Apr
02
2018
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Atlassian’s two-year cloud journey

A couple of years ago, Dropbox shocked a lot of people when it decided to mostly drop the public cloud, and built its own datacenters. More recently, Atlassian did the opposite, closing most of its datacenters and moving to the cloud. Companies make these choices for a variety of reasons. When Atlassian CTO Sri Viswanath came on board in 2016, he made the decision to move the company’s biggest applications to AWS.

In part, this is a story of technical debt — that’s the concept that over time your applications become encumbered by layers of crusty code, making it harder to update and ever harder to maintain. For Atlassian, which was founded in 2002, that bill came due in 2016 when Viswanath came to work for the company.

Atlassian already knew they needed to update the code to move into the future. One of the reasons they brought Viswanath on board was to lead that charge, but the thinking was already in place even before he got there. A small team was formed back in 2015 to work out the vision and the architecture for the new cloud-based approach, but they wanted to have their first CTO in place to carry it through to fruition.

Shifting to microservices

He put the plan into motion, giving it the internal code name Vertigo — maybe because the thought of moving most of their software stack to the public cloud made the engineering team dizzy to even consider. The goal of the project was to rearchitect the software, starting with their biggest products Jira and Confluence, in a such a way that it would lay the foundation for the company for the next decade — no pressure or anything.

Photo: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

They spent a good part of 2016 rewriting the software and getting it set up on AWS. They concentrated on turning their 15-year old code into microservices, which in the end resulted in a smaller code base. He said the technical debt issues were very real, but they had to be careful not to reinvent the wheel, just change what needed to be changed whenever possible.

“The code base was pretty large and we had to go in and do two things. We wanted to build it for multi-tenant architecture and we wanted to create microservices,” he said. “If there was a service that could be pulled out and made self-contained we did that, but we also created new services as part of the process.”

Migrating customers on the fly

Last year was the migration year, and it was indeed a full year-long project to migrate every last customer over to the new system. It started in January and ended in December and involved moving tens of thousands of customers.

Photo: KTSDesign/Science Photo Library

First of all, they automated whatever they could and they also were very deliberate in terms of the migration order, being conscious of migrations that might be more difficult. “We were thoughtful in what order to migrate. We didn’t want to do easiest first and hardest at the end. We didn’t want to do just the harder ones and not make progress. We had to blend [our approaches] to fix bugs and issues throughout the project,” he said.

Viswanath stated that the overarching goal was to move the customers without a major incident. “If you talk to anyone who does migration, that’s a big thing. Everyone has scars doing migrations. We were conscious to do this pretty carefully.” Surprisingly, although it wasn’t perfect, they did manage to complete the entire exercise without a major outage, a point of which the team is justifiably proud. That doesn’t mean that it was always smooth or easy.

“It sounds super easy: ‘we were thoughtful and we migrated,’ but there was warfare every day. When you migrate, you hit a wall and react. It was a daily thing for us throughout the year,” he explained. It took a total team effort involving engineering, product and support. That included having a customer support person involved in the daily scrum meetings so they could get a feel for any issues customers were having and fix them as quickly as possible.

What they gained

As in any cloud project, there are some general benefits to moving an application to the cloud around flexibility, agility and resource elasticity, but there was more than that when it came to this specific project.

Photo: Ade Akinrujomu/Getty Images

First of all it has allowed faster deployment with multiple deployments at the same time, due in large part to the copious use of microservices. That means they can add new features much faster. During the migration year, they held off on new features for the most part because they wanted to keep things as static as possible for the shift over, but with the new system in place they can move much more quickly to add new features.

They get much better performance and if they hit a performance bottleneck, they can just add more resources because it’s the cloud. What’s more, they were able to have a local presence in the EU and that improves performance by having the applications closer to the end users located there.

Finally, they actually found the cloud to be a more economical option, something that not every company that moves to the cloud finds. By closing the datacenters and reducing the capital costs associated with buying hardware and hiring IT personnel to maintain it, they were able to reduce costs.

Managing the people parts

It was a long drawn out project, and as such, they really needed to think about the human aspect of it too. They would swap people in and out to make sure the engineers stayed fresh and didn’t burn out helping with the transition.

One thing that helped was the company culture in general, which Viswanath candidly describes as one with open communication and a general “no bullshit” policy. “We maintained open communication, even when things weren’t going well. People would raise their hand if they couldn’t keep up and we would get them help,” he said.

He admitted that there was some anxiety within the company and for him personally implementing a project of this scale, but they knew they needed to do it for the future of the organization. “There was definitely nervousness on what if this project doesn’t go well. It seemed the obvious right direction and we had to do it. The risk was what if we screwed up in execution and we didn’t realize benefits we set out to do.”

In the end, it was a lot of work, but it worked out just fine and they have the system in place for the future. “Now we are set up for the next 10 years,” he said.

