges: The AFGRI team wanted to revolutionize banking for farmers. They did not want to build on the old, this was an opportunity to create an entirely new platform powered by the cloud.
It was time-consuming to maintain the on-premises infrastructure, scalability, resilience, and security were all major concerns that could not be adequately addressed by the remaining on-premises. Additional requirements such as infrastructure monitoring, alerting, and tools to quickly identify route cause analysis were already baked in with the services AWS provides. AFGRI required their platform to be PCI and bank-grade compliant, something which is not possible to achieve on self-managed hardware and software components.
AFGRI wanted to easily monitor costs to run their platform and have detailed views available to them in both graphical and text formats that could be easily used to view trends and detect spend anomalies. With the guidance of the Synthesis team, Amazon Web Services was chosen as the preferred cloud provider. However, AFGRI did not have the in-house skills to perform the modernization and migration. Partnering with Synthesis, AFGRI could focus on its business outcome for their platform and Synthesis could guide AFGRI through the modernization stages to create a predictable roadmap and migration plan.
Due to Synthesis’ extensive AWS expertise and the in-depth knowledge, it had of AFGRI eAccounts, Synthesis was chosen as the technical expert to carry out this modernization and migration. Johann Barnard, UNIGRO Chief Operating Officer, explains that “Synthesis provides team agility. They are highly professional individuals and are commendable.” The solution was a combination of AWS Cloud and Synthesis architecture design.The most important pillars of the design and deployment were cost optimization, innovation, security, and performance efficiency which delivered overall operational excellence.
The first step in the migration was to deploy a Control Tower landing zone that serves as the cloud home for AFGRI and conforms to AWS recommended guidelines in account separation and creating developer, staging and production environments.
Synthesis rearchitected the infrastructure into a containerized Kubernetes environment that could take full advantage of the cloud. The infrastructure could now be scaled up and down, systems could be switched off when not in use, and any future innovations, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), could be easily attained.
With the new platform design and architecture in place, AFGRI now had a completely redesigned platform that could leverage all the other AWS services such as storage, on-demand computing, resilient storage, high-performance computing, and AI services just to name a few.
The decision to run the AFGRI eAccounts platform within a containerized framework allowed easy modernization that allowed easier migration from .NET Framework 4.5 to .NET Core 3.1. Some components needed to be re-factored which was identified by Synthesis early in the assessment phase of the project. The EKS (Kubernetes) platform was chosen as the container orchestration technology and with this being a managed platform the need to manage the underlying hardware was no longer required which allowed AFGRI staff to focus their efforts more on their business goals rather than having to learn and then continually manage hardware resources.
The current cluster is composed of a mix of Linux and Windows nodes, with the Windows nodes being used to accommodate a legacy integration, where the SDK only supports Windows. The choice of instance types was identified based on performance requirements, cost efficiency and the collecting of performance data from the existing on-premises environment, which eliminated guesswork in choosing instance family types. Further on demand cost saving methods were also deployed by integrating spot instances to the cluster which allowed on-demand compute resources to be made available instantly at a significantly reduced cost for the developer and QA environments.
The database service is an integral part of the overall design of eAccounts platform, with this in mind the Aurora MySQL RDS service was chosen for its high-availability, scalability, resilience and performance features. A multi-AZ (Availability Zone) deployment was selected which allows the database to be spread across 3 AWS availability zones within a region supported by AWS managed high speed fibre links that provide millisecond latency response times. Automated backups and automated failover ensured that database performance and DR procedures could be accurately designed to meet RPO (Recovery point Objective) and RTO (Recovery Time Objectives.
With the help of Synthesis and AWS, AFGRI is now enabled to scale the eAccounts platform up or down within minutes, ensuring that interruption due to infrastructure issues is reduced or totally mitigated. This provides its customers with the best possible experience. Additionally, AFGRI now has fine-grained insight into what eAccounts costs to run monthly and has been enabled to control spending.
Monitoring has also been optimized through the transparency of the cloud and allows for granular metrics to be easily viewed in both text and graphical dashboards. AFGRI is immediately alerted to any potential problems before they arise, the new architecture was also designed to be more resilient with self-healing design to recover from minor incidents.
“We now have utilization transparency, and exceptional stability. This has proved to be a worthwhile investment,” explains Barnard.
By making use of AWS as well and its premier partner Synthesis, AFGRI is able to deliver a better customer experience to eAccounts users. It can now focus on creating new features that truly matter to these users, rather than focusing on supporting the platform. In addition, other applications within AFGRI are now enabled to make the move, since the eAccounts team has forged the path and done most of the challenging work already. The infrastructure has enabled AFGRI to unlock the potential of the cloud, enabling its customers in a fast-paced digital era.
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