We’ve reduced overall development time, enabling us to push three times more releases in the same amount of time. 
Cristian Toader Cloud Services Manager

Avira offers a range of IT security solutions to help its customers—from home users to large enterprises—stay safe in an online world with constantly evolving threats. It protects the devices of more than 100 million people worldwide, and regularly wins awards for its security products. Founded by an electrical engineer in Germany in 1986, it soon became one of the pioneers of the freemium software model. In 1999, it began offering some of its anti-virus products to home users at no cost, and today it strives to give the best protection to all users, with paying customers having access to more functionality. The company, which is based in Tettnang, Germany, employs about 500 people worldwide, with a large development center in Bucharest, Romania.  

As Avira's product suite is constantly evolving, and the world of online security rarely stands still, the company's development teams are always working on new projects. Each project requires a unique hosting environment. To take two examples, Cloud Services Manager Cristian Toader was leading the development of Avira Protection Cloud, a service that scans users’ files by extracting them to the cloud for threat detection before returning them to the local device.

“We wanted to offer this service free to customers,” says Toader, “meaning that the user base would increase by around 50 times. But our local data center just couldn’t scale at that level.”

Similarly, his colleague Cosmin Ancuta was working on a service for tens of millions of Windows and mobile users. “We needed significant compute power and resources to deliver good quality of service,” Ancuta says. “The effort and cost required by us to set this up on physical servers in an existing location was too high, so we started to evaluate cloud providers.”

Avira chose Amazon Web Services, and currently has more than ten projects running on AWS, and that number is growing. “We have three criteria when deciding how to host a project: scalability, redundancy, and availability,” says Ancuta. “We found that AWS provides these in spades.”

Each project environment is isolated using Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC). Toader estimates that the company uses between 60 and 70 percent of services available on AWS, with the most common being Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for compute instances, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for persistent object-level storage, Auto Scaling to automatically adjust Amazon EC2 capacity up or down, and Elastic Load Balancing to distribute incoming traffic between instances.

Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) provides block-level storage volumes for use with Amazon EC2 instances, while Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) offers managed database instances, although some project teams run database instances in Amazon EC2 as well. For business intelligence, Avira stores data in Amazon Redshift, with Amazon ElastiCache providing a scalable, in-memory cache in the cloud.

To keep uptime high, Avira makes use of AWS global regions and multiple Availability Zones. It also caches much of its content at Amazon CloudFront edge locations. Ancuta says: “A benefit of using AWS is being able to deploy as close as possible to the user. Many of our projects use CloudFront to store cascading style sheets, images, and JavaScript for faster loading times.” 

According to Toader and Ancuta, the greatest benefit to using AWS is the speed it gives them. “As developers we want to bring our ideas to life as quickly as possible,” says Toader. “When we look at the AWS portfolio we can always find something to help us do this. Plus, we can easily test an idea to see how it works.”

“I can focus most of my energy on development challenges and much less on ordering hardware, estimating specs, and predicting spikes like I used to do,” adds Ancuta. “It’s great to use this time I’ve gained to improve the business.”

Toader estimates that Avira has reduced the time to predict and budget its services infrastructure by 80 percent when using AWS, speeding up deployments. “We’ve reduced overall development time, enabling us to push three times more releases in the same amount of time as before,” he says.

Avira also values its global relationship with AWS. Because it has has projects running in Germany and Romania, Avira benefits from having two points of contact at AWS. “They sync together so they’re up to date with all projects on both sides, and our relationship has always been excellent. Even though we use multiple accounts we benefit from centralized billing, so we get some discounts on the computational power we use,” says Toader.

It also saved money by not having to purchase hardware that is subsequently underutilized. “We can scale up quickly in the cloud so we can vastly increase our user base without having to wait. This means we can on-board customers really easily. For example, we can launch a new service for our customers, adding a large number of users fast without the need to provision resources in advance,” says Toader.

Toader continues: “In addition to offering our services to more people, we’ve had great success in interconnecting a lot of our services in AWS like our Avira Protection Cloud file scanner with our Avira URL Cloud. This provides URL protection, gathering more information about malware files distributed via URLs so we can differentiate ourselves from our competitors. It gives our users more choice and a better experience.”

Avira runs training and certification programs in-house to encourage teams to adopt AWS, as well as attending external sessions. “We like to learn how to operate more effectively in the cloud,” says Toader. “We’re always looking to do more. We’d like to explore big data on AWS—we still haven’t touched that.”

Ancuta adds: “And we’d like to adopt services like Amazon Aurora to reduce the amount of time we need to spend on maintenance and setting up databases.”  

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