Committed to the goal of creating reliable and effective cloud workforce systems for a spectrum of industries, Human Recognition Systems (HRS) leads the way in providing customers with technologies that produce safe, secure and compliant working environments. Based in Liverpool, HRS was one of the earliest pioneers of biometric technology in the UK. Since its foundation in 2001, the company has brought a number of firsts to the industry in its native country. From being the first multi-technology biometric company, to introducing the first hand-geometry recognition technology, to being the first to deploy iris-at-distance technology in a UK airport, HRS continues to innovate. To its customers—primarily in aviation, construction, and energy—it currently offers a three-product suite: MTrust for online worker registration and ID issuance; MSkills for competency and skills management; and MSite for information-based biometric access control. Neil Norman, CEO and founder of HRS says, “We are reimagining the way in which companies manage and protect their workforce through a series of on-demand cloud workforce systems. Critical to our success is having a technical delivery platform that is bulletproof, reliable, and will grow as we grow.”
Until recently, HRS has deployed its software in hosted environments at customers’ sites, but it developed its most recent product–MTrust–with the cloud in mind. In talks with London Gatwick Airport, HRS recognized the need for a new approach to application hosting and looked to Amazon Web Services (AWS). HRS Technical Design Authority Phil Bray says, “We develop software products. It’s what we’re very good at, but we didn’t want to get into hosting data centers or services for customers. Plus, we wanted to make sure we’re sitting on a platform that’s secure. We work in very strict regulatory environments where we have to be FIPS–or ISO 27001–compliant. In AWS we saw the opportunity to run on a platform that is mature, robust, and secure enough for all our aviation and construction customers.”
Why Amazon Web Services
In addition to MTrust, HRS is now in the process of migrating MSite and MSkills to AWS. “We wanted to move towards a multi-tenanted platform, and away from single-point solutions where we’d deliver a product to a specific customer requirement,” explains Jon Busby, business development manager at HRS. “In construction, for example, most of our customers have disparate locations, so we wanted the elasticity of the cloud to add new locations easily and securely because our customers’ industries demand it. Plus, because MTrust is built as a multi-tenanted platform, we can bring on new airports without having to reengineer entire architectures or build new architectures specific to one airport.”
For its platform, HRS uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances in a web tier, running on more instances in an application tier. These exist within Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) networks and scale automatically with Auto Scaling. Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) distributes incoming traffic accordingly in both tiers. Dual Microsoft SQL Server database servers sit below in an application tier in an active-passive configuration. Data is backed up to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and then archived to the lower-cost Amazon Glacier service and stored for as long as a customer or regulatory body requires. To monitor and automate the environment, HRS makes extensive use of Amazon CloudWatch and AWS CloudFormation respectively.
Busby believes that basing the HRS product suite on AWS has offered two main advantages to the company: “First, it offers our enterprise an always-available platform to host our software and services,” he says. “And second, it’s allowed us to automate the administration of these mission-critical systems, meaning we avoid investing in full-time resources to look after this.”
The agility and elasticity of the cloud have helped HRS improve its product for customers. First, it can deploy changes much more quickly than before. Busby says, “We’re able to offer continual releases. We’ve gone way beyond the days of doing a major release, then waiting 6 to 12 months to do a second major iteration.” Bray outlines the technical aspect: “With load balancing we can have the new version of a product—plus the last stable version—running simultaneously and can continuously monitor it for 48 hours. Then, we silently bring the old version out of production with zero disruption to the customer.”
Bray is quick to praise AWS CloudFormation and the templates it provides. “All our infrastructures are pretty much stored as scripts,” he says. “We can pick up a call on a Monday morning asking for a demo of MTrust, and we can quite impressively offer them a full infrastructure within 24 hours, something that our on-premises competitors can’t offer.” Using Amazon CloudWatch and Splunk, plus the AWS SDKs and APIs, Bray and his team have automated the entire management of the infrastructure and made monitoring easy. “We could have technically done this before, but it would not have been as cost-effective or as easy to set up,” Bray says.
The elastic nature of AWS means customers get a much better return on investment. Busby says, “Aviation in particular is a very seasonal business. When we used to deploy a solution into that industry we were sizing it to meet the demand of 20 percent of the year, whereas with AWS you can use features like scaling groups and auto scaling to match demand.” Since deploying MTrust in January 2015, London Gatwick Airport has issued more than 50,000 security passes. It would not have been possible to support its planned employee expansion using the previous paper-based system.
Security is a primary concern for the industries HRS works with. The company is able to assure its clients that their mission-critical applications and data are hosted on a secure platform. Busby says, “Whenever AWS has been asked to support us in proving something, we’ve got it. We’ve run penetration tests at UK airports on request from auditors. AWS has always been really open and forthcoming in supporting us.” AWS can also ensure data remains within the EU or Ireland for traceability.
And the future looks bright. HRS currently has a 95 percent customer satisfaction rating, and Busby believes that once HRS has transitioned all its products onto AWS, it will offer a true competitive advantage. “Using AWS is very beneficial in a competitive situation. It goes above and beyond most security requirements and gives us great ability to deliver new functionality across all customer groups,” he says. HRS is already talking to new overseas customers in aviation and is confident of its ability to tailor the products for new regulatory environments. Norman adds, “By working with the Amazon team we are able to deliver a world-class service to our customers and as CEO, I have one less thing to worry about in the board room.”
“In AWS we saw the opportunity to run on a platform that is mature, robust, and secure enough for all our aviation and construction customers.”
Phil Bray, Technical Design Authority