About Arena Flowers
Arena Flowers is a UK-based online retailer of flower and gifts. The company serves Europe and the U.S. from websites including ArenaFlowers.com, ArenaFleurs.com, and white-label sites, as well as being a fulfillment partner to companies including Moonpig.com and ProFlowers. Arena sells ethically-sourced flowers that originate from England, the Netherlands and Africa, as well as through bilateral fulfilment agreements worldwide. The company was the first UK member of Fair Flowers Fair Plants, an important ethical flowers standard. Arena Flowers is formally accredited as a Fairtrade UK flower supplier. Based in Park Royal in London, the company’s first website was launched in 2006 by William Wynne and Steven France.
When Arena Flowers launched in 2006, the business took off quickly, and the company soon outgrew its small infrastructure. The startup moved to a hoster to ensure support for its two dedicated servers. The company gradually began building out an API and working with partners to expand its market, and within a few years, it started to outgrow its servers once more. “I wanted additional services to bolt onto my hosting, and it just wasn’t possible,” says Sam Barton, CTO. “We went with a hoster because we wanted the support, but we were running into the fixed-box scenario, where we were facing growing demand for our products. We couldn’t scale the way we needed to.”
Scalability is critical for a company that experiences sales surges of 2000 percent each year in the run-up to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. “We literally have to move to a bigger warehouse and hire hundreds of people to fulfill demand,” Barton says. “We’ll go from processing 2,500 orders in a day to 50,000 orders.” The company works at such volume that there’s no room for inflexibility—it must be able to scale as necessary. The easier it is to scale, the easier it is for Arena Flowers to focus on its core work: delivering flowers to customers all over the world.
So when Arena began experiencing capacity issues, the company knew it had a choice: either invest in bigger boxes and more RAM, or move to the cloud. “We did the maths, and it just didn’t add up,” Barton says. “Continuing to use a hoster meant spending 30 to 45 percent more for what we needed. We wanted scalability, support, and flexibility in a solution that didn’t break the bank.”
Why Amazon Web Services
After researching its options, Arena Flowers decided to use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for a trial run. The company developed an internal stock management system on AWS. It worked well, and Arena decided to migrate its database to Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for MySQL. “We decided to use Amazon RDS to handle all the elements of both the web content and transaction details. That was seamless and very successful—we saw an improvement in performance because RDS is superior to what we had before,” Barton says. “The more we used AWS, the more we realized how much it offers—it gives us a lot of options.”
Arena decided to go all-in and migrate its entire infrastructure to AWS. Over the next 18 months, the company split its applications into different instances and moved them to AWS once at a time. “We did it slowly but surely, taking our time to make sure it was right, and we’ve never looked back,” Barton says. Now the company runs entirely on AWS.
The company uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) in Multiple Availability Zones (Multi-AZ) to ensure that its customers have reliable, always-on service, no matter how much traffic is hitting its sites. The company uses Amazon EC2 for staging and production environments for its websites and the fulfillment applications Arena writes, like back-office order management, order tracking, and shipping. Arena uses AWS Elastic Beanstalk to adjust the size of its instances on the fly and Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) for all email services.
Arena uses Amazon RDS to process requests and orders quickly and reliably—even when handling thousands of requests a minute during peak periods. “Using Amazon RDS is vital to us, as we need to handle a variety of read/write requests per second. Be it an order being placed on a front-end website or a partner requesting an order status update via the API, a product going out of stock, or a customer wanting to see if their order has been delivered, we handle hundreds of requests a minute.” The company’s previous hosted solution could only handle so much—but moving to the AWS cloud enabled Arena to increase the number of instances it can run per application as necessary. “Using Amazon RDS allows us to do so much more than we could before,” Barton says. The company uses Reserved Instances to lock in advantageous pricing on instances.
Amazon SES is used to manage error handling, alert staff to back-office tasks, and keep customers apprised of their order status. The company uses Amazon Route 53 for DNS and AWS Identity and Access Management (AWS IAM) for multi-factor authentication to secure its data. Files are stored in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). The company hosts its code on GitHub via a continuous integration server that stores its various test suites. The company has a set of deployment scripts that enables it to efficiently deploy new code to a specific EC2 instance from a single shortcut. “This practice is commonplace today, but the various services were not there when we started nearly nine years ago,” Barton says. “Using AWS has helped cultivate a welcome change in contemporary development practices, which is largely why we made the switch.”
By migrating its infrastructure from a hoster to AWS, Arena has been able to expand its business and fulfill orders even during massive spikes around holidays—all while saving 30 percent a year on hosting costs. “With our old hoster, we couldn’t grow the business—but with AWS, we can split the applications across multiple instances and take advantage of a lot more features—and it’s still cheaper than the hoster,” Barton says.
Having control over its AWS environment has also saved Arena Flowers time and money. “AWS gives us many more options—for instance, we can create new instances whenever we like. And if I want to terminate an instance, I just go to the AWS management console and turn it off. I don’t have to call the hoster and then follow up to make sure they did it.”
Using AWS has also changed the way the company develops its applications. “We were able to deploy much faster than with the hoster,” Barton says. “When we moved from a single box for our front end to many individual instances for our front end, we could deploy them much faster. It was a big change in the way we worked. Because we use AWS, we can get more done in less time—which makes a big difference to our bottom line.”
Barton’s use of AWS is expanding beyond Arena Flowers, as well. After successfully migrating Arena to AWS and experiencing the scalability and ease of integration, Barton decided to use AWS to set up a new project called Smart Pension. “The business is completely different, but the architecture is very similar, as is the demand for scalability,” Barton says. “AWS is really changing the way business is done.”