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ActiveCampaign Improves Customer Experience Using Amazon Aurora

2021

ActiveCampaign, one of the fastest-growing software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies in the world, needed help managing the demands of its rapidly growing business. It found the technology and support it needed in 2016, when it migrated its entire operation to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and harnessed the managed service of Amazon Aurora, a MySQL- and PostgreSQL-compatible relational database built for the cloud that combines the performance and availability of traditional enterprise databases with the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of open source databases. The use of Aurora has supported the massive growth of ActiveCampaign, enabling it to increase revenue and streamline operations.

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The managed service of Aurora enables us to decide on Monday mornings to add more capacity and then be done by lunch.

Benjamin Doherty
Engineering Manager of the Database Reliability Team, ActiveCampaign

Pivoting to a Cloud-Based SaaS Model

Founded in Chicago in 2003, ActiveCampaign originally sold a suite of products—including a ticketing management system, a chat feature, and email marketing software—that the company would help customers install on their own infrastructure. But in 2014 the company decided to shut down several products and start using a cloud-based SaaS model with a focus on customer experience software. With this strategic pivot, the company aimed to help businesses interact with their customers through automated marketing and an easy-to-use customer relationship management system. “It was a big pivot for the company,” says Tony Newcome, chief technology officer of ActiveCampaign. “And it was definitely the right one.”

Once ActiveCampaign pivoted to a cloud-based model, business grew rapidly, and the IT team needed to spend more time innovating new products than managing the infrastructure. So in 2016, ActiveCampaign migrated its entire operation to AWS. The company chose AWS because of the support it provides—support that now enables ActiveCampaign to focus on the care of its customers and the development of new products instead of infrastructure maintenance. “On AWS, we basically have one of the best operations teams in the world available to us with an API call,” says Benjamin Doherty, engineering manager of ActiveCampaign’s database reliability team.

Streamlining Operations during Massive Growth

After ActiveCampaign began using Aurora with MySQL compatibility as its main transactional database, its growth and revenue increased dramatically. Now the company handles 170,000 schemas from customers in 61 countries and processes 120 billion queries every day using Aurora. “Our automations traffic was up 153 percent from 2019 to 2020, and our sending increased 100 percent in the same time frame,” Newcome says. “We’re seeing tremendous growth in every vertical and every region where we do business.”

Aurora enables ActiveCampaign to provision clusters on demand to keep up with customers. The company added three to six database clusters every month in 2020, taking only 2 hours per month to do so. The company can also use Aurora to develop SQL queries that it could not have developed previously using MySQL, and it can have more customers on a cluster and higher write throughput. Crucially, ActiveCampaign can use the automatic-scaling feature of Aurora to respond quickly when it needs more capacity. “The automatic-scaling replica feature of Aurora is important to us,” says Doherty. “We’re able to spin up replicas on our clusters during something intensive, like while sending large campaigns, and then scale down when those jobs are done. It’s painless, effective, and not disruptive.”

ActiveCampaign also built custom automatic-scaling handlers with an open source product called ProxySQL to support features such as query routing. Monitoring and observability service Amazon CloudWatch sends alarms that trigger AWS Lambda, a serverless compute service, to add new capacity and notify ProxySQL that there’s a new instance in a cluster that it can use. “We’ve benefited from the use of services like AWS Lambda as a way to customize the automatic-scaling behavior that we need,” continues Doherty.

Using Aurora, ActiveCampaign implements decisions quickly. “The managed service of Aurora enables us to decide on Monday mornings to add more capacity and then be done by lunch,” says Doherty. Now ActiveCampaign can provide high availability to its customers. “We can depend on AWS,” notes Sagar Sagiraju, ActiveCampaign’s vice president of engineering, cloud platforms. “For its availability, support, and problem solving, AWS is a tremendous value.”

Aurora also reduces costs, increases efficiency, and improves security for ActiveCampaign. Every customer—including seasonal businesses—has its own schema. Aurora enables ActiveCampaign to archive data for customers when they go dormant and then unarchive it when they come back—a huge cost-cutting benefit because ActiveCampaign doesn’t have to pay for idle databases. Because Aurora is fully managed, a team of only three engineers operates efficiently. “Not needing big data centers or dozens of engineers and being able to use AWS services instead is huge,” says Newcome. The out-of-the-box security offered by Aurora is key to providing safe and secure infrastructure for ActiveCampaign and its customers. “On AWS, we can monitor encryption and the access to keys,” Doherty says. “Offering those kinds of complicated security maneuvers as just another service makes a huge difference.”

Although most of ActiveCampaign’s infrastructure rests on Aurora, the company also uses Amazon DynamoDB—a key-value and document database that delivers single-digit millisecond performance at any scale—to collect and hold data from web scale functions. ActiveCampaign's customers can embed a simple script into their web interfaces and then track how many times a user visited their blogs or ecommerce sites. 

Improving the Customer Experience Using AWS

On AWS, ActiveCampaign is able to meet the rapidly growing demands of its business without burdening its staff with managing its database. “It’s hard to imagine doing this in a world where we didn’t have an expert AWS operations team on the other side,” Doherty notes. “We are able to focus on the specifics of our product and the needs of our customers because we can count on AWS to manage the infrastructure.”

Now ActiveCampaign can streamline operations while ramping up to handle the number of customers expected by the end of 2021. “We’re certainly looking forward to using AWS in the future,” says Newcome. “We have full confidence that taking advantage of AWS engineering will help us solve problems and enable our customers to continue growing.”


About ActiveCampaign

Founded in 2003, ActiveCampaign is one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies in the world. The Chicago-based company provides more than 130,000 businesses in over 170 countries with email marketing, marketing automation, and customer relationship management tools.

Benefits of AWS

  • Increased automations traffic by 153% in 1 year
  • Handles 170,000 schemas across 61 countries
  • Adds 3–6 clusters per month
  • Processes 120 billion queries daily
  • Increased sending by 100% in 1 year
  • Removes responsibility of database management from small staff

AWS Services Used

Amazon Aurora

Amazon Aurora is a MySQL and PostgreSQL-compatible relational database built for the cloud, that combines the performance and availability of traditional enterprise databases with the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of open source databases.

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Amazon CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring and observability service built for DevOps engineers, developers, site reliability engineers (SREs), and IT managers. CloudWatch provides you with data and actionable insights to monitor your applications, respond to system-wide performance changes, optimize resource utilization, and get a unified view of operational health. 

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AWS Lambda

AWS Lambda is a serverless compute service that lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers, creating workload-aware cluster scaling logic, maintaining event integrations, or managing runtimes.

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Amazon DynamoDB

Amazon DynamoDB is a key-value and document database that delivers single-digit millisecond performance at any scale.

Learn more »


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