London-based Aire is driven by a goal to help people get fair access to financial products. There are many reasons people find themselves unable to get fair credit—for example, they may have lived outside the UK for a period of time, they were incorrectly classified in the past, or they're simply applying for credit for the first time. Through its scoring process, Aire, which launched in early 2014, builds a credit score that can help the user qualify for financial products and services from banks, mobile operators, and lenders. Users undertake a unique, fully online process, giving insights into their professional background and approaches toward risk and credit. These answers are cross-referenced, analyzed, and authenticated to generate an Aire credit score, which is then used by lending organizations to more effectively qualify their credit-based services to the candidate.
As a startup with limited funding, Aire wanted to get its credit application to market fast. “The beginning for Aire was essentially the three of us hot-desking around various places trying to build models and conduct proof-of-concept analysis to see if there was any mileage in our idea,” says Jon Bundy, cofounder of Aire. “It’s probably the way a lot of startups begin life, and that seems a long time ago and long way away from where we are now.”
Aire wanted an environment to match the flexible way in which it was operating at this early stage. “We needed an infrastructure that would give us the agility to test and develop in an uninhibited way,” says Bundy. “As a result, we didn’t even look at doing this on a traditional architecture because that wouldn’t give us the ability to innovate quickly.”
The three founders all had experience using Amazon Web Services (AWS) in previous roles, so while there was competition from other other cloud providers, they chose to launch Aire with AWS. “We all agreed that AWS provided us with the quickest, most cost-effective way of getting up and running,” says Bundy.
Tim Kimball, head of engineering at Aire explains the operational perspective. “We needed highly available databases, highly available applications, and security features that would help us to log, monitor, and track access to our infrastructure," he says.
Why Amazon Web Services
With access to a range of technologies enabled through the AWS Activate program, Aire was able to get started with AWS technologies quickly and avoid big upfront investment in IT infrastructure. Security and availability were priorities for the startup.
“We quickly saw that building a redundant infrastructure with AWS tools would be easy," says Kimball. "On the security side, it was trickier. Our financial-services clients all have different but very high security expectations, so from the start we looked to AWS to help us find the right security levels. Plus, we needed a platform that we could use to anticipate customer requirements, not just now, but into the future, too.”
Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) provides the firm with resizable capacity, which liberates the team from time-consuming database management and administration tasks. Elastic Load Balancing automatically distributes incoming application traffic across multiple Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances. Its resources sit within an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC). “Amazon RDS, Amazon EC2, and Elastic Load Balancing really help us deliver the highly available architecture we need for our clients,” says Kimball.
From a security perspective, AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) allows the startup to create, track, and manage users within AWS. AWS CloudTrail records API calls, while monitoring service Amazon CloudWatch helps Aire to monitor log files and set alerts. AWS Key Management Service (KMS) controls encryption keys and also integrates with Amazon RDS and CloudTrail, providing logs that enable the firm to meet its compliance needs.
Aire also uses AWS Support to gain access to technical expertise. “It’s not a service you get from all providers. That face-to-face time is invaluable—not just on specific technical questions we have, but also in terms of the wider picture and advice on what we need to do going forward and also why we need to do it that way. AWS Support has given us a lot of clarity and it’s speeded up our evolution as a business,” says Kimball.
Using AWS has enabled Aire to bring its new, disruptive approach to the traditional credit scoring market, with the reliability to ensure that its service runs consistently and with the security necessary to meet the demands of its financial-services clients. Working within a flexible environment has allowed the Aire team to innovate cheaply and quickly, something that wouldn’t have been possible in a traditional IT environment.
Kimball says, “The big win for us with AWS is the ability to innovate at speed, as well as the ability to automate, taking our development-based, agile approach to business and applying it to our infrastructure. We need to meet client requirements in a cost-effective and repeatable way, and AWS lets us do this.”
Bundy talks about the journey so far with AWS and how the startup has satisfied important security requirements along the way: “As we’ve moved from testing and developing our app to commercialization and regulation, each financial-services client has presented us with a set of third-party security requirements that had to be met before we could go any further. We've been able to point to the AWS platform and reassure potential clients that we’re secure in the cloud.”
For Aire, the ease of getting started and simplicity of working with AWS tools has allowed the startup to operate in a lean and agile way, avoiding the need to hire specialist IT staff to run the infrastructure. Bundy says, “AWS has allowed us to focus on the core skills and requirements of our business rather than maintaining a network that consumes resources that we can use more effectively elsewhere. It’s been a huge benefit to our business. As a startup, our resources are limited, so not having to hire a dedicated person to set up and maintain our infrastructure enabled us to get up and running. AWS tools are so easy to use that we can all play our part in managing the infrastructure day to day and don’t need access to dedicated staff or expensive external consultants.”
The availability that AWS provides helps Aire deliver the reliable infrastructure that its customers demand. “We’re really happy with our uptime,” says Bundy. “Our architecture is redundant at all levels. We no longer have to worry about things like backing up databases, which is great from an operational perspective. With AWS, we can focus on developing our product and getting it out there and recognized in the market—ultimately, getting people access to fair credit.”
Looking ahead, other aspects of the AWS offering will become important to Aire. As it on-boards customers, the scalability of AWS tools and the cloud provider’s global reach will be a critical factors in delivering services reliably and securely worldwide. “We’re still at the start of our journey, but as we grow, we’ll need the ability to scale rapidly and spin up server instances on demand," Kimball says. "And looking outside the UK, we will also have to consider regulation requirements in other countries. We hope the global presence of AWS will help us work with regulators in different countries to bring our product to more people. It’s good to know we have the infrastructure in place ready to get going with this when the time is right.”
He concludes, “The biggest advantage that we’re getting with respect to AWS is our ability to build a highly available, secure infrastructure for our clients. Without AWS and the availability and security it affords, the business literally would not be here today. We’re excited about using more of its features—for example, to run big data workloads—to develop our services in the future.”
“With AWS, our architecture is redundant at all levels. We no longer have to worry about things like backing up databases, which is great from an operational perspective. We can focus on developing our product and getting it out there and recognized in the market.”
Jon Bundy, Cofounder