TransferWise Grows Globally by Migrating Financial Applications to AWS


TransferWise is a global financial technology company working to develop better ways to move money around the world. Since its launch nine years ago, the company has experienced global business growth, with more than six million people and businesses having switched to TransferWise from more traditional providers due to its low cost, ease of use, and greater efficiency.

Keeping pace with its growth was challenging because TransferWise hosted its application environments in on-premises data centers that made it difficult to scale and ensure the constant availability customers expect. “In a physical environment, space is constrained by cost and geography,” says Thomas Hewer, technology lead at TransferWise. “We wanted to grow globally and didn’t want to have to build out data center partnerships with multiple vendors all over the place.” When TransferWise started providing services in new regions, the limitations of the company’s on-premises data centers were clear. “Our data center was in Europe, and we didn’t have a presence in the new areas we were in, such as Latin America, North America, and Southeast Asia,” Hewer says.

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Using AWS, we can spin up compute and storage resources where and when we need to, much faster than we ever could before. AWS will help us continue to drive our global expansion."

Thomas Hewer,
Technology Lead, TransferWise

A Hybrid Approach to Cloud Migration

To solve its global growth challenge, the company chose to migrate to Amazon Web Services (AWS). “We looked at other providers, but AWS was clearly designed for what we wanted to do,” says Hewer. “It was at the time, and still is, the most mature cloud provider in the market. The other providers weren’t as battle-tested regarding usage and capacity.”

TransferWise began its cloud migration by using a hybrid cloud storage architecture to move its data backup environment to AWS. The company shifted all its backups to AWS using AWS Storage Gateway, a hybrid cloud storage service that provides on-premises access to cloud storage. “AWS Storage Gateway helped us address the load and network constraints we had, which were preventing us from getting backups done,” says Hewer.

TransferWise used the Tape Gateway mode of AWS Storage Gateway to replace tape backups and then transitioned to writing database backups to a Volume Gateway. This in turn created Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) Snapshots that were managed by the AWS Backup service. As a result, TransferWise was able to close its recovery data center in the Netherlands.

Once the company’s databases were being backed up to AWS, TransferWise began to use those backups to migrate its databases. “We realized quickly that using Volume Gateway and Amazon EBS Snapshots was an effective way to get the data robustly into AWS,” says Hewer. “It was a simple way of doing the migration that worked with our database team’s existing processes and knowledge.”

The organization migrated 90 percent of its German data center using this approach, along with AWS Database Migration Service. So far, TransferWise has moved hundreds of PostgreSQL and MySQL databases into a combination of Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) with Amazon EBS. “We use Amazon RDS wherever we can to reduce the time we spend on database administration and also have the flexibility to run our more ‘special-case’ databases on Amazon EC2,” says Hewer.

Streamlining Storage Management

The organization also uses AWS Backup to automate and manage backup operations. The service gives TransferWise a way to centrally manage data protection policies for on-premises backups written to Storage Gateway, databases that are backed up to Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS), and Amazon RDS databases. “AWS Backup is very easy to set up and use,” says Hewer. “It’s much easier than any products we’ve used in the past and lets us show our auditors what they need to see for maintaining compliance. We spun up our AWS Backup plans really quickly and set up templates and tags, so any team can automatically have their new resources protected by the right backup plan.”

Scaling Quickly to Support Tenfold Business Growth

Instead of being constrained by an on-premises infrastructure, TransferWise can now scale its web and mobile application platform easily to keep pace with tenfold annual growth. As a result, the company can expand its services more quickly as the business continues to grow. “Previously, we would have to go out and buy more servers and install them to get more capacity to scale our applications,” says Hewer. “Now, the time and effort to get things up and running have been nearly eliminated because of AWS.”

The global presence of AWS makes it easy for TransferWise to use services for projects in new regions. “We have projects where we are integrating with partner banks and governments in places like Australia and Singapore,” says Hewer. “It is easier for us to accommodate those demands because of the multiple AWS Regions available to us.” TransferWise is also benefiting from a globally replicated storage layer, reducing much of the complexity of the company’s web and mobile application code base.

Launching New Products Globally

Taking advantage of the scalability, agility, and availability of AWS, TransferWise can better support innovation. For example, in 2018 the company launched a new borderless debit card product, which benefits from greater application availability. Hewer says, “With the reliability and high availability of the AWS Cloud, we have improved debit card application uptime in Europe and rolled the card out to North America, Australia, and New Zealand without requiring development of new data centers in those regions. We could not have done this without AWS.”

In the coming years, TransferWise expects to bring its new debit card to additional countries. “Using AWS, we can spin up compute and storage resources where and when we need to, much faster than we ever could before,” says Hewer. “AWS will help us continue to drive our global expansion."

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TransferWise Grows Globally by Migrating Financial Applications to AWS

About TransferWise

TransferWise is a global financial technology company working to develop better ways for customers to move money around the world. Since its founding in 2011, more than six million people and businesses have switched to TransferWise from more traditional providers due to its low cost, ease of use, and greater efficiency. TransferWise processes more than $5 billion (£4 billion) in payments every month and saves customers more than $1 billion (£1 billion) annually.

Benefits of AWS

  • Closes data center by migrating backups and databases to AWS
  • Scales quickly to support tenfold annual growth globally
  • Launches borderless debit card across the globe

AWS Services Used

AWS Storage Gateway

AWS Storage Gateway is a hybrid cloud storage service that gives you on-premises access to virtually unlimited cloud storage. Customers use Storage Gateway to simplify storage management and reduce costs for key hybrid cloud storage use cases.

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AWS Backup

AWS Backup is a fully managed backup service that makes it easy to centralize and automate the back up of data across AWS services in the cloud as well as on premises using the AWS Storage Gateway.

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Amazon Elastic File System

Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS) provides a simple, scalable, fully managed elastic NFS file system for use with AWS Cloud services and on-premises resources. It is built to scale on demand to petabytes without disrupting applications, growing and shrinking automatically as you add and remove files, eliminating the need to provision and manage capacity to accommodate growth.

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Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS)

Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud. It provides cost-efficient and resizable capacity while automating time-consuming administration tasks such as hardware provisioning, database setup, patching and backups.

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