With the success of the We’re Related Facebook application, we caught up with Whitney Ransom and Michael Jensen from WorldVitalRecords.com to learn about the technical aspects of their innovative family tree tools and how they use Amazon Web Services.
What are your titles and job functions at WorldVitalRecords.com?
Whitney Ransom, Corporate Communications Director: My main job function is to work with media and inform others about our company, products, and services.
Michael Jensen, Systems Engineer: I am responsible for web app server systems, scaling, and maintenance.
Please describe your company and environment you work in. Our company is FamilyLink.com, Inc., which is a family of services that includes We’re Related application on Facebook, WorldVitalRecords.com, and FamilyLink.com. The focus of our company is to provide innovative tools to connect families.
We launched our We’re Related application on Facebook.com in October 2007. Currently more than 5 million people have installed the application and it is currently the number one social application for families on Facebook.com. We’re Related allows people to create and share their family tree, connect with members of their living families, and find relatives on Facebook. We’re Related already has users from 231 countries/territories. We’re Related has more than 2 million family trees with 20 million people in these trees.
WorldVitalRecords.com was launched by Paul Allen in 2006 and provides affordable access to genealogy databases and family history tools. More than 30,000 individuals have subscribed to WorldVitalRecords.com and we have more than 1 billion records and 10,000 databases.
FamilyLink.com is a social networking site that provides an innovative platform for individuals to connect, research family history, and preserve memories.
Why did you decide to build a Facebook app? We built the We’re Related application for two primary reasons. First, we wanted to leverage the Facebook platform to reach a wider audience (build audience base), and get them interested in genealogy and family history. Second, part of our strategy at FamilyLink.com, Inc. was to have a social network for families. We felt that our We’re Related application was a great fit for this strategy.
How has AWS helped your Facebook app succeed? AWS has allowed us to maintain a feature rich application that has quick loading pages. It has also helped us because we are able to scale extremely fast. For example, on the second night we launched our We’re Related application, we had so much traffic coming to our site that our server went down. (We had 7-10,000 users on the first day, 15,000 the second day, and 40,000 the third day.) We added another server on our own network the next day, and it also went down because of the high amount of traffic. There was no way we would have been able to buy or get enough servers in that short amount of time to handle the load we had. So, we turned to AWS for help, and they assisted us right away. Once we started using AWS, we were able to easily scale with what we needed. For example, we currently have 20 servers running on Amazon EC2, which assists us during our peak usage time. We have also been able to use AWS when we have launched some of our marketing campaigns, which we knew would produce rapid growth. AWS is versatile and provides the resources and services we need whenever we need them.
How have you incorporated Amazon Web Services as part of your architecture? What services are you using? Currently, we are heavily using Amazon EC2. We have database instances, web server instances and a load balancer instance to distribute page requests among the web servers. We are hosting everything for the website/Facebook app on EC2 except DNS. We are also in the process of moving some of our heavier static content into Amazon S3.
Why did you choose Amazon Web Services? Flexible scaling met our need for handling rapid the growth of our Facebook app. We needed something that we could fire up and have running in a short amount of time. Pay-as-you-go enabled us to scale quickly without having to invest in additional hardware up front.
What were you using as a solution before implementing Amazon S3 and EC2? How was the transition process unto AWS? We were using a couple of co-located servers. Our platform is LAMP based, so migration was straightforward. The most time consuming part was importing our database on EC2. We have a custom AMI (Ubuntu based) that was built to meet our needs.
What do you like most about AWS? We like the comfort of knowing we can scale in a matter of minutes to meet any surge in traffic we may have. All the tools AWS provides allow us to manage our needs without getting help from anyone else. (We don’t need to talk to someone to get a server, clusters, etc.)