PlanGrid’s founders are passionate about the construction business and develop software to help make the industry more efficient. The San Francisco, CA company provides a delivery and collaboration platform that maintains a master set of blueprint plans on the web and automatically pushes updates to iPads and other mobile devices. Launched in 2011, PlanGrid estimates that more than 20,000 construction sites use its software to deliver and update construction blueprints. PlanGrid was also a finalist in the sixth Annual AWS Global Start-Up Challenge in the Business Applications category.
During a construction project, architects and construction crews are in constant communication with each other, exchanging information about the site that results in blueprint updates. A construction site will have multiple copies of a site’s plan in different areas. “A project can have 3,000 pages of blueprints,” describes Ryan Sutton-Gee, Cofounder and CEO. “When plans change, it’s a massive—and expensive—effort to coordinate and supply all team members with updated copies. We know of one project that budgeted $1 million just for printing.”
With the introduction of the iPad, Sutton-Gee saw an opportunity to deliver plans on site without paper and began work on a blueprint application for the iPad. However, the application displayed blueprints too slowly to be useful to customers. Inspired by other applications using cloud technology, PlanGrid decided to develop a cloud-based solution.
PlanGrid was accepted into Y Combinator’s incubator program for start-up for the Winter 2012 session. Y Combinator works extensively with a select group of start-ups during a three-month boot camp to help them develop their business model. Each cycle culminates in Demo Day, when the startups have the chance to present their business to a large audience of investors. As part of the process, PlanGrid had the opportunity to evaluate several hosting solutions. PlanGrid chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) because of the maturity of the AWS platform and the security of the infrastructure. “Construction companies are careful with data,” says Sutton-Gee. “We can show them the latest AWS security white papers, which helps alleviates any questions.”
PlanGrid’s customers upload blueprints in PDF format to the platform via the PlanGrid website. The service stores the files on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) buckets and uses Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) to move the data to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), where processing takes place to transform the raw data into work units. Each sheet equals one work unit. The platform runs on about 50 XL Amazon EC2 instances. PlanGrid designed a custom solution based on open-source tools that sorts, organizes, and links related work units. The solution pre-renders the blueprints so that the images appear within .05 seconds on the website and 5 –20 seconds on the iPad. “Our customers aren’t tech savvy,” says Sutton-Gee. “We use AWS to run a sophisticated back-end and our users see only plans that are delivered and updated in real time.”
The processed data is stored back on Amazon S3 and downloaded to iPads and other mobile devices. The service constantly scans and synchronizes updates across the web application and all mobile devices. Figure 1 demonstrates PlanGrid’s platform running on AWS.
PlanGrid estimates that thousands of construction sites use its solution. Customers upload approximately 19,000 unique pages to the platform daily. “Using AWS is so affordable that it’s easy to scale to store over 2 million pages of blueprints in Amazon S3, about 24 TB of data, with only five people,” says Sutton-Gee. “We still haven’t had the need to hire a DevOps resource.”
“We use AWS throughout our entire stack and we simply could not operate without it,” he continues. “The capital efficiency of the AWS Cloud makes it possible for PlanGrid to launch and scale. During the dot.com boom, a start-up could spend $100,000 on physical hardware to build a simple web application. Our investment for a complex application that scales and constantly syncs across multiple devices is about $300 per month, thanks to AWS.”
“PlanGrid is the first construction application running on AWS, but it certainly won’t be the last,” says Sutton-Gee. “Using AWS will help construction professionals get into the post-PC era.”
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