EF Education First Modernizes Infrastructure, Focuses on Innovation Using AWS


Global education company EF Education First (EF) relies on fast, efficient technology solutions to personalize its services for customers and deliver quality experiential learning to students. When the cost of customer acquisition began to rise, EF realized it had to modernize its cloud infrastructure and simplify integrations. This would help it move data more efficiently between applications and continue to innovate in the customer acquisition and customer service space.

To restructure its existing cloud strategy, the company looked to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for a solution that would support its customer-centric focus and be compatible with its agile startup culture. By adopting serverless infrastructure and managed services on AWS, EF has accelerated dataflows, automated key processes, and reduced its engineering support needs. Now it can better tailor its marketing to individuals and personalize services for customers.


The biggest value AWS has given us is the freedom to stay small while growing big. Using AWS has helped us function as a large company with the agility, speed, and spirit of a startup.”

Patrick Kammermann
Chief Information Officer, EF Education First

Putting the Customer First

EF is one of the world’s largest privately held education companies. It has 52,000 employees and is present in 114 countries, with 650 schools and offices across 50 countries. One of the company’s primary services is language travel, which involves sending students abroad on language courses and longer-term programs that range from 2 weeks to a full academic year. EF International Language Campuses delivers its language travel services to customers of all ages; however, its core customers are teenagers and young adults aged between 14 and 25 years. EF also offers a range of other educational and cultural exchange programs. “Our mission is to open the world through education and create life-changing experiences for our customers and students,” says Patrick Kammermann, chief information officer of EF. “An important part of the experience involves becoming more confident as a person, expanding one’s horizons in terms of study or work, getting to know a new country and culture, becoming fluent in a foreign language, and making new friends from all over the world.”

EF began using AWS at scale in 2016, including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. Using AWS as its primary cloud provider, EF can concentrate wholly on its customers. “We don’t focus on technology—we focus on our customers and their experiences,” says Kammermann.

EF’s goal is to consistently tailor, market, and sell a product that creates excitement and meets customer needs, which requires fast and accurate granular data. With customer acquisition costs rising due to increasing competition and growing advertising costs, EF knew it had to develop a more personalized approach to guiding customers through its sales process. “Personalization informs how we address our customers and how we communicate with them, including sending relevant messages at the right time and through the right channel and knowing the next action to take in the acquisition process based on what customers react well to,” says Kammermann.

The company’s previous infrastructure was not sufficiently reliable or fast and therefore did not support EF’s goals for customer acquisition and innovation. Its legacy integration architecture—which consisted of a mix of bespoke components and acquired packages—experienced unpredictable service issues and downtime that resulted in regular escalations, or service alerts, for the EF team. The company also needed to move away from point-to-point and batch integrations and toward integrations that made data available much more quickly.

In 2019, to increase agility, speed, and innovation, EF began to optimize its cloud architecture by gradually migrating from Amazon EC2 to a serverless solution that features AWS Lambda, a serverless compute service that lets customers run code without provisioning or managing servers, and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS), which provides the flexibility to start, run, and scale Kubernetes applications in the cloud or on premises. It also migrated from its legacy integration architecture to a new solution on AWS.

Reducing Friction and Accelerating Workflows

To build the integration solution, the company chose Amazon Managed Streaming for Apache Kafka (Amazon MSK), a fully managed service that makes it simple to build and run applications that use Apache Kafka to process streaming data. “The biggest help is having Amazon MSK available out of the box and in our console for subscription with all the relevant documentation,” Kammermann says. “That made adoption much easier and quicker.” EF can now move data at much faster speeds to drive customer acquisition. The solution also indirectly reduced friction in the development workflow, enabling teams to innovate faster to improve services for EF students. Since adopting the integration solution, the company has not seen any major integration issues or downtime.

The serverless approach offers EF improved security, efficiency, accuracy, and value. “Migrating to a serverless approach gives us the implicit benefit of being more secure. Plus it provides efficiency and cost benefits and removes the need to patch servers,” says Kammermann. “Most importantly, it gives us speed and the advantage of being automated and more accurate.”

Using managed services on AWS, EF can deploy applications faster, without manual intervention. This includes, for example, deploying new versions of its sales application in a couple of minutes—down from half an hour. Additionally, since adopting modernized infrastructure on AWS, EF now requires 50 percent of the engineering staff that it did 2 years ago to support its integrations, software deployments, and infrastructure needs.

In accordance with the company ethos, “Staying small while growing big,” EF is using AWS solutions to retain a startup culture in the technology space, even as the company grows. “The goal of staying small means that we want a small technology team and a small engineering team despite the relative size of our organization,” says Kammermann.

Adopting an Infrastructure that Supports Innovation

EF plans to continue its technology migration to serverless AWS services, with a goal to migrate 80–90 percent of its Amazon EC2 footprint to serverless containers by the end of 2021. This project aims to continue increasing the resilience, availability, and speed of EF’s cloud infrastructure. Aligned with the serverless effort, the company is using Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), which makes it simple to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud.

Using AWS to support an agile, efficient infrastructure and fast dataflows, EF is pursuing greater innovation in the customer acquisition and customer experience spaces. “The biggest value AWS has given us is the freedom to stay small while growing big,” says Kammermann. “Using AWS has helped us function as a large company with the agility, speed, and spirit of a startup.”

About EF Education First

EF Education First is a global education company offering educational and language travel, academic programs, and cultural exchange. EF Education First has schools and offices in 50 countries and a global presence across 114 countries.

Benefits of AWS

  • Accelerates dataflows
  • Reduced engineering support needs
  • Reduced friction in the development workflow
  • Eliminated downtime and reliability issues
  • Increased security, efficiency, and value using serverless solutions
  • Automates processes to deploy applications faster
  • Reduced time to deploy sales application to a few minutes
  • Supports small teams and an agile culture

AWS Services Used

Amazon MSK

Amazon MSK is a fully managed service that makes it easy for you to build and run applications that use Apache Kafka to process streaming data.

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Amazon EKS

Amazon EKS gives you the flexibility to start, run, and scale Kubernetes applications in the AWS Cloud or on-premises.

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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 EC2

Amazon EC2 is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.

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