Ziff Davis Case Study


Ziff Davis, Inc. is a leading all-digital media company specializing in web properties in the technology, gaming, and men’s lifestyle categories. The web properties, which include PCMag.com, IGN.com and AskMen.com, aim to provide audiences with the information they need to make important purchasing decisions and influence the purchases of others. Underlying the properties is a platform that Ziff Davis refers to as The Perpetual Media Engine, a core proprietary framework for processing enormous volumes of data, optimizing revenue yield across businesses, and matching Ziff Davis's content to user preferences.

The company also operates NetShelter, a community of technology publishers, and Ziff Davis B2B, which provides technology research and tools to target and reach IT buyers. Ziff Davis, Inc. has offices in North America, United Kingdom, and Australia and works in partnership with licensees in more than 40 countries.

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Simply put, AWS helped enable Ziff Davis to grow and diversify revenue streams rapidly and successfully. AWS has proven to be a great choice for us.”

Joey Fortuna
CTO, Ziff Davis

The Challenge

During a period of rapid expansion, Ziff Davis acquired several new properties and ended up with a patchwork infrastructure spread over numerous co-location facilities. Managing licenses, logins, and contracts for multiple environments became a costly and time-consuming process. Furthermore, it was difficult to standardize the company’s core business for ad targeting, content commerce, and lead management across the properties. “Diverse environments meant custom code for each newly acquired property,” says Joey Fortuna, CTO of Ziff Davis. “Scaling was always a challenge. What should have taken hours often stretched into months.”

Why Amazon Web Services

Ziff Davis chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) because of the maturity of the platform and API tools for managing and monitoring the environment. Using AWS allows Ziff Davis to programmatically optimize applications and create a cohesive infrastructure across its portfolio. “Traditional IT adds at least one layer of human gatekeepers,” says Fortuna. “Using a procedural hosting environment like AWS gives us programmable access to hosting resources and pre-configured backend services for caching, clustering, and database that would otherwise take cycles away from engineers and operations personnel.”

The Perpetual Media Engine is an enterprise-level data management platform that collects data on a granular level. The business applications use the data for insight into the consumption patterns of users, to drive decision-making, and for data aggregation and optimization. The platform runs on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and takes advantage of Auto Scaling for rapid response to changes in traffic patterns. Ziff Davis uses Auto Scaling to expand horizontally and takes advantage of the flexibility of Amazon EC2 instances to process between two and four billion user signals on a monthly basis.

MySQL and Microsoft SQL Server databases run on Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and Ziff Davis relies on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for web services and for asynchronous aggregation and storage of data. “Our network has grown exponentially in the last two years and the volume of data has doubled since March, 2013,” says Fortuna. “Amazon S3 gives us massive amounts of storage as well as the processing power and flexibility to keep up with almost half a petabyte of data.” Ziff Davis has dozens of automated agents retrieving and processing tracking data from Amazon S3 on an hourly basis. The company also uses automated processes to engage Amazon Mechanical Turk for data management tasks from sentiment analysis to data scrubbing and organization.

Ziff Davis uses Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) for message queuing as well as for lead management and delivery. Amazon Route 53 provides DNS service and the company uses Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) and Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) for alerts and monitoring. Amazon CloudFront caches frequently accessed content as well as front-end JavaScript libraries. The commerce application uses Amazon ElastiCache for in-memory caching. The company uses Amazon CloudWatch and its alert mechanism for system monitoring.

After Ziff Davis had its core business systems running successfully on AWS, it was an easy decision to migrate the web properties to AWS. Fortuna estimates that moving a new web property to Ziff Davis’ environment on AWS typically takes a week, including testing. Even migrating a property with very old technology only takes a few weeks. “The bottleneck has always been the systems that we’re migrating,” he explains. “In many cases, it can take weeks to unwind the stack to get to the root systems. In every case, though, once systems were sufficiently documented and prepped for the move, the actual move to AWS was overnight.”

The Benefits

AWS provides a uniform environment for the enterprise’s web properties, and eliminates the cost of licensing, on-site maintenance, and hardware refreshes. “Across the board, and across our entire product line, we've probably reduced cost by about 20-30% by running on AWS,” says Fortuna.

Moreover, the ability to spin up environments to test ideas quickly has improved time-to-market for product releases. “Near-instant prototyping and product testing is the backbone of innovation and part of what helped us redefine online media,” Fortuna comments. “We've found that a mature understanding of AWS, the proper management of AWS resources, and heavy use of the APIs is definitely a competitive advantage.”

“Using AWS has enabled us to handle rapid growth with grace,” Fortuna continues. “As an example, Ziff Davis recently acquired the Netshelter ad network, which is comprised of hundreds of sites. We handle ad operations for the site and because of Auto Scaling, the infrastructure automatically scales up and down to accommodate traffic that ranges from 2 million to 4 million daily signals, depending on the season or day of the week, without active participation on our part.”
“Cloud hosting is the only logical paradigm for modern enterprise development and deployment,” Fortuna concludes. “Simply put, AWS helped enable Ziff Davis to grow and diversify revenue streams rapidly and successfully. AWS has proven to be a great choice for us.”

About Ziff Davis

Ziff Davis, Inc. is a leading all-digital media company specializing in web properties in the technology, gaming, and men’s lifestyle categories.

Benefits of AWS

  • Reduced costs by up to 30%
  • Spins up environments quickly
  • Eliminates licensing costs

AWS Services Used

Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance. 

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Amazon RDS

Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud.

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Amazon Mechanical Turk

Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is a crowdsourcing marketplace that makes it easier for individuals and businesses to outsource their processes and jobs to a distributed workforce who can perform these tasks virtually.

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Amazon SQS

Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS) is a fully managed message queuing service that enables you to decouple and scale microservices, distributed systems, and serverless applications.

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