Tigerspike offers website hosting and management services, UI and UX design, licensing and support services, and product development for personal media devices. Its recent projects include an iPhone app for United Arab Emirates, online design for The Economist, and a multiplatform solution for Malaysia’s largest prepaid telecommunications provider, Hotlink. Based in Sydney, the company now employs more than 180 people and has additional offices in New York, London, Singapore, San Francisco, Dubai, Melbourne, and Tokyo. It has been recognized as one of the foremost providers of personal media technology consulting, receiving a significant grant from Aegis Group in 2011 and winning the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Australia award for seven consecutive years. In 2013, it was identified by Red Herring Global as one of the world’s top 100 most promising private ventures.
“When Tigerspike was established in 2003, we used a single server in somebody’s bedroom,” says Dean Jezard, chief technology officer and cofounder at Tigerspike. This sufficed during the early days of Tigerspike’s development, when it focussed on developing polyphonic ringtones and made its first forays into website creation and maintenance. However, the company’s rapid growth, and the need to adapt quickly to remain relevant, prompted Jezard and his colleagues to shift to a Sydney-based colocated data center. By this point, Tigerspike had branched out into a wide range of consultancy services, and was using its proprietary cloud-based platform, Phoenix––which was also housed in the colocated facility––to provide content delivery solutions to numerous international clients. “It was an exciting time for us,” says Jezard. “But it wasn’t long before this same encouraging growth forced us to confront the limitations of our physical IT infrastructure.”
With a new office in London, it was no longer feasible in 2011 for Tigerspike to route all of its data through a single co-located data center in Sydney. Delays were frequent and the need to constantly update and maintain hardware was cutting into a limited budget that might otherwise have been devoted to innovation and development. “We added the numbers up and it was clear that we’d save a lot of money if we moved to the cloud,” says Jezard. “It would also allow us to gain the agility we needed to support an increasingly global business structure. A migration to the cloud changed quickly from being an option to being an imperative.”
Why Amazon Web Services
Initially, Tigerspike decided to experiment with cloud-based infrastructure by partnering with an American provider. However, the company was unpleasantly surprised when unexpected overage charges––mostly generated by its content delivery network solution––left it with a hefty bill. “It was then that we considered Amazon Web Services,” says Jezard. “We moved to Amazon CloudFront soon after realizing that, with AWS, we’d be spending 30 times less on content delivery than with our previous provider. It was a no-brainer.”
It wasn’t long before Jezard became impressed by the similarity between the Tigerspike and AWS corporate philosophies. “At Tigerspike, we believe strongly in the importance of innovation and trust,” he says. “AWS had already demonstrated a remarkable rate of innovation, and its reputation within the industry left us in little doubt that it could be trusted to support both our company and its clients. So we decided to expand beyond CloudFront as soon as possible.”
From a technical perspective, the AWS suite appealed to Tigerspike because it would enable the company to carefully control its resources, customize its infrastructure, and automate routine processes, such as content delivery. It would also support the company’s existing platform, which was developed using Microsoft Windows, .NET, IIS, and SQL Server, as well as some Java and Node.js.
To ensure minimal disruption to its clients, Tigerspike migrated to the cloud over 12 months in 2012, starting with its utility services and pre-production environments. Originally, Tigerspike had intended to complete the migration in half a year, but had to extend the timeline due to internal resource constraints. It is currently migrating its live applications to AWS, including Phoenix and a variety of mobile applications that it has designed for clients.
Tigerspike now hosts media for its clients’ websites and mobile applications within a scalable Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) bucket that currently contains 7 TB of data. The company uses Amazon CloudFront to deliver these multiformat files to clients around the world. The websites themselves, as well as Tigerspike’s APIs and customer databases, are hosted on more than 100 Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) compute-optimized and memory-optimized instances, spread across four AWS regions: Sydney, Dublin, Singapore, and North Virginia. Its APIs are further supported by an in-memory caching layer delivered by Amazon ElastiCache. To effectively handle web traffic, Tigerspike relies on Elastic Load Balancing to distribute data requests between a cluster of Amazon EC2 instances, and Amazon ElastiCache to serve repeat requests. Amazon DynamoDB is used to process user requests within milliseconds. The entire architecture is underpinned by Amazon Route 53, a latency-based DNS service, which redirects clients to the closest available instances based on their geographic location. To scale and deploy new applications, Tigerspike relies on Amazon Elastic Beanstalk.
The company uses Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) to coordinate its different AWS applications and Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) to communicate with its customers. For security, it has four Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) environments with multiple subnets. It also uses AWS Identity and Access Management to control access to its IT infrastructure. This same network is overseen by Amazon CloudWatch, which Tigerspike developers have used to set alarms that notify them of any unusual activity. “We’ve been able to link the AWS applications together in a way that suits our needs perfectly,” says Jezard. “It wouldn’t have been possible with anybody else.” Figure 1 demonstrates the infrastructure on AWS.
Figure 1. Tigerspike Architecture Diagram.
Tigerspike was motivated to shift to AWS by the promise of a cost-effective solution that would free it from rising capital and operational expenditure. According to Jezard, pricing analyses conducted by the company after the migration demonstrate that an equivalent solution with an alternative provider would cost up to 75 percent more than with AWS. This, he explains, is largely due to the customizable nature of AWS. For example, by automatically powering down its pre-production environment outside of business hours, the company spends 60 percent less than it would if it were always on.
“For us, the ability to forecast our expenditure without worrying about unexpected bills is a huge relief,” says Jezard. “The AWS Cost Explorer tells us exactly where our money is going and what we can do to reduce costs further.”
AWS has also enabled Tigerspike to overcome the speed constraints of operating with a single datacenter. Each month, the company receives 1 TB of data through its Elastic Load Balancing conduit, and carries 6 TB of data within its internal network. However, by operating on 10 availability zones across four regions, Tigerspike is able to offer quick service to customers worldwide. “Since moving to AWS, we’ve seen latency in some instances drop by up to 300 milliseconds and we've achieved 99.95 percent uptime,” says Jezard. “The benefits of regional hosting clearly speak for themselves.”
And it’s not just the company’s computational power that has accelerated. Whereas IT upgrades would previously have required weeks of development with new hardware, Tigerspike can now launch new Amazon EC2 instances in less than five minutes. When it comes to creating new products for clients, what would have taken three months–from gathering client hosting requirements to delivering hosting infrastructure–can now be achieved in mere hours using Amazon CloudFormation. For a company with 5 million users across more than 50 mobile applications and websites, flexibility and speed is crucial to success.
In the near future, Tigerspike plans to integrate analysis into its product offering, which will allow clients to understand how their customers are using mobile applications and websites. To this end, the company is exploring the use of Amazon Kinesis and Amazon Redshift. In the meantime, Jezard says, the company is extremely pleased with its AWS solution.