Singapore-based Marine Desk Pte., Ltd. provides a bidding platform to help ship owners get competitive prices on bunker fuel from agents in ports around the world. Ship owners can list ship arrival times and fuel requirements, and view bids to meet those needs from participating agents. Marinedesk.com bidding replaces traditional direct negotiations between ship officers and agents for bunker fuel suppliers, enabling customers to obtain fuel for the lowest price available. Marinedesk.com also gives agents and fuel suppliers access to a wider group of buyers, and reduces the resources they need to invest in sales and marketing.
In the past, shipping companies negotiated with only one or two agents when ordering bunker fuel, rather than with a multitude of agents. The founders of Marine Desk wanted to offer an alternative. Shipping companies spent $300 billion in 2012 on fuel. Giving ship owners a way to bid on fuel could lower a company’s costs by two to three percentage points, which could result in a sizable improvement in a company’s bottom line.
Marine Desk founders needed to act quickly to make their business a reality and to maintain an advantage over potential competitors. The founders needed a robust, secure infrastructure that would meet the needs of its customers and didn’t want to commit capital for on-premises datacenter equipment. Any infrastructure the company used had to maximize availability and minimize bandwidth, even when customers were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The solution had to have the security to ensure that only authorized users could view individual bids and protect sensitive information in the Marinedesk.com database, which includes contacts of ship owners and agents and details of previous bids. “The amount of money involved in bunker fuel supply to shipping is considerable, so protecting bidding information is extremely important,” says Sandeep Kaul, Cofounder and VP, Sales.
To make the platform a reality, its founders needed a web application partner and a low-cost, scalable infrastructure. “We were expert in maritime procurement and sales and marketing, but not as skilled technically,” Kaul says. “We needed technology suppliers who could understand our requirements and translate them into a viable business.” Marine Desk needed an infrastructure in four months and estimated using a third-party host provider take eight months. The company didn’t want to risk losing momentum. The founders sought help from BlazeClan Technologies PVT., Limited, an Advanced Consulting Partner in the Amazon Web Services Partner Network (APN).
BlazeClan suggested hosting Marinedesk.com on Amazon Web Services (AWS). “The presence of AWS in several geographic regions and its pay-as you-go, pay-per-use model was ideal for us,” Kaul says. “We were also convinced that the AWS Cloud could provide the robust performance and security we needed.”
The AWS pay-per-use model met Marine Desk’s requirements so comprehensively the founders immediately ruled out other infrastructure providers. “After BlazeClan helped us understand how AWS worked, we didn’t bother analyzing alternative options,” Kaul says. “AWS services and solutions are unrivalled in the marketplace, and most other startups we know are using them as well.”
BlazeClan developed Marinedesk.com and designed the bidding platform to minimize bandwidth requirements and maximize availability, so that customers can have a trouble-free experience even while at sea. The platform architecture helps ensure pages load quickly while database performance meets Marinedesk.com’s business requirements of about 350 inputs/outputs per second.
The bidding platform runs in a dedicated Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) hosted in the AWS Asia Pacific (Singapore) Region. The Marine Desk applications run on m1.small Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances with Auto Scaling. Elastic Load Balancing distributes incoming application traffic across the instances to optimize performance and maintain fault tolerance. Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) runs the Marine Desk MySQL database. Figure 1 demonstrates Marinedesk.com’s infrastructure.
Using the AWS Cloud enabled Marine Desk to launch its bidding platform in four months—half the estimated time of a traditional environment. “Working on AWS allowed us to launch our service twice as fast as if we had used on-premises data center equipment,” Kaul says. “As a start-up, fast time to market is vitally important to us. With AWS, we could immediately access all the infrastructure resources we needed, which helped us speed up development.”
The founders are progressively bringing new ship owners and agents in Asia, Europe, and North America onto the platform. Since launching its platform on AWS in 2011, Marine Desk has experienced availability of 99.99 percent, ensuring that ship owners and agents can complete the bidding process without fear of a system outage.
Marine Desk is working on new bunker fuel analytics and comparison tools to create additional value. BlazeClan continues to provide managed services to Marine Desk to maintain the applications supporting the bidding platform.
Marine Desk’s decision to provision an Amazon VPC for its bidding platform has helped improve security of the service. “Using Amazon VPC lets us operate in a logically isolated section of the AWS Cloud where we can run our own virtual networking configuration, using features such as security groups and network access control lists,” Kaul says. “This minimizes the chance of confidential information being seen by the wrong person.”
Marine Desk plans to continue adding new services and solutions to its portfolio. “We don’t plan to invest in any IT infrastructure, and AWS will remain our platform of choice,” Kaul says. “Without the help of AWS and BlazeClan, I doubt we would be in the position we are today.”