A subsidiary of Singapore Telecommunications, SingTel Digital Media operates the InSing.com lifestyle portal and the HungryGoWhere.com food and dining guide, which incorporates the TableDB online reservation system. These sites serve more than 70 percent of the country’s web visitors, who rely on its mobile and online channels for food and restaurant advice. The popularity of the channels makes SingTel Digital Media the leading source of information on culinary establishments in Singapore.
SingTel Digital Media launched InSing.com in May 2009. Initially, the company relied on a co-located service, but as demand for its services grew, so did the cost of procuring servers. With close to 100 servers running, SingTel decided to explore moving the website to a new infrastructure. The company needed to reduce the overall cost of maintaining its servers as well as costs to upgrade the network every time it expanded. SingTel wanted to stagger the cost of warranty renewals for its machines rather than pay a large bill once every three years. “We had to find a faster, cheaper way of adding more capacity,” says Alan Swan, Backend Engineer at SingTel Digital Media. “Every time we added a new product, we had to acquire about four new servers at the cost of a few thousand dollars each.”
Procuring new servers was also a lengthy process. SingTel technology and business teams had to wait up to three months from requesting the new hardware to installation. The long lead times frustrated business users, who wanted to be able to launch a new product within a month after developing the idea. The situation became critical when the organization needed server capacity immediately for a development project for the InSing.com travel channel. “Our existing process could not support this requirement. We had to find an alternative,” says Swan.
Why Amazon Web Services
After evaluating several cloud providers, SingTel Digital Media decided to migrate InSing.com to AWS in 2011. “We needed an infrastructure that could scale quickly and easily, and operate reliably from more than one location,” Swan says. “We wanted load balancing and other infrastructure optimization activities without our intervention. AWS met our requirements, providing resources on demand and managed services that allow us to outsource activities such as updating warranties, patching servers and maintaining our network.”
SingTel Digital Media started on AWS by developing a prototype for the travel channel on InSing.com in July 2011. The company used one Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance for development and launched two instances for production. SingTel Digital Media uses Elastic Load Balancing to distribute traffic and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store and share files between the instances. The project took only two weeks.
Optimizing InSing.com on the AWS Cloud
The success of the travel channel project prompted SingTel Digital Media to migrate the entire InSing.com website to AWS, operating in the Asia Pacific (Singapore) Region. The organization completed the migration project in April 2012, which included re-writing InSing.com’s codebase using open source tools to remove its dependency on proprietary technologies that are expensive to maintain. The website runs on AWS in a software stack that includes Ubuntu Linux, an Nginx open-source web server, a MySQL database, a MongoDB open source document database, and a nodejs scalable network applications platform.
SingTel Digital Media runs InSing.com on 40 Amazon EC2 instances and uses Amazon Route 53 to route users to the relevant application or web page. “We still have one channel and some back-end services in our co-location facilities,” Swan says. “We expect to migrate these to the new infrastructure by mid-2015.” The company does most of its testing for InSing.com in AWS.
Expanding the environment to include HungryGoWhere.com
Migrating InSing.com to AWS helped position SingTel Digital Media to purchase GTW Holdings, which owned HungryGoWhere.com and TableDB. GTW Holdings had migrated HungryGoWhere.com to the AWS Cloud in Singapore about two years before the sale was completed in May 2012.
Like SingTel Media, HungryGoWhere.com initially launched HungryGoWhere.com using a colocation service and a single server. The owners moved to AWS when the server could no longer support the memory or processing capacity necessary to run the site. “AWS provided the scalability and elasticity that HungryGoWhere.com needed,” says Kelvin Ho Khee Kien, Senior Technical Manager, SingTel Digital Media. “For example, traffic to the site roughly doubles on special events such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas. On AWS, HungryGoWhere.com is able be able to stretch its infrastructure on demand without compromising performance.”
The HungryGoWhere.com team rewrote the website’s code to run on AWS, initially running on two extra-large Amazon EC2 instances with Elastic Load Balancing and Amazon S3. The experience encouraged HungryGoWhere.com to launch the TableDB reservation system, which provides restaurateurs with a tablet-based reservation application. The service now runs on 25 medium to extra-large Amazon EC2 instances using Elastic Load Balancing. Amazon S3 stores static images, including restaurant photos. “We don’t need to extend our infrastructure to support peak demand during lunch and dinner, as our architecture can comfortably meet our requirements at all times,” says Lee Chong Seng, Java Developer, SingTel Digital Media.
By migrating InSing.com to the AWS Cloud, SingTel Digital Media avoids spending several thousand dollars for new servers each time it needs additional compute capacity for new product development. “We’ve removed infrastructure procurement as a bottleneck in new product development and release,” Swan says. “On AWS, we can set up new instances within minutes, test quickly, and meet business requirements to develop and release new products in a month.”
By moving InSing.com to the AWS Cloud, SingTel Digital Media has reduced average page load times from 15.7 seconds to 8.3 seconds, a 47 percent improvement, minimizing delays that may frustrate users who are looking for information.
The AWS Cloud is also easily exceeding the organization’s service level agreement of 98 percent uptime, giving InSing.com and HungryGoWhere users confidence the websites will be accessible when they need to locate and book restaurants, and find other attractions.
Thanks to AWS, both InSing.com and HungryGoWhere.com can comfortably support high demand from users. HungryGoWhere.com receives 7.9 million page views per month on average, while InSing.com records about 6.2 million page views per month. In addition, SingTel Digital Media has the ability to run special events to drive traffic to its websites without compromising performance or availability. When HungryGoWhere.com covered an event that pitted celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay against three local food hawkers in Singapore, the website was able to handle an increase of 40 percent in visits.
“The AWS Cloud has enabled us to provide a top-class experience for users of Singapore’s leading restaurant and lifestyle web properties,” Swan says. “We’re extremely happy with their infrastructure offering, price and customer service.”