Host Hotels & Resorts – Cloud Migration

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Background

In late 2019, Bethesda Maryland-based Host Hotels & Resorts found itself in need of some serious housekeeping for its outdated datacenter running legacy software. As the world’s largest lodging real estate investment trust (REIT) with multimillion-dollar investment deals on the line at all hours, Host was facing increasing concerns about system downtime and security breaches. With 30 to 40 percent of its workforce on the road at any given time, Host was also looking to improve remote access to help staff carry out its 3-pillar core business—invest, manage, sell—for properties worldwide. Finally, beyond its system surety and remote access concerns, Host’s IT staff need a more efficient way to stay current with the latest compliance specifications required for a publicly traded Fortune 500 company in the real estate and hotel industries. Change was about to come to Host… and Covid-19 would not be far behind.

Challenge

Faced with the efficacy and cost-benefit challenges of its outmoded datacenter, the Host IT team looked to the Microsoft cloud experts of Cloudforce to help engineer a solution. “Managing a datacenter, utility challenges, power outages, and brownouts were just beating us, and they were not helping us create value,” said Sukhvinder Singh, Senior Vice President of Technology at Host. Singh wanted to create a modernized technology stack that optimized for capabilities, applications, and infrastructure. Singh believed this solution would also free up his team to focus on higher value projects and provide business values and strategic insights to company management.

Singh’s objectives included several imperatives. First, he required that the entire Host stack remain operational throughout conversion as even a small disruption could have major consequences. Second, Singh wanted a centralized remote work and communications platform that was scalable and that would include anywhere/anytime time access to every Host employee. Third, the new technology stack would need to be secure, compliant, and audit-friendly in order to satisfy Congressionally-mandated industry requirements.

GOAL 1:  Cloud Migration

GOAL 2:  Improve Secure Access

GOAL 3:  Modernization

Solution

Cloudforce began its Host datacenter modernization by first transforming Host’s platform and IT infrastructure, thereby eliminating future worries about availability, resiliency, and backups. Following its signature deep-dive into Host’s operations, Cloudforce worked to help identify which applications were business-critical and assessed opportunities for future efficiencies. Microsoft contributed to Cloudforce’s analysis and offered credits to develop a proof-of-concept scenario in Azure. Cloudforce started small, extending Host’s on-premises Active Directory to Azure and enabling Microsoft Azure Site Recovery to ensure a resiliency capability in the cloud.

Next, Cloudforce moved Host’s email into the cloud giving all Host workers worldwide convenient remote access with the advantages of scalability and Microsoft enhanced security—a move that would prove pivotal as Covid forced workers offsite just a few months later. The focus then shifted to application modernization, taking traditional multi-tier server applications such as HostHotels.com and refactoring them to modern, server-less solutions leveraging Azure SQL and Azure App Services. The final—and currently ongoing step—involves assessing Host’s business- critical legacy applications and creating a strategy to modernize them in the cloud.

“It’s been a game changer. I’m now in a zone where my team can create value inside the organization around data, around analytics, around speed-to-market on reporting, on scaling up and down.”

Sukhvinder Singh Senior Vice President of Technology, Host Hotels & Resorts

Results

By transitioning from an outdated on-premises datacenter to Microsoft Azure cloud services, Host realized major gains in resiliency, security, and compliance, in addition to remote work capability. “We’re a small organization, fewer than 200 people,” said Singh. “And we’ve been able to manage and scale our applications to meet greater demand more efficiently, flexibly and securely. That’s where the value proposition of Azure and Microsoft comes in. With all the capabilities and built-in resiliency, we can focus on creating value and solutions for our company. We’re helping transform data into real-time insights for business decisions, and that’s a powerful capability for us.”

Post transition, Host’s upgraded data-retention and backup system also provides for intelligent file and document hosting across multiple platforms, ultimately controlled via Azure Active Directory and through Privileged Identity Management. This approach ensures any changes are always logged, which greatly simplifies any potential compliance issues or auditing needs.

Conclusion

The Host Hotels & Resorts transition to the Azure cloud environment provided transformative IT surety, security, remote access, compliance simplifications, cost efficiencies, and scalability. It also freed up Host’s IT professionals to provide critical, real-time data to inform business decisions and keeps Host ahead of its competition—all while working remotely during a pandemic lockdown. Or, simply put: game changer.

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