BidEnergy, based in Melbourne, Australia, provides an online service that simplifies how businesses source and manage their energy needs. BidEnergy runs monthly online energy auctions where up to 10 energy retailers compete to supply electricity to businesses. BidEnergy captures and analyzes large volumes of data, including environmental costs, distributor tariffs, retailer tariffs, breakpoints and usage blocks, and service charges. Customers receive detailed information about the cost of each energy retailer’s bid over a one, two, or three-year period, including recommendations for dividing energy requirements between retailers. BidEnergy also helps customers reconcile contracts against their actual energy bills. The company began operations in June 2012 and provides services to businesses throughout Australia and New Zealand. BidEnergy forecasts analyzing more than 1 TB of data by the end of 2013.
As a startup, BidEnergy needed an infrastructure that could scale to support robust growth as well as spikes in demand on the day that the company ran its monthly energy auctions. During an auction, demand for BidEnergy’s service could increase by a factor of 100 compared to normal usage, which effectively ruled out the option of building a traditional on-premises datacenter environment. “If we had taken that approach, we would have had to acquire servers, storage and networking equipment that would have largely sat idle 96 percent of the time,” says Anthony Du Preez, BidEnergy Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder.
In addition, to win business from multi-site corporate and government organizations, BidEnergy needed to comply with government best-practice tendering and procurement standards adhered to by many large corporations. These standards typically require auction operators to implement strict measures to protect data and in many cases locate it only within specific jurisdictions. The operators may also be obliged not to disclose the identities of different bidders to each other, and to log and back up every interaction with every auction participant.
BidEnergy chose Amazon Web Services early on because of the maturity and ease of use of the platform and the ability to meet the company’s business requirements for speed-to-market. “We also welcomed the fact we only had to pay for the capacity we used, rather than commit to a minimum level of expenditure,” says Du Preez.
Many of BidEnergy’s developers had used AWS previously. This familiarity combined with the maturity of the AWS platform helps the company to tackle issues quickly. “If our developers have any problems, they can tap quickly into the AWS community to obtain support—often within half an hour,” says Du Preez. “With a less mature platform, developers might spend an entire day trying to find information; and with a small team, that’s a lot of productivity lost.”
BidEnergy uses one Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Reserved Instance backed by Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) to host its application servers, and Amazon CloudWatch to monitor resources. The organization uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store files generated by its applications and users, and Amazon Route 53 to provide scalable DNS web services.
BidEnergy deploys its Amazon EC2 Reserved Instance in the Asia Pacific (Sydney) Region to improve its ability to meet its customers’ data sovereignty requirements and reduce already minimal network latency. Figure 1 demonstrates BidEnergy in the Asia Pacific (Sydney) Region.
BidEnergy has experienced a hundredfold increase in electricity loads during its first six months of operation. Du Preez reports that energy loads are typically increasing by tenfold per auction, and he expects the number of users to reach several thousand by the last half of 2013. “Because it’s a live auction, we have to be able to work through millions of permutations and provide feedback to the participants about their status in a very short space of time,” says Du Preez. “Our AWS environment has enabled us to do this, and we estimate that we are near 100 percent availability since we started running the auctions.”
AWS has robust controls in place to maintain security and data protection of the infrastructure. “We know that some potential customers have rules around where their data can be stored and backed up,” says Du Preez. “We are extremely confident we have developed a secure service running on AWS.” BidEnergy can create backups of data before, during, and after an auction, and locate the backups remotely for recovery in the event of a problem. The company uses an automatic script to back up the files before compressing them and pushing them to Amazon S3.
Bid Energy estimates that using AWS is up to 40% cheaper than an alternative cloud service, and is about 90% less expensive than an on-premises datacenter infrastructure. Based on his experience with startups, Du Preez credits AWS with helping BidEnergy bring products and services to market six months faster than would be possible with on-premises solutions. “For us to develop a service and have it production-ready took about three months using AWS,” he says. “To get to the same point with an on-premises installation would probably take us nine months once resource and scalability limitations were taken into account.”
BidEnergy plans to continue using AWS as its business continues to grow. “AWS has been integral to the success of our operation to date and we expect to continue to build our business on its cloud infrastructure,” says Du Preez. “AWS delivers the high availability and cost savings that BidEnergy needs to succeed.”
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