Founded in 2014, Assignar provides software that streamlines the way organizations manage their assets and remote workforces in highly regulated industries, such as construction, mining, road and rail, and oil and gas. Assignar’s product set includes a mobile application that lets workers and managers capture and submit compliance and safety related information from the field and a dashboard that provides real-time information. This helps their clients gain visibility and confidence in the safety of their fieldworkers. The founders of the Australian startup launched the business to market their software after initially developing it to manage the workforce of their own construction company.
To commercialize its software, Assignar knew it would have to migrate from the on-premises infrastructure used by its construction business. This would eliminate potential client concerns about using software running in a competitor’s data center. In addition, beta testing with clients revealed that the on-premises infrastructure could not meet the organization’s requirements for continuous system availability, cost-effective scalability, and high application performance in remote locations.
There were other limitations of the existing physical infrastructure, too. For example, it took two weeks to onboard each client, and the on-premises infrastructure experienced disk-capacity problems storing relatively few images sent from workers and managers in the field.
“We experienced regular outages in the on-premises data center, and we knew that the product wasn’t scalable in its current form,” says Marko Tomic, chief technology officer at Assignar. “In addition, we didn’t want to administer hardware—we wanted to devote most of our time to product development—so it was an easy decision to move to an all-in cloud architecture.”
Why Amazon Web Services
Assignar selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its cloud provider for several reasons. Tomic had five years’ experience working with AWS in a previous role, and knew of the cloud provider’s track record of delivering scalable, highly available, and cost-effective services.
“We realized we could bring new clients on board without incurring sizable architecture costs, and AWS would administer the underlying hardware for its services, freeing us to focus on developing our software,” Tomic says. “We also knew that AWS could deliver availability at or in excess of our target of 99.999 percent.”
The business began redeveloping its software in preparation for the move into AWS, a process that was completed between June and August 2014. This project entailed adopting a microservices architecture that runs the software as a series of small modules, enabling Assignar to isolate any problems and recover very quickly. Tomic and his team then used Amazon software development kits to load assets and code into the AWS infrastructure.
The application layer runs in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances distributed across multiple AWS Availability Zones to ensure continued operation should an outage occur in one zone. Elastic Load Balancing distributes traffic across the Amazon EC2 instances to maximize fault tolerance, while Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) captures backups and stores images and other static assets such as photos of vehicle faults. The backups are then archived in Amazon Glacier, a low-cost storage service. Assignar uses the Amazon CloudFront content delivery network to serve static content to users quickly. Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) runs a MySQL database while Amazon DynamoDB provides a fully managed NoSQL database service for audits and other activities that require a number of transactions to be completed in a short period of time. “Having solid audit trails so our clients can track when incidents occur, whether an employee has the right skill set or competency, and other relevant events or facts, is critical. Amazon DynamoDB is integral to our ability to do this,” says Tomic.
Assignar engaged with AWS Premier Consulting Partner CloudNexa to support its AWS infrastructure. “We decided to spend time building software rather than dealing with any low-level issues that may occur,” says Tomic. “CloudNexa has provided us with an extra layer of monitoring, logging, and visibility, and has been extremely responsive whenever we’ve asked for their assistance.” Tomic complements this external support with expertise achieved through training to become a Certified AWS Solutions Architect, an experience he calls “absolutely invaluable.” “The training was really useful and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is new to AWS,” he says.
The figure below illustrates Assignar’s environment in AWS:
With support from AWS tools and technologies, Assignar successfully commercialized its software by late 2014. The business has grown from four beta clients on its on-premises platform to 35 clients today, with more than 2,000 field workers using the mobile application.
“These 35 clients are mostly good-sized, AU$5 million- to AU$50 million-revenue companies, and we also have a couple of state and federal government agencies running detailed pilot programs,” says McCreanor. “We would have not been able to scale out to this number of clients of this size without AWS. If we had stayed with an on-premises solution, we might have less than 10 clients on board by now.”
AWS has also proven to be more cost-effective than an on-premises data center. Tomic estimates Assignar could only host three or four clients in house on a physical infrastructure for the same cost as hosting 35 clients on AWS. The massive, low-cost storage technology provided by AWS has enabled Assignar to store thousands of images without running out of capacity. Meanwhile, the cost of onboarding new clients has fallen from two weeks to less than 10 seconds. The scalability and performance of the AWS infrastructure has also met business requirements, with one client migrating to Assignar from a system running in another hosted environment that experienced a slowdown each weekday at 3 pm, when businesses elsewhere in the region started work. “Clients in our industry are very dynamic, so not having bottlenecks is very important for them,” says McCreanor.
The support from CloudNexa and the ease of manageability of AWS has enabled Assignar’s technology team to devote roughly 80 percent of its time to product development and only 20 percent to infrastructure management. While the time spent on infrastructure management is likely to increase over the next few months as the business ramps up its U.S. operations, this is still well short of the 80 percent previously required by the on-premises infrastructure.
With database requests typically completed in 5 to 10 milliseconds, and pages taking less than a second to load, the software is meeting all customer requirements for responsiveness. This is a considerable achievement given that many field workers are accessing the application from remote locations such as mine sites in Western Australia, Queensland, and New South Wales. To date, Assignar has delivered 99.999 percent availability, giving clients confidence that the system will be available when they need it to perform business-critical asset and workforce management tasks.
The cost and time required for the business to innovate has been lessened considerably, and Assignar has deployed close to 1,500 software releases in about a year. Once the technology team has developed and tested the code, a new feature can be deployed in less than a minute. The tools and technologies of AWS have enabled the business to use automation and scripting to eliminate as many manual processes as possible, minimizing the risk of human error compromising the deployment process. “We have started using tools such as Amazon API Gateway and AWS Lambda to further extend our capabilities within AWS,” says Tomic.
AWS will underpin Assignar’s planned growth in the construction and infrastructure sectors, according to McCreanor. “We know there is a huge opportunity in the United States, and with our first U.S. client about to come onboard, we’re on our way to penetrating the U.S. market. We’ll be relying on AWS and we’ve used tools like AWS CloudFormation to replicate our existing infrastructure in AWS Regions there,” he says.
“Overall, our experience with AWS has been life-changing,” he adds. “The AWS team is very easy to talk to and provides us everything we need to be successful. All the features they release are based on customer feedback and I cannot wait to see what AWS comes up with next.”