Financial technology company rplan develops online tools to help customers make better investment decisions. The company gives investors feedback on their decisions to help them invest better, as well as enabling trading. rplan’s customers use the company’s proprietary tools, including in-depth portfolio analysis and advanced investment research, to help investors gain insight into their own portfolios and achieve their financial goals. The company engages with individual customers directly and also supports other companies by providing tools and services in a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. The services that rplan provides are used within the U.K. retail savings and investments market.
rplan was founded to offer investors in the UK a technology service that would help them invest their funds. Company founders knew that the ability to deliver its service was dependent on the capability and reliability of its hosting environment. It would also need to support the IT security teams of its corporate clients. “Deciding how to host these services was a critical decision,” says Gavin Baird, CTO. “We needed a solution that would enable us to build a secure infrastructure—that was of paramount importance.”
The company needed a solution that would not require significant investment to get started, but that would allow it to scale smoothly as rplan grew. It also required enterprise-level security, availability, scalability, performance, and management capabilities. “We didn’t want to be locked into a proprietary application hosting environment,” Baird says. “We wanted to retain control and flexibility. We needed a data center without the headaches and costs of supporting our own hardware. We wanted to make sure we could keep overhead low and avoid the need for specialist skills.” Using a traditional hosting environment wasn’t feasible, given rplan’s goals, so the company sought a cloud solution.
Why Amazon Web Services
The company chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its infrastructure to take advantage of the automation that AWS offers. “By using AWS, our team can focus on pushing our products forward, not on fighting infrastructure,” Baird says. “AWS offered what we wanted in terms of a virtual data center through a virtual private cloud.” The team appreciated AWS’s commitment to supporting customer due diligence on rplan as a supplier as well as the many developments made to the service, particularly Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) Provisioned IOPS (PIOPS) volumes and the integration between Amazon Route 53 and Elastic Load Balancing (ELB). rplan is using PIOPS to provide guaranteed and predictable disk read times for its OLTP databases. “The Route 53 and Amazon ELB integration gives us management convenience in terms of web server cluster management,” Baird adds.
In 2011, rplan started with a single host in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud-Classic (Amazon EC2 Classic). Shortly thereafter, it designed and implemented an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) environment and has since increased the number of hosts within it. Baird notes, “For Amazon EC2 Classic, there was virtually no learning curve.”
The company now uses an Amazon VPC environment spread across three Availability Zones, to support 15–20 Windows and Linux hosts. The architecture is organized in a traditional web stack, with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections terminating on ELB, multiple web servers in different Availability Zones, and a primary database server that replicates its state to a secondary server in a separate Availability Zone. The infrastructure includes two installations of this stack supporting five production websites. Other servers support these installations, including build and deployment, proxy, and monitoring and patch deployment servers. Static content hosting is offloaded to Amazon CloudFront, and the team uses Amazon RDS to host some offline analytics features and Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) to send client email. See Figure 1.
Figure 1: rplan Architecture on AWS
Working in a virtualised infrastructure allows the team to create new environments in less than 1 hour, versus 1 day in the previous environment. By using AWS, the company can take on new clients at a speed that would otherwise have been impossible. For example, the company was able to provide environments for client penetration testing within two days.
The AWS solution is flexible enough to support a varying number of users. At certain times, daily usage can be hundreds of times greater than the usual level of business; the business is also seasonal. Baird says, “Having the ability to flex our infrastructure and costs to match is now a critical part of our business operating model.”
The rplan team used AWS Business Support on several occasions. The company has 24x7 SLAs with its corporate customers and needs a support arrangement for hosting that reflects these commitments. Baird notes, “We have found the AWS support staff to be responsive and knowledgeable, both for issues and more general product usage guidance.”
Now that rplan is running on AWS, the team is able to offer users availability of greater than 99 percent at a cost that is a fraction of what a traditional hoster would have charged the company, at a savings of 30 to 40 percent.
As well, the company has been able to deploy its people on activities that grow the business, instead of on IT tasks. “Using AWS allows us to remove the heavy lifting required to implement and operate an enterprise-grade infrastructure. Especially powerful is the single application programming interface (API) set that spans every part of the infrastructure. We have automated many activities that reduce the amount of time spent on infrastructure support by 30 percent.”
“AWS is great, with fantastic service,” Baird says. “I also believe that AWS is at the forefront of cloud services, and this gives me reassurance that there will be continued innovation and development in their services.”