Founded by three entrepreneurs in August 2011, RedMart is a Singapore-based online supermarket chain that operates its own transportation fleet for door-to-door delivery across the country. Its inventory spans all the ordinary household items, from milk to fresh produce, with an emphasis on competitive prices and local products. RedMart allows customers to nominate two-hour delivery windows, offering convenience that is underpinned by RedMart’s careful supply-chain management. In 2014, the company was named one of Singapore’s “top 10 start-ups to watch” by the Singapore Business Review. Later the same year, it raised $23 million in Series B funding from investors to build its operational capacity and expand its product range to include more fresh food.
When RedMart’s chief technology officer, Rajesh Lingappa, joined the company in August 2011, its entire IT infrastructure was hosted by two physical servers. “If you ask me, it was very ‘last decade.’ I didn’t sleep for a month,” says Rajesh. “That type of setup is fine for testing the waters, but when we agreed to pursue business expansion, the idea of doing so with our existing infrastructure scared me a lot.”
To begin with, the company had an inventory of 4,000 items, each of which had four photos used across the site. This generated more than 48,000 separate files which needed to be quickly available to customers through RedMart’s website. A further challenge related to the actual stock, which was stored in a large warehouse in Singapore. It was necessary to devise some way to pick products from the shelves efficiently without losing time to latency issues. The two servers were struggling and RedMart needed a solution that would support not only the depiction of its products online, but also their selection in the warehouse, and quick delivery to clients.
“Any small business with ambitions to expand has to ensure that it won’t grow beyond its own capacity to meet customer expectations,” says Rajesh. “So we knew we needed redundancy and we knew we needed scalability. More than that, though, we knew we needed speed.”
Why Amazon Web Services
Rajesh considered several infrastructure options for RedMart, including a range of local data centers. “It was extremely important for us to have a provider that was close to, if not within, Singapore,” he explains. “Besides, the best latency we could expect from a center based in Europe or America was 250 milliseconds – that’s 10 times more than we were willing to accept.”
After reviewing his options, Rajesh pursued a cloud-based solution with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the company’s host provider. “AWS offered the most mature solution available,” he explains. “The pricing was excellent, the scalability options were unrivalled, and it even offered several ready-made APIs that would make it easier to get our business up and running.”
Rajesh oversaw RedMart’s transition to the AWS cloud, beginning with the construction of an Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) bucket for storing product images and information. He was assisted, on occasion, by AWS Support, but emphasizes that the process was mostly straightforward and hassle free. “One of the great things about AWS is that many of the things most important to us were available out of the box,” says Rajesh. “The system, for example, is inherently secure, which allayed our concerns about customer privacy, as well as the security of our own proprietary data.”
Rajesh is also enthusiastic about the AWS range of premade APIs: “From our shopping cart to our ‘find item’ tool, many processes integral to RedMart’s operations are underpinned by APIs that AWS made freely available to us through their online development guide,” he says.
RedMart used to run its website on two in-house Magento 1.5.1 servers. But in July 2013, it moved to the AWS cloud and began using Amazon Route 53 to manage its domains. When a customer purchases a product from the RedMart website, a central Chef-based API hosted by Amazon S3 handles the process, with content delivered to the customer via Amazon CloudFront.
To ensure consistent performance, Elastic Load Balancing directs incoming traffic to one of two availability zones in the Singapore region. An Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance then communicates the customer’s requests to a hand-held device in one of RedMart’s warehouses, directing the pick-staff member to the exact shelf where the required product can found. This process is integrated seamlessly into a warehouse management system designed by Manhattan Associates and hosted on AWS.
Specific website functions, such as the company’s shopping cart APIs, are also hosted by Amazon EC2. The entire infrastructure is contained within an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), which provides security for both RedMart and its clients.
“We were particularly pleased that AWS allowed us to write all of our code in Chef,” says Rajesh. “Our entire infrastructure is built with Chef and hosted in the AWS cloud. We could, in theory, replicate our entire IT environment in no more than half an hour.”
Since adopting an AWS solution, RedMart has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. In January 2015, the company moved to a new office that is four times bigger than its previous site. Meanwhile, online orders have increased 15 to 20 percent each month, peaking at approximately 4,000 orders a day.
Despite this rapid growth, RedMart’s AWS solution has helped it to achieve near 100 percent uptime. In addition, the front-end end website runs five times faster, even though it’s more than 60 percent cheaper than the previous solution.
“When you’re an online company, there’s a direct relationship between your website availability and your marketplace reputation,” says Rajesh. “AWS has helped us to convince our customers that we’re a reliable and responsive company that can be trusted to handle their business efficiently.”
Before moving to the cloud, Rajesh was eager to improve—or, at the very least, maintain—the speed of RedMart’s warehouse operations. Thanks to AWS’s integration with its third-party warehouse management application, workers can locate products in the most efficient order based on each product’s precise location. “Our warehouse workers no longer need to memorize where to find thousands of different things,” says Rajesh. “This makes it easier to train new personnel and keeps our warehouse operations smooth and swift.”
On average, RedMart runs about 110 virtual servers in the AWS cloud. However, using Amazon EC2, the company has been able to keep latency at 10 milliseconds, the fastest speed ever possible with RedMart’s previous solution. The servers host not only the Redmart website and backend, but also its growing enterprise resource management system.
Rajesh is highly satisfied with his current AWS solution—with it, he’s been able to maintain the 12 percent month-on-month growth that Redmart has enjoyed since its inception. However, he stresses that business growth is almost always accompanied by changing IT needs. The company recently adopted Amazon Redshift, with which it hopes to take advantage of predictive analytics. It’s also implementing a DevOps strategy that Rajesh is optimistic will enhance the collaboration and efficiency of RedMart employees.
“I’m keeping an open mind about the ways in which AWS might help us even more in the future,” he says. “We’re looking at new services like Docker and AWS CodePipeline that will allow us to achieve continuous service delivery. Moving ahead, I’m confident that AWS will keep innovating as we will, empowering RedMart to stay ahead of its competition.”
“The only thing that matters to us is latency and, with AWS, we’ve been able to maintain it at 10 milliseconds.”
Rajesh Lingappa, Chief Technology Officer