Customer Stories / Education / Netherlands
Squla Modernizes Online Education Platform, Saves Costs Using AWS
An AWS customer since it was founded in 2009, Squla is based in the Netherlands and provides an online learning platform for school children in the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. It saw a sudden 20 times increase in usage after schools locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic and used AWS and worked with the cloud consultancy Oblivion, now an AWS Partner, to optimize its platform so it could meet the remote learning needs of millions of children. It has also modernized its platform by migrating to Amazon Aurora and going serverless using Amazon Elastic Container Service and AWS Fargate. It can now develop and roll out new features more quickly, has a more cost-effective infrastructure, and knows that its platform can support rapid fluctuations in demand.
Founded in 2009, Squla is an online platform that provides online learning tools, quizzes, and games for pre-school toddlers to 11- and 12-year-old school children across the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. Based in the Netherlands, Squla is available to both schools and individual parents looking to help children practice and expand their knowledge across many topic areas. When schools locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Squla saw a sudden 20 times increase in online traffic that threatened to crash its platform.
At that point, Squla was using a monolithic infrastructure that couldn’t easily adapt to meet such drastic swings in demand. With so many new users accessing its platform, it needed more flexible scaling. Using Amazon Web Services (AWS), and with the help of Oblivion, which has since become an AWS Partner, Squla was able to resolve those immediate issues to keep its services available and running smoothly.
After it gained confidence that it could continue to meet the needs of users during the pandemic—which reached a peak of 2.5 million children—it then worked to optimize and modernize its systems and migrated to a new infrastructure based on serverless technology and microservices. Today, it can easily meet ups and downs in demand and pays only for the AWS services it uses. That puts it in a better position to grow and meet the learning needs of schoolchildren, even in the face of unexpected spikes in demand.
Opportunity: With User Numbers Spiking, Squla Sees Microservices Opportunity
E-learning provider Squla has been an AWS user from its inception. That gave the company the flexibility it needed to optimize its cloud services quickly after COVID-19-related school lockdowns led to skyrocketing demand for its online platform for schoolchildren. With the number of users on the site suddenly increasing by a factor of 20, it knew it needed to change how it used AWS to accommodate spikes in demand and future growth needs.
Squla also recognized that its platform would benefit from moving from a monolithic IT architecture to a more modern, flexible one based on microservices, which would make application updates easier and faster. However, that migration would have to wait until after it addressed the immediate scaling challenges it faced while serving the remote education demands of millions of children.
By modernizing its architecture and moving to serverless, Squla also hoped its engineering team would be able to develop and roll out new features more quickly. Using microservices, developers would no longer have to wait for others on the team to complete their updates but could deploy changes in a more modular fashion. For example, a new feature involving eight microservices could be partially rolled out if one microservice required more development time but the other seven were ready to deploy.
“Now, we have a lot of smaller microservices. So if one application is blocked, it’s not going to block the rest of the applications going into production. It’s a win from the business development point of view. That’s a big benefit for us.”
Head of Engineering, Squla
Solution: Using Amazon ECS, Squla Modernizes to Meet Fast-Evolving Education Needs
After school lockdowns began and it struggled to accommodate user numbers, Squla’s engineers worked to optimize how its applications were configured on AWS to increase the number of processes its infrastructure could run. The company turned to Oblivion for the additional expertise it needed to adapt its MySQL database for higher user loads.
Working with Oblivion, Squla was also able to identify other opportunities to make improvements in the near term, but one recommendation would have to wait: migrating its database to Amazon Aurora, which is designed for unparalleled high performance and availability at global scale with full MySQL and PostgreSQL compatibility. Squla didn’t want to risk breaking the vital services its platform was providing by making that move in the middle of the high-pressure lockdown environment. “That was not the right moment for us to do it,” says Jagadeesh Annamalai, head of engineering at Squla.
After addressing its immediate optimization needs to manage increased user demands, Squla was ready to modernize its infrastructure and migrate to Amazon Aurora. With support from Oblivion and AWS, Squla assessed its existing architecture and conducted an AWS Well-Architected review, which helps cloud architects build secure, high-performing, resilient, and efficient infrastructure for a variety of applications and workloads. The review is built around six pillars: operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, cost optimization, and sustainability.
Based on the results of that review, Squla rearchitected and migrated its systems from Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which provides secure and resizable compute capacity for virtually any workload, to Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), a fully managed container orchestration service that makes it easy to deploy, manage, and scale containerized applications.
This included using AWS Fargate—a serverless, pay-as-you-go compute engine that lets you focus on building applications without managing servers—to deploy new microservices. The move to microservices produced quick results. With Squla’s previous monolithic architecture, updates were delayed if even a single new feature created issues that required further testing. But with a microservices-based pipeline, Squla can roll out each new feature independently. This speeds development and deployment, improves efficiency, and enables the developer team to respond faster to changing user needs.
Using microservices also eliminates the risk of a single point of failure—the previous monolithic architecture meant that, if one service failed, none of Squla’s services would work. As a result, modernization has brought a decline in the number of complaints and customer service requests from parents and teachers using the platform. “The stability and reliability of the product has been improved a lot,” says Annamalai.
Using serverless, Squla eliminated roadblocks for developers and reduced its costs by 23 percent. “Now, we have a lot of smaller microservices,” says Annamalai. “So if one application is blocked, it’s not going to block the rest of the applications going into production. It’s a win from the business development point of view. That’s a big benefit for us.”
Outcome: Looking Ahead, Adding Insights for Improved Learning
With a more efficient microservices-based infrastructure and improved scalability, Squla’s engineers now have more time to focus on innovating features and services. And onboarding new developers is significantly faster—it previously took 3 months before someone could begin using the entire system, but new people can now start building new features for individual microservices in just 2 weeks.
The company is also exploring ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to provide teachers and parents with more insights about how their children are learning on the platform. “We now have room to think about, ‘What is the next big thing we can do with our product?’” says Annamalai. “It opens up new opportunities for us.”
Squla provides online learning tools, quizzes, and games for school children across the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. It’s used by both schools and parents to help children practice and expand their knowledge in math, reading, history, languages, and other areas.
AWS Services Used
Amazon Aurora provides built-in security, continuous backups, serverless compute, up to 15 read replicas, automated multi-Region replication, and integrations with other AWS services.
Amazon Elastic Container Service
Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) is a fully managed container orchestration service that makes it easy for you to deploy, manage, and scale containerized applications.
AWS Fargate is a serverless, pay-as-you-go compute engine that lets you focus on building applications without managing servers.
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Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. Access reliable, scalable infrastructure on demand. Scale capacity within minutes with SLA commitment of 99.99% availability.
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