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Airbnb – Reinventing the Hospitality Industry on AWS

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Airbnb is a classic story of how a few people with a great idea can disrupt an entire industry. Launched in 2008, over 80 million guests have stayed on Airbnb in over 2 million homes in over 190 countries. They recently opened 4,000 homes in Cuba to travelers around the globe. The company was also an early adopter of AWS.

In the guest post below, Airbnb Engineering Manager Kevin Rice talks about how AWS was an important part of the company’s startup days, and how it stays that way today.


PS – Learn more about how startups can use AWS to get their business going.

Early Days
Our founders recognized that for Airbnb to succeed, they would need to move fast and stay lean. Critical to that was minimizing the time and resources devoted to infrastructure. Our teams needed to focus on getting the business off the ground, not on basic hosting tasks.

Fortunately, at the time, Amazon Web Services had built up a pretty mature offering of compute and storage services that allowed our staff to spin up servers without having to contact anyone or commit to minimum usage requirements. They decided to migrate nearly all of the company’s cloud computing functions to AWS. When you’re a small company starting out, you need to be as leveraged as possible with your available resources. The company’s employees wanted to focus on things that were unique to the business success.

Airbnb quickly adopted many of the essential services of AWS, such as Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3. The original MySQL database was migrated to the Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) because RDS greatly simplifies so many of the time-consuming administrative tasks typically associated with databases, like automating replication and scaling procedures with a basic API call or through the AWS Management Console.

Sample Airbnb Listings for Barcelona, Spain as of March 23, 2016

Continuous Innovation
A big part of our success is due to an intense focus on continual innovation. For us, an investment in AWS is really about making sure our engineers are focused on the things that are uniquely core to our business. Everything that we do in engineering is ultimately about creating great matches between people. Every traveler and every host is unique, and people have different preferences for what they want out of a travel experience.

So a lot of the work that we do in engineering is about matching the right people together for a real world, offline experience. Part of it is machine learning, part of it is search ranking, and part of it is fraud detection—getting bad people off of the site and verifying that people are who they say they are. Part of it is about the user interface and how we get explicit signals about your preferences. In addition, we build infrastructure that both enables these services and that supports our engineers to be productive and to safely deploy code any time of the day or night.

We’ve stayed with AWS through the years because we have a close relationship, which gives us insight and input in to the AWS roadmap. For example, we considered building a key management system in house, then saw that the AWS Key Management Service could provide the functionality we were looking for to enhance security. Turning to KMS saved three engineers about six months of development time—valuable resources that we could redirect to other business challenges, like making our matching engine even better. Or take Amazon RDS, which we’ve now relied on for years. We take advantage of the RDS Multi-AZ deployments for failover, which would be really time-consuming to create in house. It’s a huge feature for us that protects our main data store.

Supporting Growth
As we’ve grown from a startup to a company with a global presence, we’re still paying close attention to the value of our hosting platform. The flexibility AWS gives us is important. We experiment quickly and continuously with new ideas. We are constantly looking at ways to better serve our customers. We don’t always know what’s coming and what kind of technology we’ll need for new projects, and being able to go to AWS and get the hosting and services we need within a matter of minutes is huge.

We haven’t slowed down as we’ve gotten bigger, and we don’t intend to. We still view ourselves as a scrappy startup, and we’ll continue to need the same things we’ve always needed from AWS.

— Kevin Rice, Engineering Manager, Airbnb

Modified 08/11/2020 – In an effort to ensure a great experience, expired links in this post have been updated or removed from the original post.