The Holiday Extras website (holidayextras.com) sells airport parking, hotels, travel insurance, and other travel add-ons. The site helped 8 million travelers with hassle-free holiday planning in 2011, and the company has established an ambitious revenue target of ₤200 million in the middle of the travel industry’s worst recession.

Chief Marketing Technology Officer Nilan Peiris comments on one of the company’s biggest challenges: “We work in an industry with huge seasonal peaks and troughs.” Another challenge: “Holiday Extras is on a mission to make holidays hassle-free. We have invested over ₤1.5 million in a customer technology platform to make this happen.”

Peiris explains that investing in Amazon Web Services (AWS) has supported the execution of his company’s vision in two ways: “It increased our agility by reducing our time to market and reduced our fixed cost base.”

He goes on to describe the company’s initial use of AWS: “We ran a nine-month project to transition all customer-facing websites to AWS to address all our infrastructure needs. The project was delivered in an agile manner, with the solution incorporating the latest pieces of AWS technology—including Elastic Load Balancing and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS)—as they were made available.

“The project involved transitioning 10 quad core blade web servers and two 1-TB MySQL databases on the backend to 12 web servers (across three Availability Zones), one large Amazon RDS instance, a small number of memcached instances, and 10 ELBs.”

The following tools were used to develop Holiday Extras’ solution: Bash, Phing, PHP, AWS Java tools, TeamCity, SVN, Zabbix (for monitoring), and Patch (for deployment).

Peiris offers the following recommendations for other developers:

  • Understand the cloud requires differing operational patterns (such as disposable technology and build for down time).
  • Understanding how the variety of AWS tools work makes architecture design and implementation easier.
  • Don’t expect to be able to complete a move in a very short time frame.
  • Planning for outages is an important step.
  • Have a look at some case studies as they provide valuable insight from people that have already gone through the process.
  • Ideally, move small parts of your systems over one by one. This makes it easier to spot where problems might be occurring.
  • Build a management console of your own that provides you with the functionality you’re looking to achieve and provides insight into your current infrastructure.
  • Try to forget about looking after individual boxes in clusters, etc. If one is having difficulties for strange reasons, get rid of it and start a new instance.

Holiday Extras has halved their IT hardware spending and reduced end-user response times by 20% since moving to AWS. Peiris notes some additional advantages: “AWS is right for us because of its continued innovation, knowledgeable account managers that have supported us during the transition, and the flexibility it provides by allowing us to expand our infrastructure at the click of a button. We can now move faster and more cost-efficiently than our competitors, meaning more focus on retaining and gaining customers and less on the infrastructure.

“I am passionate about using technology to create unique customer experiences that deliver a sustainable competitive advantage. AWS is allowing us to transform our business model while improving agility across the company.”

Looking ahead, Peiris is considering use of the following AWS solutions:

To learn more about how AWS can help run your websites in the cloud, visit: http://aws.amazon.com/websites/.