About Kurt Geiger
Kurt Geiger sells high-end shoes and accessories, including some unique brands, through its websites, kurtgeiger.com, shoeaholics.com, ninewest.co.uk, and vincecamuto.co.uk. The retailer also sells through its own high-end retail stores and within department stores in the UK and internationally, such as Harrods, Selfridges, Karstadt, and Nordstrom. Kurt Geiger is known for being more technically innovative than its competitors.
Like most retail organizations, the company sees seasonal peaks in sales. As the company’s brand grew in popularity, its colocation data center began struggling to scale up its websites during peak traffic, like during the holiday shopping season. Kurt Geiger does all its IT work in-house, and the team tried different options, including a hosted service featuring physical servers. But the number of servers it could have was limited, restricting the number of orders the retailer could take—and impacting Kurt Geiger’s bottom line as a result.
The situation was unacceptable, so in 2010, Kurt Geiger started exploring enterprise-level solutions. Adam Bidwell, Development Manager, describes the company’s requirements for a new system: “We needed a do-it-yourself solution, and we needed to have networks and services available 24/7. We needed an hourly billing model, too.” Kurt Geiger also required compliance with Payment Card Industry (PCI) regulations.
Why Amazon Web Services
Finding that AWS offered all the services that Kurt Geiger needed, the company moved to migrate its sites to the AWS Cloud. “AWS has robust PCI compliance and strong features and flexibility,” Bidwell says. “The pay-as-you-go billing model made it easy for us to go from research and development to production.”
To understand how AWS works and to try the service on a limited scale, the company set up a testing application for its existing architecture. When implementation went smoothly, Kurt Geiger migrated its sites to AWS in time for that year’s busy holiday season. The company now uses services that include Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) for hosting, and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances for Apache Web Services, shared storage, memcaching, and Varnish caching.
Kurt Geiger uses Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) on the back end, with Amazon RDS Multi AZ to scale MySQL instances up and down. “Without Amazon RDS Multi AZ, if we ran a MySQL server and wanted to set up a read replica, we would have to take down the master for the whole time we were setting up the replica, whereas we don’t have to do that with Amazon RDS Multi AZ,” Bidwell says. “There is an outage, but it’s just seconds long.”
The AWS platform supports the company’s use of Magento Enterprise Edition. “Everything’s consolidated around a standard Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP (LAMP) stack that runs Magento Enterprise Edition, and we’ve heavily customized their enterprise edition to get that done. AWS has helped us provide scalability. Things that in the past would have been a chore—like setting up a virtual private network tunnel over VGP from Amazon VPC—are now easy.”
Using AWS has enabled Kurt Geiger to scale its sites up to handle up to 400 percent more customers in a day, enabling the company to handle twice as many transactions. “During that initial shopping season, we didn’t have a technical limit on the number of people shopping, so we were able to serve everyone,” Bidwell says. “That wasn’t possible before. As traffic and sales have increased, we’ve been able to accommodate it, thanks to AWS.”
Kurt Geiger has also experienced improved availability and the resulting ability to recover sales that would previously have been lost. The AWS solution also addresses Kurt Geiger’s security concerns, enabling the company to keep stronger control over its order management system.
The company has also been able to use resources more effectively. Funds previously spent on reserved instances, for example, are transferred to taking advantage of new opportunities that the AWS solution makes possible. Although it doesn’t necessarily spend less on the AWS solution, it can move parts of the solution around based on the needs of the business at the time. Bidwell explains: “We’re not committed to something if it turns out we’re not going to use it. If something we’re doing isn’t working out, we can change the services or architecture to get better value.”
Time to market has been reduced, as well. The planning stage that the previous solution required to acquire network or server resources is no longer necessary. The new process involves simply getting a quick idea of the costs based on hourly pricing and turning it on—changing a process that once took several weeks to one that can now be completed in less than a day. Bidwell says, “Within a few minutes, you can just try something out. If it’s not going to work, you know right away, and you’re on to the next idea. We can try out dozens of different things in a day, and then cherry-pick which one we’re going to use, as opposed to researching one particular idea and having to stick with that for several months.”
Load time has decreased to 2 to 3 seconds, regardless of traffic, whereas the time to load was previously significantly higher when traffic was heavy. The AWS solution is also much easier for Kurt Geiger to use.
The company plans to expand to several new countries that have already expressed an interest in its products. Bidwell explains the expected simplicity of the process: “If we want to start a whole server architecture in Sydney, we just operate the API for the Sydney data centre, and it’s just created there in the same way it would in Ireland or the United States or anywhere else. Using AWS makes it easy for us to expand internationally, which will lead to more sales.”