No, it wasn’t as simple as switching to AWS’s Frankfurt data centres…
Enterprise communications software provider Slack says it is rolling out the ability for customers to keep their data in Europe, in a demand-driven move that will start with data residency in Frankfurt, Germany, before rapidly expanding across the continent.
Slack is hosted on AWS, but the move has been significantly more complex than opting to host customer data in one of AWS’s Europe-based data centres, and has required a fundamental rethink of Slack’s architecture that has taken nearly two years to get right.
(The move comes as Slack continues to gun for a slice of the enterprise communications market, announcing in a call with investors last week on the back of its quarterly earnings report that it had grown to – a still admittedly modest by many measures – 720 customers with more than $100,000 of annual recurring revenue).
During that call, CEO Stewart Butterfield emphasised that Slack’s focus was on carving out a niche as a “lightweight fabric for systems integration”.
He highlighted a Fortune 100 customer that he said has “more than 500 integrations including PagerDuty, Dinotrace, Jira and an extensive set of internally developed integrations.”
With the company focussing on integrations and inter-business collaboration, Ilan Frank, head of enterprise product at Slack, told Computer Business Review that offering companies European data residency without undermining their ability to collaborate across borders had been a unique challenge.
He said: “We’ve really had to think about how this would work as a network.
“If a German automotive firm, for example, shares a channel with a marketing firm in Chicago, how do you design that so the data stays in Germany and the content in Chicago? Similarly, we released an enterprise [crypto] key management offering this year. But if both parties in a channel encrypt content with separate keys, you have to pool data from both clients, pull it together into one channel… Then ensuring good performance when a client has to search or load across a globally dispersed Slack environment was interesting; we had to rethink the architecture.
“How it’s set up now, is that each channel can be stored on its own shard, or VM; by having this channel architecture we have flexibility into where data is stored.” (The company aims to push out a whitepaper on the design later this year).
The option, free to enterprise users, is in beta and starts this winter. Slack boasts that it is now certifed secure with an alphabet soup od accreditations, including ISO 27001, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, SOC 2 Type II, SOC 3, FINRA, HIPAA, FedRAMP and GDPR-compliant.
Frank told Computer Business Review that demand was driven by four key customer groups: “Firstly, banks, which have very strict requirements on data residency in many places, but which are keen to adopt collaborative tools. Secondly, professional services companies. These have often signed contractual agreements with their customers to keep data in a particular location. Thirdly, government agencies and fourth, contractors doing work with those government agencies.”
“Ten million people collaborate in Slack each day, but because data is primarily stored in the United States, many teams abroad remain on the sidelines” the company said in a blog post today. Although 50 percent of its user base is already outside of the US, it’s hoping the shift will give it a significant leg-up when it comes to European business customers. Execution will be everything.