Founded in 2000, G+J Uitgevers is a publisher of successful media brands for readers in the Netherlands and Belgium. The company, located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, publishes Designer-Vintage, Glamour, Holland Herald, JAN, National Geographic, Quest, and Vogue.
Before G+J Uitgevers moved to Amazon Web Services (AWS), multiple service providers in the Netherlands hosted its brands. Each site experiences millions of views per year; for example, Vogue receives 24 million. But, usage can spike by 200–400 percent during special events like online competitions, or as a result of trending social media posts.
The company’s server configuration, which consisted of machines at various hosting companies, was not sufficient to handle these loads. As a result, viewers experienced poor site performance and crashes. “We were never sure what to expect, so we would have to buy new servers to handle those peaks — servers we ended up using only one to five days per month,” Susan Lau, technical director, says. Investing in a new server farm would be a financial risk, but not having enough capacity was even riskier, because down time could damage the brands. “We needed a way to be flexible with system resources and reduce the expense associated with purchasing new equipment,” she says.
In addition, G+J Uitgevers’ hosting contracts were about to expire, and it needed to consolidate hosting for its websites quickly. The company started looking for a solution that would limit downtime, allow full access, and increase availability, flexibility, and scalability — all at a reasonable price.
G+J Uitgevers worked with Webslice, an APN Advanced Consulting Partner, who recommended using AWS to host its websites. Oscar Steenmann, managing partner at Webslice, says, “We suggested AWS to G+J Uitgevers, because they wanted to focus on managed services, not ordering, configuring, and deploying hardware. Also, with AWS, they could consolidate to a single provider, and make use of self-service. Finally, AWS was scalable enough for their needs.”
Initially, G+J Uitgevers and Webslice moved the servers using a drag-and-drop migration that resembled traditional hosting. The migration took place over one month. Steenmann says, “As traffic grew, the sites became highly available, clustered environments. At that point, scaling vertically was no longer enough.” The company is running seven instances. When peak loads occur on their sites, they run 10 instances.
To enable horizontal scaling, Webslice enhanced the AWS infrastructure with Elastic Load Balancing to distribute requests and cope with traffic spikes, deployed multiple Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances to serve all sites, and used Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to serve static content and central MySQL databases to scale out. All instances run Linux and use PHP (Symfony framework) to serve dynamic content.
G+J Uitgevers also uses Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) to back all of its instances. For example, the website for National Geographic includes photos that users have uploaded on the Foto Community. G+J Uitgevers has migrated these images to Amazon S3 to achieve higher availability. The Foto Community, as part of National Geographic, consists of approximately 290,000 images, representing about 1 TB of data. Figure 1 shows the configuration.
By switching to AWS, G+J Uitgevers has consolidated its entire hosting under one provider and saved 20 percent in overall hosting costs. The company also doesn’t have to purchase new equipment to accommodate peak times, and can accommodate extensive spikes in traffic seamlessly. “With AWS, our flexibility is unparalleled. We can add an instance within minutes and pay only for the time it’s used,” Lau says. “Recently, we had an increase of more than 700 percent in page views on one server in one month. By using AWS, we caught that peak within minutes.”
G+J Uitgevers has also decreased time to market. Lau says, “We’re no longer waiting weeks for delivery of a physical machine. In 15 minutes, we can build a new instance and do the basic setup. So the time it takes to push out new sites and improvements has been drastically decreased.”
Going forward, the company is transitioning all static content to Amazon S3 and looking into using more automation and clustering its sites more. “We still have to fine-tune the AWS environment for G+J Uitgevers; this is an ongoing process,” Steenmann says. “In the future, to achieve scalability and higher availability, we will move all databases to Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and serve all static content from Amazon S3. Amazon CloudFront will provide even better caching methods.”
Webslice, an APN Advanced Consulting Partner, is a Netherlands-based company that specializes in the design, build and management of scalable hosting infrastructures for mission critical websites and internet services.
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