My Journey to the Cloud
My journey to the #cloud started in 2011 at Safaricom Ltd (the largest Telco in East and Central Africa). I was a young engineer ready and hungry to learn new technology. Cloud and virtualization were the new buzzwords in the technology space at the time. Safaricom made a bold move to invest in this space. The task was to build the largest public and private cloud in the region at the time. Virtualization had the promise of consolidating the technology silos that had been built over the years.
In addition, new features like high availability, fault tolerance, scalability, security, and ease of management made a good business case for the investment.
The cloud investment would see our time to market improve and also augment new income streams and services for the business.
We built out at the time the largest cloud platform in the region to support enterprise clients and internal business units. We implemented cutting-edge technologies from Cisco, EMC, VMware, VCE among others.
We launched services like;
- IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) – providing Windows and Linux virtual machines.
- BaaS (Backup as a Service) – we offered enterprise backup for business workloads, files, and archives.
- SaaS (Software as a Service) – we partnered with other vendors to offer solutions like Payroll and Sage Accounting among others. Under this stack, we also built the Web Hosting platform offering web, domain and email hosting. This was built on Linux (CentOS and Cloud Linux), cPanel, and Cisco Iron Port.
I wrote my first article on cloud in 2015, you can review it here.
The cloud journey was amazing. Spending sleepless nights in the data center, implementing game-changing solutions for the masses, becoming problem-solvers for our clients, and upskilling ourselves in cutting-edge technologies. Some highlights of the cloud journey included hosting for some of the biggest banks and institutions in Kenya. We learned a lot of lessons like;
- Automating the onboarding and provisioning process which was mostly manual.
- Creating templates for faster provisioning of resources.
- Configuration management with Chef and Puppet.
- Securing Safaricom Cloud Infrastructure with DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) Appliance by Arbor (Netscout), Web Application Firewall (WAF) by Imperva and Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) by Source Fire.
- Upgrading and modernizing the data center.
- Multiple monitoring and alerting tools.
- Securing Web Hosting Environment using WAF, Mod Security, Configserver Firewall (CSF), Config Exploit Scanner (CXS).
- Building a Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) for Unified Communication.
Moreover, I had the opportunity to travel the world and explore new sites and sounds while networking with talented people.
There were lots of high and low moments which were great learning experiences, I will highlight a few in my cloud journey;
- DDoS Attack – We had a massive Distributed Denial of Service Attack at one point which brought down the entire public cloud infrastructure. The attack started late in the evening when clients started experiencing intermittent services.
I was on call and I had to head back to the office. Note that at that time we did not know it was a DDoS attack. Together with my engineering counterparts, we spent over 3 hours troubleshooting all the layers; storage, networking, compute, software, hypervisor, applications, firewall, etc.
We moved from the office to the data center and spent the entire night troubleshooting. We created firewall rules and did a lot of security tweaks that helped to assure clients that the services would be up before morning.
All in all, we learned good lessons and implemented more security perimeters, and improved the security posture of the cloud.
- Hacking – A zero-day exploit brought down part of our client’s services. This included our web hosting platform which was handling over 10,000 clients. Thousands of client websites were defaced and brought down including high-caliber clients. We spent an entire night troubleshooting and recovering from backups and deploying scripts to clean up servers. We took almost a week to recover from this exploit. This was one of the darkest days in my technology career. It was yet another learning opportunity for the entire team and company. You can read more on the hack as captured by techweez and hapakenya. Note that the hack was not a laxity on the engineering or the platform.
- IP Blocking and Spamming – We experienced multiple IPs being blocked and our reputations taking a hit. We had to constantly change server IPs while investigating the different exploits that were targeted at our infrastructure. This stretched us to the limit and made us become experts in resolving and tackling even threats which had not been foreseen.
Looking into the Future
Cloud is now a common term in everyday IT. New buzz words and technologies are taking over the digital transformation space like;
- Robotics Process Automation
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning
- Edge Computing
- No Code Revolution
- Conversational AI (Artificial Intelligence)
- Headless E-commerce
- Infrastructure as code
- Quantum Computing
- Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
- Internet of Things (IoT)
Technology is evolving each and every day and helping businesses transform their models and paths to profitability and growth.
In 2019, I had the rare opportunity of spending time at Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou learning about their cutting edge solutions including Aliyun (Alibaba Cloud), E-commerce (Taobao, T-mall, Alibaba B2B, Aliexpress), CIANIAO (logistics platform), New Retail (Hema) and lots of new exciting tech. This was an eye-opening experience for me.
Hyperscale cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba, Oracle, IBM among others are setting the standards high and enabling startups and enterprises to innovate much faster.
The utility model of cloud computing levels the playing field for new entrants to quickly build and test their MVPs (Minimum Viable Products).
Businesses can now focus on their core business and leave the heavy lifting to the cloud providers and technology integrators.
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