Founded in 1999 and with 200 staff across 15 countries, Travelstart is one of Africa’s largest travel booking websites. Its online booking engine is its business. It offers an array of online travel services, including flight bookings, hotel reservations, and car rental, as well as entire vacation packages. The privately owned firm is headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa. To seize opportunities in emerging markets, Travelstart has launched operations across mid-Africa and the Middle East, including businesses in Kenya, Namibia, Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
“Reliability was a key thing for us,” says Jan-André le Roux, systems architect at Travelstart. “Our previous cloud provider was very unreliable. The company had networking issues and we couldn’t provision servers on demand, so elasticity was an issue for our operations in mid-Africa and the Middle East.”
In addition to requiring an infrastructure that would scale reliably and give Travelstart consistent performance, cost was also a major concern for the firm. Le Roux continues, “We were looking for value for money, which we felt we weren’t getting with our current provider.”
With its business rapidly expanding, time to market was another important factor. Travelstart needed the agility to move into new locations quickly and without huge setup costs—something that would be vital in enabling it to increase its presence around the world. “We’re always looking to expand into different markets,” says Le Roux, “so we need an infrastructure that allows us to set up operations in new geographies fast.”
Why Amazon Web Services
Very quickly, Amazon Web Services (AWS) became the cloud provider of choice for Travelstart. “We looked at other vendors, but AWS came out on top in every respect,” says Le Roux. “Not just its cost-efficiency, but also the scale it could guarantee, as well as the depth of its portfolio. Plus, we weren’t convinced that other cloud providers were as reliable as AWS.”
Travelstart uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for managed database services. Block-level storage is provided by Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS), and the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) allows the company to launch and run its resources within a secure virtual network.
Using Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Travelstart has a fully redundant data store. It manages resources though the AWS Management Console, with Amazon CloudWatch enabling the firm to track utilization, monitor log files, and set alerts.
“We find Amazon CloudWatch very useful. With it, we can tune our resources really easily. It was especially helpful to us at the start of the deployment as we were getting used to working with the AWS infrastructure, and it continues to be invaluable as we refine our architecture according to our operational requirements,” says Le Roux.
All of the firm’s mid-Africa and Middle East operations now run on AWS. Le Roux says, “Our migration to AWS was very successful, with no downtime or disruption to service. Both the technology and support exceeded our expectations.” On the subject of AWS Support, Le Roux says, “The advice we got from our AWS Support contact was great. Migrating wouldn’t have been as smooth or fast without him.”
Moving its mid-Africa and Middle East operations to AWS has provided an infrastructure that’s easy to replicate, helping it expand into new regions. Le Roux says, “AWS is the only partner to choose if you want real global reach and deployment flexibility. Its worldwide presence was a big reason we chose it over other cloud providers. We knew it could help us grow our operations.”
A number of factors influence the demand on the firm’s travel websites, including time of year, time of day, and whether there are special offers being promoted by the marketing department. It’s not unusual for traffic to more than double during promotion periods, which run at least once a week in each geographic market. As a result, the infrastructure in place has to scale easily to cope with these spikes in demand. “The way we’re set up now, we can handle high traffic periods with ease—the elasticity of AWS is excellent,” says Le Roux. “Whereas we used to have issues getting the capacity we needed on demand, we don’t have any of those problems with AWS. We can provision more instances as we require them. So if we’re having a sale on flights, we know we can scale up and scale back down after the sale is over. When we stop using the capacity, we stop paying for it. This helps us operate cost-effectively. We know we don’t have to stump up large amounts of money upfront to prepare for capacity expansion, but we also know we’re not wasting resources by underutilizing server capacity. In fact, we’ve reduced our operational costs per market by 43 percent using AWS.”
Managing the infrastructure is easier with AWS too. “The nice thing about our platform is that if we’re expecting traffic we can deploy what we need to meet that demand. There’s nothing to do from a developer or code point of view—it’s just an administration task. This also makes it very cost effective to run,” says Le Roux.
Service continuity has also seen a noticeable improvement. “With AWS we’ve reduced downtime by at least 25 percent,” says Le Roux. “We had a lot of downtime with our previous cloud provider, which caused problems for us and disrupted services for users. With multiple instances in AWS, we get the continuity we need to provide a reliable service to customers. It’s easy to build redundancy into our architecture with AWS tools.”
With AWS growing in South Africa, Travelstart is looking forward to moving its South Africa operations onto AWS, as well as using more services from the portfolio. For example, it hopes to migrate call center staff on to Amazon WorkSpaces to increase reliability of back-office connections. “Travelstart is a travel company, not a tech company, so if AWS can do it better for us, we’ll do it with AWS. This strategy is working very well for us, and we hope this will continue as we do more with AWS in South Africa,” says Le Roux.
“AWS is the only partner to choose if you want real global reach and deployment flexibility. Its worldwide presence was a big reason we chose it over other cloud providers. We knew it could help us grow our operations.”
Jan-André le Roux, Systems Architect