Launched in 2011 by Rocket Internet, Singapore-headquartered Zalora is an online fashion retailer in South East Asia and Australasia with 1,500 employees. Rocket Internet is the world’s largest Internet platform outside the US and China, building proven Internet business models in underserved or untapped markets and scaling them into market-leading online companies. Zalora operates as The Iconic in Australia and New Zealand, and under its own brand in Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The brand aims to bring high street fashion to the mass market.
Zalora started operations by running its content management systems, applications, websites and payment gateways—and the servers, storage, networks and associated infrastructure to support them—in a hosted data center. Then in 2013, the business launched its own brands. Combined with a loyal, growing customer base and aggressive promotions, Zalora experienced a surge in demand. The business could not scale its existing hosted infrastructure to support this growth without considerable additional investment. In addition, the infrastructure could not support peak demand without requiring investment in capacity that would remain unutilized for most of the year, while new servers could take weeks to procure and slow the process of adding new features and functions to the company’s products. The business started exploring more cost-effective infrastructure options that could also scale to support its longer-term expansion options.
Why Amazon Web Services
Zalora’s technology team initially had reservations about migrating its websites, applications, and associated systems to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. “It looked interesting, but we didn’t know if we could trust its availability,” says Karthik Subramaniam, chief technology officer at Zalora.
By January 2013, Zalora had seen enough of sister company Foodpanda's success with AWS to experiment with its own small footprint in the cloud. Zalora’s experience prompted its technology team to steadily expand its AWS cloud deployment. In November 2014 Zalora migrated The Iconic in Australia from a physical data center to AWS, and in mid-2015, the business launched its new Taiwan site directly into the cloud service. Zalora has since moved its websites & associated systems and are now all in on AWS.
The business is running its websites using core AWS services such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to provide resizable virtual compute resources. The number of Amazon EC2 instances running in the Zalora AWS infrastructure has climbed from a baseline of five to 215 today, a number that climbs to 300 instances or more during peak periods. Zalora uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store static assets, and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to deliver a highly scalable primary database for all staging and some production systems. The business implemented a custom snowflake schema on Amazon RDS, linked it to well-known ETL tools, and used it to drive core business reporting across all functions. Zalora also uses Amazon Redshift as a Data Warehouse for retail reporting, merchandise planning, and monitoring of retail KPIs. The Amazon Redshift Data Warehouse includes clickstream data from tracking tools, and the business has invested in building custom solutions around Amazon Redshift to support better decision making in their retail business unit. Zalora uses Amazon Route 53 to provide domain name services, and Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) to send password reset emails on internal systems. Zalora also uses Amazon CloudFront to distribute content to users of its Australia and Philippines websites with low latency and at high speed. Lastly, the business uses Amazon CloudWatch to monitor and manage its AWS infrastructure, while the process of creating and managing AWS resources is largely automated with AWS CloudFormation.
Zalora has achieved a range of benefits from running its Australia and Taiwan websites in the AWS cloud. Even managers with no IT expertise have understood the impact that AWS has had on the business. “Non-technical management see the benefits when business goals are met faster, or we can release features more quickly,” says Karthik. “And the AWS self-help culture aligns beautifully with the way our technology team works. We received help from AWS extremely quickly when it’s needed.”
Zalora managed to minimize its investment in technical personnel and resources with the help of AWS. Of its 1,500 employees, less than 100 are engineers. The ability to provision virtual instances in minutes helps enable the business regularly add new features to its websites. Karthik estimates the process of bringing new products to market is up to three times faster with AWS than in its previous hosted data center environment. And for the websites running on AWS, Zalora can easily increase capacity by up to 150 percent to meet demand during sales, and shut down the excess capacity the following day. Zalora is now equipped to sustain recent growth and support up to 30 million unique users per month.
Karthik is extremely pleased with the service AWS has provided. “AWS is so easy and that’s the beauty of it. AWS is focused on innovation and making life easier for technology people: it’s in their DNA,” he says.
“AWS is focused on innovation and on making life easier for technology people. It’s in their DNA.”
Karthik Subramanian, Chief Technology Officer