PEXA’s John Natsioulas talks cloud migration

April 05 2022

Learn how transitioning to AWS and AppDynamics is helping this team revolutionize the way property is bought and sold in Australia.

Today, when you settle property in Australia, it’s most likely that you’re doing it on PEXA. The company’s key role in supporting the country’s property industry during COVID-19 demonstrates that the technological enhancement PEXA brings to the housing market is more necessary than ever. Today, 80% of all property settlements in Australia are conducted on PEXA. But for the company to continue transforming Australia’s property market, the company had to undergo a significant digital transformation internally.

Scaling and meeting the demands of rapid growth prompted PEXA’s transition to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Flexible and affordable cloud systems enable PEXA to simplify and modernize the property settlement process, to support its customers, the lawyers, conveyancers and financial institutions, who in turn help more than 20,000 buyers and sellers settle their homes a week. To best leverage cloud technology, PEXA trusts AppDynamics to provide the full-stack observability they need to ensure its operations.

As an essential pillar within Australia’s national economic infrastructure, impeccable performance is a must for PEXA. A single day of unexpected downtime could impact up to 12,000 PEXA workspaces, leaving many home buyers and sellers unable to settle. While PEXA continues to innovate and find new ways to support its customers, the organization needs robust monitoring to identify and resolve issues before they impact customers.

We interviewed John Natsioulas, General Manager of Technology, Architecture, and Engineering for PEXA, to learn how transitioning to AWS and AppDynamics is helping his team revolutionize the way property is bought and sold in Australia.

What inspired PEXA to migrate to the cloud?

The PEXA platform is a core piece of national infrastructure, so we need to make sure the platform remains resilient, scalable and flexible — but we also need freedom around modernizing and the opportunity to innovate on the platform.

When looking at future services and products at PEXA, it makes sense to shift to the cloud environment. Being able to leverage the scale of AWS gives us the flexibility to build, spike and use services while supporting our growth. High availability, the ability to grow and eliminating licensing constraints were some of the key considerations that inspired us to adopt AWS. Plus, with the push toward being carbon neutral, we considered the environmental benefits of using the latest infrastructure components.

One way PEXA is transforming the property settlement industry is by making the process more efficient. How has migrating to AWS improved efficiency at PEXA?

Part of our modernization strategy at PEXA is moving from the monolith to a modular monolith; AWS gives us the flexibility to scale and make that transition. Now we can utilize, make and leverage some of the latest cloud technologies such as streaming into our data lake or platform, machine learning and improved performance capabilities with our existing technology. For example, we can combine data from AppDynamics and other sources to examine how we can improve our platform’s user experience and journey.

Transitioning to AWS also offered opportunities for better cost efficiency. The pay-per-use, on-demand model was something we were keen to leverage. There are only two days we really need to scale up our data — the end-of-year and end of the financial year when most property settlement events are processed —we had to license at a peak rate. That meant we had to pay licensing at a higher rate for the whole year, even though we only needed that capability for a couple of days each year. There’s no flexibility in that. We’ve seen significant savings since we transitioned away from that traditional licensing model to a pay-per-use model.

How do AWS and AppDynamics work together to help PEXA scale?

Managing our own on-prem infrastructure meant we were constantly falling behind, so we weren’t able to leverage the new capabilities AppDynamics had to offer. When we started with AWS, we transitioned from the on-prem AppDynamics platform to the SaaS platform, which allowed us to gain access to new feature releases a lot sooner than we previously did. Better monitoring in production and easily identifying performance issues freed up our teams to work on the tasks that matter most, rather than just managing infrastructure and planning upgrades.

Without moving to AWS or leveraging AppDynamics, we would’ve had a lot of challenges with platform scalability. Identifying and improving performance consistently is the biggest value AWS and AppDynamics have brought us to move toward scalability.

Full-stack observability allows us to regularly review and monitor our production usage, identify problems and bring that information back to our teams. We’ve had a whole bunch of alerts set up, proactive learning and recently more anomaly detection. We have a feedback loop happening, and we constantly look at improving that.

But even beyond alerting, being able to understand the thresholds, quickly identifying when something deviates from the norm and fixing something that’s not quite right has made a big difference for PEXA.

Why is full-stack observability important to PEXA’s digital transformation strategy?

When we’re exploring how we modernize our application and gain more flexibility to grow into, keeping our platforms safe, secure and resilient remains a key business initiative. To do that, identifying issues quickly and lessening the impact on our customers is vital. Using the words of the AWS CTO Werner Vogels, we need to be “designed for failure,” so we wanted to introduce concepts like chaos engineering and resiliency testing into our ways of working, too.

The challenge with innovation, in general, is deciding what to focus on. There are so many great ideas out there, and for us, it’s a challenge right now to discover how to best support and align all these new business units. So, we asked how do we bring in the resiliency, the alerting and the identification of problems into our business quicker? How do we make work more seamless for our teams?

By focusing on strengthening our observability monitoring ecosystem. AppDynamics allows us to do that.

How has observability improved PEXA’s relationship with its partners?

Observability has helped us be a powerful network partner to the more than 150 financial institutions we work within the property settlement process. Observability through end-user monitoring into their performance and tracking where their hotspots are, helps us identify issues for our partners within their workflows. These organizations have said — because of AppDynamics — it’s easier to contact PEXA as they are aware of the monitoring and observability capabilities available to support their internal teams.

Full-stack observability helps us identify where they’re having issues within their geographies or data centers. Plus, moving forward, we’re continuing to use end-user monitoring to get more details and do detailed analyses around customer behaviors and user journeys. By combining different data sets (including data from AppDynamics) in our data lake, we can now define how long a user spends on a page, understand why they’re spending that much time on a page and work through friction points to improve the user journey.

What are some examples of functionality you have now that you didn’t expect before transitioning to AWS and AppDynamics?

From an application perspective, we discovered new ways to leverage and use the database. Now, we can quickly identify which queries are excessive or cause performance issues, and we can find solutions to address those. In one example, we were able to offload to another service and we gained a 30% improvement in capacity and performance. By identifying some of those queries, enabling caching and a better search service, we’ve improved both performance and user experience. A search that previously took three or four clicks now takes only one.

We’ve also gone back and used AppDynamics to measure which features are being used and which aren’t. Now, we’re looking at decommissioning some of those features, so we don’t have to continue to maintain and support them moving forward. AppDynamics has enabled us to measure successful features to focus our efforts on what’s most valuable to our partners and customers.

For example, now we can focus on modernizing by implementing a gateway infrastructure. Our API build-out enables continued growth and modernisation and being able to monitor API at PEXA is another vital way AppDynamics can support us moving forward.

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