Why Intuit's new CTO demolished its databases

Today: how Intuit rebuilt the tech infrastructure that powers Tax Day on the cloud, how the Pentagon plans to manage the formidable cloud resources under construction by top vendors, and the latest funding rounds raised by enterprise tech startups.

Why Intuit's new CTO demolished its databases
Photo by kerry rawlinson / Unsplash
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Welcome to Runtime! Today: how Intuit rebuilt the tech infrastructure that powers Tax Day on the cloud, how the Pentagon plans to manage the formidable cloud resources under construction by top vendors, and the latest funding rounds raised by enterprise tech startups.

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Getting smaller to get bigger

Soon after making the decision to get out of the data center business and into cloud computing about five years ago, Intuit realized that it was going to have to change nearly everything about how it built and managed its application infrastructure to operate in this new world.

The company behind Quickbooks and TurboTax once ran both the largest SQL Server database in the world as well as the largest Oracle database in the world, according to Alex Balazs, a longtime Intuit tech executive who was tapped as the company's new chief technology officer Monday.

  • It decided to "lift and shift" this setup into AWS for the sake of simplicity and expediency, and found out pretty quickly that it wasn't going to work.
  • "When you own your own data center, you tend to be more monolithic as to how you think about problems, you tend to think about vertical scale," Balazs said in a recent interview conducted before his promotion. "And in the cloud, you think about horizontal scale."
  • That led Intuit on a path to database sharding, microservices, and multiregion deployment across the world to support the company's financial products, many of which are subject to spikes in demand around the close of a quarter or the frenzied early days of April when tax bills are due in the U.S.

Intuit's services run primarily in AWS, except for Credit Karma, which the company acquired in 2020 and runs on Google Cloud.

  • "We've learned a lot and we've taught AWS a lot about how to operate in the cloud world where it's multi (availability zone) and multiregion and how you deploy across all that different strata of infrastructure capability," Balazs said.
  • One of the things Intuit learned was that it needed to spread accountability for cloud-computing costs much more broadly across its organization.
  • Inside most companies during the data-center days, the CTO or CIO was accountable for managing hardware spending and there was no real incentive for developers and operations teams to use that hardware efficiently.
  • After it shifted to the cloud, Intuit set up a system based around dashboards, targets, and consumption alerts that moved that responsibility to the leaders of teams that were responsible for managing the microservices it implemented after breaking down its monolithic applications.

Intuit realized it also needed to give its developers a standardized platform for building and deploying new code across the company.

  • It borrowed a concept from Netflix known as the "paved road," which gives developers incentives to follow a well-worn path when writing new code rather than doing whatever they wanted, which can make it much harder to manage the interactions between microservices.
  • Now those teams are playing around with generative AI tools in hopes of improving productivity.
  • But Intuit developers that want to participate in the generative AI era are forced to use its own application runtime called GenOS, which automatically builds unique security and privacy features into Intuit applications developed with generative AI when they are deployed.
  • "You can't go natively to any of the GenAI providers," Balazs said. Unlike most of Intuit's development rules, the path to apps with generative AI "is a walled road."

Read the full story on Runtime here.


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Support the troops

Now that the years-long drama over the Department of Defense's cloud computing bid process is firmly in the rearview mirror, military IT officials can finally start issuing guidance to their charges on how best to take advantage of that massive resource.

Federal News Network interviewed Lily Zeleke, deputy chief information officer, for the DoD, about how the agency plans to use the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability under construction by AWS, Microsoft, Google Cloud, and Oracle. "We’re not going to do anything that doesn’t make sense,” she said. “But ultimately, we’ve gone through such great lengths to put together this incredible offering, and we want to make sure that we eat our own dog food if you will.”

Military teams will be required to use the JWCC for anything involving classified information, but over 950,000 civilians work for the DoD and it needs to process an awful lot of unclassified information to keep the organization moving. In those cases, teams will have some discretion about moving those apps to the JWCC or keeping them where they are, Zeleke said, echoing that old maxim that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Enterprise funding

Anthropic raised another $100 million, this time from SK Telecom, as it attempts to compete with the major players in large-language model development.

Virtualitics landed $37 million in Series C funding to expand its AI data visualization tool for enterprise customers.

Tracer raised a $18.1 million Series A round to staff up and hire a sales team for its business intelligence dashboard.

Voiceflow scored $15 million in new funding to build out its tool that helps businesses build conversational chatbots around a variety of technologies.

The Runtime roundup

The Microsoft Azure flaw that allowed Chinese hackers to read Commerce Department emails also targeted a Republican congressman on the House Armed Services Committee who had advocated for increasing U.S. aid to Taiwan.

Secureworks laid off 15% of its workforce months after laying off hundreds of other employees earlier this year.

Monday.com raised its revenue guidance for the year, adding to the mixed signals about the overall health of enterprise tech spending of late.

New restrictions on AI services in China rolled out this week, requiring anyone who wants to provide an AI service there to register with the government and submit to a security review.

Nutanix hopes the rise of generative AI could be a boost for edge computing and its "AI in a box" strategy.


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