Devicescape enables telecom operators to keep their customers always best connected by integrating cellular connectivity with public, private and carrier Wi-Fi, creating a seamless, quality-controlled data experience. At the heart of the Devicescape Service Platform (DSP) is the CVN—a unique, Curated Virtual Network of more than 20 million amenity Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, managed in real time for quality, availability and security. Drawn from a total monitored base of more than 315 million hotspots, the CVN offers a huge capacity boost at a fraction of the costs associated with operator-owned infrastructure. With the DSP operators can manage and monetize the entire data experience of the smartphone user, improving customer satisfaction, increasing revenue and driving greater customer lifetime value. The platform has been deployed by more than 10 telecom operators worldwide. Devicescape software is running on tens of millions of devices.
As mobile devices and smartphones become more sophisticated (and more popular), demand for viable, high quality Wi-Fi networks is rising. Devicescape’s software monitors the quality of each device’s connection across the cellular network and all forms of Wi-Fi, moving the device between networks according to sophisticated operator-managed policy controls so that the user is always best connected. The solution supplements private and operator-deployed Wi-Fi networks with a Curated Virtual Network of public Wi-Fi locations monitored in real time. The CVN, as it’s called, makes it easy for users to quickly find “known good” networks among millions of Wi-Fi access points around the world. Cedar Milazzo, VP of Engineering at Devicescape, says, “It’s a crowd-based aggregation of good networks.” The company currently manages two billion monthly consumer Wi-Fi connections, monitors over 315 million Wi-Fi hotspots in total worldwide, and needs to provide scalable, reliable, always-on service.
Devicescape was using a managed hosting service in 2010 when it realized that a change was due. “At first, we just wanted to experiment with performance tests in a cost-optimized way,” Milazzo says. “Using a hoster to do that just wasn’t cost-effective. We needed a way to try out potentially innovative new solutions without having to lease equipment for months at a time.”
The company also wanted to provide its solution to large telecom operators, and needed a secure, scalable solution that wouldn’t require up-front investment. Data security was a critical factor, because the company would need to secure the data that’s exchanged between each carrier and its customers. The Devicescape team began looking into cloud computing as an option—and discovered just how far the cloud could take them.
Why Amazon Web Services
After researching several different options, Devicescape decided to move its service to Amazon Web Services (AWS). “AWS really fit the bill,” Milazzo says. “We needed to expand to serve the big operators, so scalability was the key for us.” The company also saw opportunities to use AWS tools and best practices to secure its data. “We’re using AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) to ensure that we control access, and we’re using all the security groups,” says Kyle Patton, Director of Operations.
Devicescape now uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to run all its server instances. The company uses multiple Availability Zones to ensure always-on service. “Because we’re in more than one Availability Zone, we have a solid disaster recovery plan in place,” Milazzo says. The company also uses Auto Scaling to replace instances that go down. Elastic Load Balancing is used to keep traffic loads steady, no matter how much traffic they get.
The company uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store data and Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Amazon EMR) to pull data from Amazon S3 for reports. Amazon EMR clusters run primarily on Spot Instances, helping Devicescape reduce costs.
Once the company began using AWS, it realized it also needed to update its database solution. “Before we started using Amazon DynamoDB, we had a lot of scalability issues with MySQL,” Patton says. “We had a small operations team that dealt with database management. When something would break, it was all hands on deck to get it fixed. Some of our data was sharded. Daily table rotations were a painful process—we could see failures. There were lots of scripts and lots of opportunities for things to break. And when they did break, it took a long time to rebuild the reporting structure or get additional capacity. You could spend a week cleaning up after just one issue.”
The team wanted to move its MySQL database to NoSQL, and began evaluating NoSQL options. During the evaluation stage, Amazon announced the launch of Amazon DynamoDB. Unlike some other NoSQL databases, DynamoDB is fully managed and requires virtually no database expertise to maintain. This frees up time for the team to build applications and features, instead of infrastructure. “Instead of getting a PhD in MySQL, now we just dial the throughput up and down,” Patton says.
Moving to the AWS Cloud has given Devicescape more options: it can expand, use its staff more strategically, and drive cost savings. By using AWS, the company can now offer trials to prospective customers. Telecom operators interested in the Devicescape solution can experiment with the service to see how it would work for them, while existing customers can try out new services or offerings on small groups of customers without impacting production. “We had to experiment before we could expand—but experimentation is easier with AWS,” Milazzo says.
The Devicescape team can react quickly to infrastructure needs, rebuilding parts of its service as necessary to run on AWS. “The nice thing about AWS is that it’s modular—you don’t have to re-architect everything on day one,” Patton says. “You can cloud-enable your services as you go, at your own pace.”
Using DynamoDB enables the company to adjust quickly to changing needs. “DynamoDB has been a particularly good choice for us because we can just dial it up or down based on need,” Milazzo says. “It lets us focus on expanding our services.” The company has also modernized its data tier by using DynamoDB, which enables Devicescape to be more agile than previously. “AWS is flexible enough to add new attributes and change the schema on the fly—it’s fast and cost-effective,” Patton says. “The flexibility it gives us is huge.”
Devicescape has also derived cost benefits as a result of moving to AWS. After migrating to DynamoDB, the company realized a 10% savings in maintenance costs, for example. In addition, the company utilizes spot and reserved instances for EC2 and reserved capacity for DynamoDB to bring the monthly cost down even further.
Going forward, the company plans to migrate almost all of its databases to DynamoDB. Advances in DynamoDB’s architecture will likely enable the Devicescape team to complete the migration quickly and easily, but the team also plans to use some best practices learned from the first migration. For example, Devicescape will look at dual writes during the next migration, writing data to both MySQL and DynamoDB so that they have less data to migrate in the long run “We’ve learned a lot from our first migration, and DynamoDB has also evolved,” Patton says.
The company has also experimented with Amazon Kinesis, and may use it in conjunction with DynamoDB for real-time processing of streaming data at massive scale.
“AWS makes innovation easier,” Milazzo says. “You can put a proof of concept together fast and see how it’s going to work. If you decide to keep it, you can optimize it to be more scalable; if not, you just turn it off.”