Mar
27
2018
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Stride, Atlassian’s Slack competitor, hits general availability

Last September, Atlassian launched Stride, its take on a Slack-like real-time communications platform for text, audio and video chats, into beta. Six months later, Stride is now generally available to any and all teams that want to give it a try.

While Atlassian is a bit cagey about providing exact user numbers, so the numbers it actually shared aren’t all the useful to gauge the service’s success. What the company was willing to say is that its users have now spent a quarter of a million hours in Stride’s Focus Mode, which is meant to allow worked to reclaim a bit of sanity in today’s notification-driven world by allowing you to turn off all incoming messages and notifications. As Atlassian’s head of communications products Steve Goldsmith told me, the company is happy with the state of Stride and that it’s growing quickly.

Since the closed beta launch, Atlassian has added about 50 new features and improvements to the service that include better ways to organize chat lists, better search and a number of improvements to the service’s video meetings features. Indeed, it’s these video chat features that the team is maybe the most proud of. “Small impromptu meetings don’t just happen when you have to switch context,” Goldsmith told me but declined to give us any numbers for how much time users spend in these chats beyond that “it’s a lot.”

Goldsmith also stressed that this is far from the final version of Stride. The team still has quite a roadmap of features that it wants to implement. But taking away the beta label, though, the company is signalling that it has worked out most of the kinks and that Stride is now ready for full enterprise deployments.

About a month ago, the Stride team also opened up its API to outside developers. Goldsmith was pretty open about the fact that he’s very happy with the final result but that he would’ve liked to see that happen a bit earlier. Stride’s API is the first product that sites on top of Atlassian’s new API platform. That probably made building the API a bit harder, but Goldsmith noted that that now makes integrating with Stride easier for other Atlassian teams.

Feb
20
2018
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Stride, Atlassian’s Slack competitor, opens its API to all developers

 The arrival of Stride, Atlassian’s Slack competitor, was probably the company’s biggest launch of 2017. While the company generally allows developers to easily integrate with its products, Stride’s API remained in closed beta for significantly longer than the product itself, which exited beta last September. Today, however, Atlassian is opening the Stride API to all developers. Read More

Oct
19
2017
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Atlassian is on one heck of a run

 When Atlassian went public at the end of 2015, it was a bit of an anomaly: a tech IPO whose numbers looked quite good with some profitability. It’s been almost two years since that IPO, and since then, the company’s valuation is at around $9 billion. The company popped 32% on its first day and hit a valuation of $5.8 billion. A lot of that is thanks to an insane run this year so… Read More

Jun
13
2017
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Atlassian launches a new subscription bundle that includes all of its developer tools

This photo taken on December 8, 2015 shows flags adorning the head office of Australian tech start-up Atlassian . Atlassian today announced the launch of Atlassian Stack, a new subscription service that bundles virtually all of the company’s self-hosted developer tools into a single offering. Starting at $186,875 per year for 1,000 licenses, this new bundle is meant to make the procurement process for enterprises easier and cheaper (despite what looks like an eye watering price at first). Instead… Read More

Apr
13
2017
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Custom status messages are coming to Slack

 AFK, BRB, in a coffee meeting or what not — Slack, with its constant stream of communication, is probably not the the first place you’d drop an away message or status update to keep people informed of what you’re up to. But now Slack is adding its own flavor of status updates and away messages. Read More

Apr
11
2017
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Slack developers get another small tool to fill out their bot functionality

 Slack, which at times can sometimes seem allergic to product changes, is making an alteration and giving developers the ability to add a drop-down menu to give additional responses and actions to Slackbot messages. Read More

Mar
09
2017
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Astro raises an $8 million Series A for its AI-powered email solution for teams

 On the surface, Astro, launching its public beta today, is a nifty but not completely necessary email client that combines machine intelligence and a bot interface to improve workflows and increase the signal to noise ratio of mail for power users. But the real story is that the startup, backed with a new $8 million Series A led by Redpoint, is gearing up to pitch enterprises on… Read More

Oct
18
2016
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SafetyCulture’s mobile safety management SaaS pulls in $23M Series B, led by Index

toolbox_meeting_iauditor SafetyCulture, the maker of a b2b inspection checklist app called iAuditor, has pulled in a $23 million Series B funding led by Index Ventures. Also participating Blackbird Ventures and Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar, who led its Series A round in 2014. Read More

Oct
12
2016
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Atlassian keeps one foot in the data center and one in the cloud with new products

This photo taken on December 8, 2015 shows flags adorning the head office of Australian tech start-up Atlassian . Atlassian wants the best of both the cloud and data center worlds, and it announced at the Atlassian Summit today that it was expanding its data center-cloud strategy with new products. At a time when companies are shifting their business to the cloud, it may seem like an odd approach to offer both cloud and on-prem products, but Atlassian sees it as hedging its bets in a world that remains… Read More

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