Supporting farms and families, affordably and at scale
ECHO is a nonprofit, founded in 1981, equipping small-scale farming families worldwide with access to knowledge, seeds, and agricultural training. The organization teaches small-scale, sustainable farming methods so families can provide for themselves and their communities. They provide training in agricultural techniques globally, with centers in Southeast Asia, East and West Africa, and Florida in the United States, empowering small-scale family farmers to thrive.
Educating farmers creates a community that can self-sustain
ECHO’s goal is to increase food security and make sure no one goes hungry. We act as a conduit for knowledge so that individuals and organizations working toward this goal can have access to the tools needed to overcome their unique challenges to successful farming. We believe that training in sustainable agriculture gives communities the skills, resources, and seeds they need to rise above hunger and poverty.
ECHO provides direct training to individuals around the world, and we create digital resources and tools for our online communities. ECHOcommunity.org, which runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS), gives development workers and missionaries an open platform to share best practices and techniques, ask questions to other farmers, and be better informed to help small-scale farmers provide for their families. We also provide thousands of packets of seeds to farmers to help them establish community seed banks that increase their food security.
ECHOcommunity.org provides a two-way communication conduit for development workers at all levels to communicate freely and openly about their needs, successes, and knowledge. It is incredible to witness what happens when techniques that farmers have been using for generations are spread to others with similar needs. By providing open access to this information, we empower everyone from university researchers, to development workers, to subsistence farmers to contribute to solutions to issues like food security and climate change.
Selecting a cloud provider that meets our needs
We decided to use AWS when we discovered its online community and the amount of documentation available about its services. We appreciated that their online content could teach us at no cost. A couple of our services are based on the example code provided by AWS engineers in blog posts demonstrating the use of new products. For example, we learned how Lambda@Edge image scaling service could save ECHO both money and time.
Starting with the AWS Free Tier made it simple to try, and then transition legacy systems to a cloud environment. Nearly all of our transition to AWS was accomplished without expensive consultants and required a team of only two to three people. We have workloads on other cloud providers, and each have their strengths, but we nearly always start with AWS when planning a new project, as the pricing tools help us accurately estimate the base and scaling costs.
Before adopting AWS, expensive upfront investments made many projects impractical. Developing proofs of concept usually required a lot of planning and administrative hurdles that slowed the progress of our small team. Servers were located in data centers (or even office closets) that were maintained by our staff, without the ability to account for our worldwide staff and beneficiaries. Amazon CloudFront houses our content globally with low latency, high transfer speeds, all within a developer-friendly environment.
On-demand scaling allows us to be more efficient in our IT operations, as we can automatically scale portions of our infrastructure to meet our global compute demands. This allows us to run nearly all of our open data platform without limiting availability or speed. Additionally, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) powers our live conferences and events, as we use instances with GPUs, more than 100GB of memory, and 30GB network connections. With Amazon EC2, we have access to highly reliable, real-time encoding on computers, for a few hours or a day, only paying for what we use.
Saving on costs while scaling globally
Having a global infrastructure is essential to achieving our mission. Most of our users are living and working in countries with limited to no internet access, so removing every possible bottleneck is critical to create a seamless user experience. Moreover, every single dollar is important because it comes from donors who are giving to the purpose of ending world hunger. They expect—as they should—that their donations are helping people produce food for their families. We take seriously the need to spend every dollar wisely, yet we cannot deliver new tools and resources unless we can try out new technologies.