BurdaStudios is a division of global media group Hubert Burda Media, which has about 10,000 employees and more than 500 brands, including home and lifestyle magazines and business-to-business publications. BurdaStudios specializes in TV production and digital publishing. The company’s flagship website is Bunte.de, the leading celebrity gossip portal across Europe’s German-speaking countries—Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The site is a go-to website for up-to-the-minute news about Hollywood actors, sports stars, and members of royalty. It attracts six million unique users and 30-35 million visits a month—about 20 percent more uniques than its nearest competitor—and gains its revenue from display, video, and native advertising.
While technology advancements are changing the way organizations of all kinds do business, the speed of change is being felt particularly keenly in the publishing industry. “Content distribution over a growing number of channels is a big challenge in digital publishing,” says Hansjörg Posch, chief technology officer (CTO) at BurdaStudios. “For example, the way you push news to an iPhone app is different from how you deliver it to a PC or a tablet.”
The Bunte.de site was running on a dedicated hosting setup that the CTO says wasn’t flexible enough to seamlessly support content delivery to different channels. Or, crucially, to scale to deal with the traffic peaks the site experienced when big news stories would break. “In our existing environment, we couldn’t move fast enough to provision compute resources, plus it was always a worry that we wouldn’t be able to cope with peaks in demand. In addition, our monolithic infrastructure couldn’t handle the increasingly complex network of platforms and devices we need to cater for,” says Posch.
Why Amazon Web Services
For Posch, the transition to a new architecture had to be decisive and wholesale. “We wanted to relaunch the entire Bunte.de website for increased responsiveness, speed, and scale. It was obvious we had to go to the cloud and a microservices architecture. And it’s not something we wanted to do piecemeal―we wanted to go all-in,” he says.
BurdaStudios chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) because it offered advanced technology as a service out of the box and the most comprehensive support for Docker containers through Amazon EC2 Container Service (Amazon ECS). Fully managed through the Amazon EC2 Container Registry (Amazon ECR), it allows Posch to easily support new standards. “For example, if Google comes up with a new format, like Progressive Web Apps (PWA),” he says, “all we have to do is launch a few Docker containers with the new microservice, and it’s supported. We don’t have to redesign the entire infrastructure as we would have done before.”
He continues, “Before we decided to use AWS, we looked at the big cloud providers out there. Some of the others are catching up, but if you want to do things on the edge, you choose AWS. It provides the biggest range of technologies for running modern applications.”
AWS Lambda is a key element in the firm’s microservices architecture. “It’s an excellent platform,” says Posch. “You don’t have to do any physical provisioning and it scales without limits. We use it for services such as geo-lookup, which automatically places the right ads for users according to their location, for example. Also, if there’s some big news going on—there’s a royal wedding or a celebrity has died or something—it easily handles the increased traffic we experience.”
The challenge of provisioning compute resources is now a thing of the past for the Bunte.de team. On the subject of scaling in its microservices architecture, Posch says, “When a story is breaking, we can see site traffic double in seconds, but the beauty of AWS Lambda is that we don’t care. By using AWS, we have the fully automated environment we set out to achieve, and, crucially, this means we no longer need a dedicated DevOps team monitoring the infrastructure 24/7. Everything works properly and scales as it should without any effort on our part.”
The company’s shift to this dynamic architecture hasn’t gone unnoticed among its publishing peers. “There’s an annual get together of the leading publishers in Germany, and at the last event I gave a presentation about our migration to AWS,” says Posch. “Our competitors were intrigued. Most publishers have some experience of cloud services, but not many are making the leap and going all-in. They still pay a couple of hundred thousand dollars for enterprise systems, consulting, and hardware. And while they might have an element of cloud, they haven’t made the transition that we have. What we’re doing with AWS and our microservices architecture is the future of the digital publishing industry.”
Bunte.de attracts 15-20 percent more unique visitors each month than its nearest competitor in the celebrity-news-portal market in Germany. Posch thinks that maintaining this competitive edge has a lot to do with the speed with which Bunte.de delivers news to consumers. “We can get celebrity stories to customers about 75 percent faster with AWS,” he says. “Before, there was a caching period of a couple of minutes, so this delayed content being uploaded. Now, this happens in about 30 seconds. This is crucial when there’s breaking news, because it means we can publish really fast. If you’re listed first on Google News, then your website gets the traffic and you also get the advertising revenue. It’s that simple.”
In the news business, speed also makes a huge difference to customer satisfaction. “It’s no good if we get stories onto our site 15 minutes later than our competitors,” says Posch. “If you have four news apps installed on your phone, and Bunte.de is the first to publish the news that a certain movie star is having an affair, for example, then our standing as the leading medium for celebrity gossip is reinforced. Ultimately, it’s why we’re the number one celebrity portal in our region.”
“What we’re doing with AWS and our microservices architecture is the future of the digital publishing industry.”
Hansjörg Posch, Chief Technology Officer, BurdaStudios