About Daily Voice
Founded in 2010, Daily Voice brings readers the news they need about communities they love. An established digital leader in local news for towns in Connecticut and New York, Daily Voice's community-based reporters deliver stories that matter to residents - schools, sports, government, and community events. Currently, Daily Voice covers news in 43 different cities across three counties.
From its inception, Daily Voice took a unique approach in building technology to develop micro community news sites localized for communities in Connecticut and New York. The team developed the model in a way that utilizes both on-the-ground reporting and on-demand online resources. “What makes us different,” CTO Travis Hardman explained, “is that we’ve built a system that allows us to produce both high quality, highly localized news, but also provides the urgent news that only a newspaper can bring a reader.” Daily Voice has reporters, editors, and photographers in each community the site covers, but also utilizes the technology the company has built to take advantage of social media and other kinds of syndicated content, to enable the team to figure out what’s occurring from town-to-town and what should be reported. “Because of our technology, we’re able to cover communities with the same quality as a local newspaper, but much more efficiently,” said Hardman.
As Daily Voice grew, the company realized it was spending a lot of time and effort on the day-to-day operation and maintenance of its infrastructure, and became concerned about the ability to scale its model efficiently. “Prior to AWS, we were using regular Voxel VPS servers,” Hardman explained. “We had VPSs that were running our MySQL databases, and if one of those went down, we’d have a problem; we had to set up our own redundancy and maintain the infrastructure.” Another concern for the team was the impact its existing environment had on the IT staff. “We had a full-time system administrator working with us who was overworked, and we realized we couldn’t scale that model,” said Hardman.
Why Amazon Web Services
The team worked to develop a long-term strategy for optimizing and automating its environment, and decided to move forward with deploying on AWS. “AWS was and is widely recognized as the market leader, and we recognized all these extra tools AWS provides that make administration so much easier. That’s definitely been proven out in the time we’ve been working with AWS,” said Hardman.
In March 2013, Daily Voice engaged Apparatus Infrastructure Services, an APN Consulting Partner at the Advanced Tier, to manage and maintain its environment on AWS. “The system administrator that we had on staff was leaving, and we had to weigh the options in front of us: do we want to build this internally, or do we want to identify a team that really specializes in this aspect of our operations? The decision was made to look at Apparatus Infrastructure Services,” explained Hardman. Chad Brown, Senior Technology Specialist at Apparatus Infrastructure Services, explained, “We had a formal onboarding process with the Daily Voice team, and worked closely with the departing system administrator to gain knowledge about the environment. After about a week, we took over management of Daily Voice’s environment on AWS.”
Daily Voice’s workload on AWS is primarily rendering pages, and the tooling around maintaining the site. The company has a couple of primary web servers that exist across Availability Zones (AZs), which run Varnish, Apache, and MemCache. The environment has a second layer of web node that renders web pages. The second layer of web server is the layer that can auto scale.
Daily Voice works with a variety of AWS Services, including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). For automation and background job workloads, T2 instances are used, and for resources in production, the M3 family of instances are used. Another AWS Service utilized by Daily Voice is Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for MySQL. “The site runs on Amazon RDS, which is MySQL in this case. Daily Voice has read replicas, and in the past have had multiple read replicas, some that are actively used by the site, to distribute query load across the RDS instances. The team has also used additional replicas for backup jobs and to develop processes,” Brown explained.
In addition to Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS, Daily Voice uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for storing log files and historical files. Amazon CloudFront is Daily Voice’s Content Delivery Network (CDN),and is also used for Quality Assurance (QA). Last month, Amazon CloudFront served 70 million gets for the site. Auto Scaling is also used by the organization regularly; although Daily Voice has a very regular traffic pattern throughout the day, when a news story breaks that causes a spike in traffic, the team uses Auto Scaling that is designed to meet that demand easily. Additionally, the company uses Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) on a daily basis. Daily Voice typically sends around 200,000 emails a day through Amazon SES to its opt-in readers: “Daily Voice traffic patterns are strongly tied to their daily email, a digest of the most popular stories that exist in that reader’s town,” said Brown.
Both Brown and Hardman highlighted the benefits of Amazon CloudFront in particular on Daily Voice’s environment. Said Brown, “Without Amazon CloudFront, the Daily Voice site would likely require five-to-six times the resources just to handle all the throughput and all of the requests. Daily Voice would likely have to re-architect part of its environment to make it practical to serve this content directly.” Hardman echoed, “Amazon CloudFront has been great, and incredibly easy to use. Using Amazon CloudFront instead of having to worry about setting up a server to serve that many requests makes serving site requests that much simpler.”
Ease of automation, the ability to scale, and cost savings are just a few of the benefits Daily Voice has experienced in working with AWS. “Within the last year, our traffic has grown about 40 percent, and we’ve easily been able to scale up. It’s not something we really think about, it’s so simple,” said Hardman.
Daily Voice has also seen significant cost savings in utilizing Reserved Instances (RIs) the past year. “Reserved Instances were another big win for us. We’d always been running on-demand, and we just recently switched to RIs for core pieces, knowing that if we do scale up we’ll still have a use for Amazon EC2 medium instances; this has allowed us to bring down our costs by almost half for our infrastructure,” said Hardman. In total, Daily Voice estimates that the company has saved over $15,000 in annual costs by taking advantage of RIs on AWS.
Another highlight for Daily Voice has been Apparatus Infrastructure Services’ management of its environment. “Apparatus Infrastructure Services keeps our websites running, and running quickly, which is really important for our business. Page load time matters a lot to us. Our uptime matters a lot to us. If we have a crisis like Hurricane Sandy wherein our traffic suddenly spikes to three-to-four times the normal load, our servers need to be able to scale up to handle that traffic. Having someone like Apparatus Infrastructure Services there to manage that and stay on top of it gives us a lot of peace of mind to focus on content and driving as much traffic as we can,” Hardman explained.
Hardman continued, “Having Apparatus Infrastructure Services’ expertise frees our technology teams to worry about designing the right systems and tools to support our business, as opposed to keeping our servers running and everything at scale. It allows us to keep our developers focused on the user experience, as opposed to systems and infrastructure.”
“Our mission has always been to build a model that we could replicate nationally, and that’s where we’re going eventually,” said Hardman. The team is currently working with Apparatus Infrastructure Services to develop a number of new projects on AWS, and looks forward to continued growth in 2015. Said Hartman, “In the beginning of this new year, we’re asking, ‘how we can bring this community news product to a lot more readers?’”