WeTransfer’s cloud-based platform provides a simple way to send files across the world. The service was founded in 2009 out of a need to create an easy platform for people to send big files without any sign-up. Today, 40 million active users from all over the world transfer 1 billion files every month. WeTransfer has a dual revenue model, split between advertising and premium subscriptions. Its free service, WeTransfer, allows users to transfer files that are up to 2 gigabytes (GB) in size. Through its premium service, WeTransfer Plus, customers can send files up to 20 GB, store up to 100 GB, and personalize their profiles with custom branding. The company has offices in Amsterdam and Los Angeles, and it employs around 100 people.
The beauty of WeTransfer is its simplicity. To use the service, customers don’t need to register or log in. They just go to the WeTransfer homepage, add the files they want to send, and enter both their own and the recipient’s email addresses. Its part and parcel of WeTransfer’s aim to deliver “an effortless experience for customers,” as Martijn Vermaat, vice president of engineering, says.
To do this, WeTransfer needs an IT platform that provides high availability and consistent performance. And it needs to scale with minimal management. “We have very clear patterns of demand—essentially, usage is high during business hours and drops overnight,” says Vermaat. “This means that it’s easy for us to predict when compute power will need to be ramped up. The challenge is making sure it’s there with 100 percent consistency, so no customer is ever disappointed.”
Why Amazon Web Services
WeTransfer migrated to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2011, having found that its existing hosting provider couldn’t supply the fast scalability the file-transfer service required.
For storing and delivering data, it uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and the Amazon CloudFront content delivery network, which are the core pillars of its infrastructure. Auto Scaling with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) help it to handle traffic levels without a heavy management burden. Crucially, because it knows the baseline compute demand well in advance, WeTransfer can make use of Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances, lowering costs compared to on-demand instance purchases. It also takes advantage of Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), which WeTransfer runs in a multiple Availability Zone configuration with multiple read replicas.
A key part of its environment has been AWS Enterprise Support. As Bastiaan Terhorst, chief product officer at WeTransfer, explains, “We may be a startup, but we operate at enterprise scale, and we need enterprise-level availability. Enterprise Support understands our business and the mission-critical nature of our workloads. Over the last year and a half, the team has worked closely with us, keeping our availability high as we scale. But more than that, AWS Enterprise Support has helped us plan to release new services and features and to fine-tune our infrastructure, thanks to its in-depth knowledge of our business.”
Regular, consistent engagement with Enterprise Support has been invaluable for WeTransfer in meeting its business requirements. “We have monthly on-site meetings with our technical account manager [TAM], where we discuss anything from current projects we’re working on to how we can use a particular service more efficiently,” says Vermaat. In between these meetings, WeTransfer has regular email and telephone contact with the AWS team. “Enterprise Support really proves its worth when we need to resolve an issue fast,” says Vermaat. “It’s invaluable to have a dedicated contact in our TAM, who can put us straight through to the exact expert we need.”
Using AWS has given WeTransfer the ability to grow unimpeded. The service deals with more than 40 million active users, who transfer over 1 billion files each month. Traffic levels reach peaks of 15 GB of data a second, which require deploying about 150 instances. “Using services such as Auto Scaling, we can support this level of demand and more,” says Terhorst. “AWS gives us confidence in delivering a highly reliable file-transfer service as we attract even more customers.”
As part of its Enterprise Support agreement, WeTransfer’s TAM analyzes usage patterns to help the startup optimize its environment on AWS. Since 2015, WeTransfer has saved nearly $1 million by using Reserved Instances. As Vermaat explains, “The more money we can save on infrastructure, the more resources we can put toward our core business.” The managed nature of services also ensures the team can stay lean while focusing on innovation. “We don’t need network maintenance staff, a hardware team, or a dedicated DB administrator,” he continues. “That’s several people who instead can deliver value to the business and customers through focusing on development and creating new services.”
Planned events have become easier to handle with help from Enterprise Support; WeTransfer was keen to keep downtime to a minimum. During a recent feature upgrade combined with some database maintenance work, WeTransfer benefited from being in constant contact with AWS experts. Vermaat and his team coordinated the project with their TAM and Amazon RDS engineers. “During the final moment of switchover on a Sunday morning, the AWS team were on standby on the phone and via our company’s Slack channel,” says Vermaat. “Once the switch was made, the engineers kept monitoring the infrastructure with us. This extra attention gave us huge reassurance.” Terhorst adds, “We knew we’d avoid a lot of headaches by working with AWS Enterprise Support, and we were right. With help from our TAM and AWS engineers, we nailed our approach first time around!”
WeTransfer has also found it pays to have backup when things don’t go as planned. When the team encountered a database issue in the run-up to launching the WeTransfer mobile app in October 2017, a fast response from AWS helped it solve the problem and ensure there was no downtime in those crucial first hours of the launch. “Without help from the AWS engineers, we would have been making changes in the dark and hoping for the best,” says Vermaat. “As it was, we knew the change we were making was exactly right.”
“We may be a startup, but we operate at enterprise scale, and we need enterprise-level availability. AWS Enterprise Support understands our business and the mission-critical nature of our workloads.”
Bastiaan Terhorst, Chief Product Officer