Founded during the internet boom of the 1990s, PayGate is a leader in online payment processing and merchant services throughout southern Africa. It offers payment gateways—virtual point-of-sales devices—to e-commerce merchants, enabling quick, secure online payments. It stays ahead of the competition eliminating the complexity of dealing with banks, security certifications, and the technical aspects of online payments. As a result, it’s become one of the country’s most respected companies, and counts Yuppiechef, Air Namibia, DHL, and African communications giant MTN among its customers.
Thanks to a successful, long-standing relationship with an existing customer, PayGate won a contract to handle payments within the European Union (EU). A central condition of the contract was that the infrastructure had to be based in the EU. This was a regulatory requirement, but also made practical sense because the merchants, end customers, and banks involved were all based in the EU. PayGate IT Director David Beukes explains that the challenge for PayGate was simple: “Get it up and running as quickly as possible.”
Beukes says that he wanted to replicate its existing South African infrastructure within the EU, but without the hassle of signing contracts with data center providers and facing large capex bills from buying hardware. A cloud-based infrastructure looked like the best option. This was to be the first ever cloud-based gateway for the firm—until now, it had built fixed infrastructures for its existing clients. Crucially, the new environment had to be Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant, which, at the time, narrowed the choice of supplier down to two companies: Amazon Web Services (AWS) and one other.
Why Amazon Web Services
PayGate chose AWS based on positive word-of-mouth from peers. It was able to run a proof of concept (POC) with very little up-front expenditure, then simply expand the size of the POC once it was ready to go into production. Beukes says, “It saved us a huge amount of time because we didn’t have to spend days or weeks specifying, sizing, and provisioning servers. Once we knew how we were going to build the environment, we could just do it. The advantage of AWS is that you can start small and grow, rather than have to make a call before you spend money.”
The platform is a web service comprising a web server layer and a transactional application layer based on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances. The data from the transaction application then moves into Amazon Relational Database Service(Amazon RDS) instances, set up across multiple Availability Zones. Each layer is fronted by Elastic Load Balancing, which distributes traffic across the instances. Following the success of its initial experiment with AWS, it has also built a testing environment for its applications where environments are stored as scripts using AWS CloudFormation. This means developers can test their code in clean, accurately provisioned environments that get spun up and terminated according to need.
Beukes estimates that PayGate has saved around one million South African Rand (US$75,000) on hardware costs, ongoing support, long-term contracts, and the cost of flying its employees around the world to oversee the infrastructure.
PayGate has also managed to ensure that its environment is PCI compliant—an absolute must in the payments industry. What’s more, proving this with AWS is much easier and efficient than for its own infrastructure. “If we’d have opted for a fixed infrastructure as opposed to the cloud, our PCI auditor would have had to visit the data center and make sure access control was up to scratch,” explains Beukes. “Instead, it’s just a case of AWS providing the latest attestation of compliance. In just two emails we can now avoid a process that could have cost us thousands of dollars.”
Beukes was also impressed at the immediate scalability of the cloud-based infrastructure. He gives one example where a customer queried an extremely large number of transactions without warning, putting services under stress until, eventually, some began to fail under the load. PayGate traced the issue down to one of its databases and was able to increase the size of the Amazon RDS instance within minutes, and got it back up and running straight away. “That impressed the heck out of me,” says Beukes.
Now that it has a template for a cloud infrastructure, PayGate is considering offering a similar gateway for its other clients. And since AWS opened its new offices in Johannesburg, Beukes and his team have even more reason to consider the cloud. “We’ve been fairly DIY until now,” he says. “But we’ve seen a huge change since the local support and local account managers came in.”
Because he manages two environments—one static and one in the cloud—Beukes is able to make a direct comparison between them: “Using AWS you have the ability to try things without doing damage; that agility is far greater. We can do things in seconds with AWS technologies. This is what makes the biggest difference to me day to day.”
“We can do things in seconds working in the cloud with AWS technologies. This is what makes the biggest difference to me day to day.”
David Beukes, IT Director