At iCHEF, we’ve seen a 13% decrease in IT admin overhead due to the managed services available in AWS.
Spencer Ho Chief Technology Officer

Taiwanese-based iCHEF offers a point-of-sale (POS) app service to restaurants across Southeast Asia. The Apple iPad-based POS, for which restaurants subscribe on a monthly basis, delivers a range of restaurant services. These include table bookings, food orders, bill payments, and receipt printing. Today, iCHEF, which has 49 employees, is the leading tablet-based POS system for restaurants in Taiwan. While many of its 2,500 customers are based in Taiwan, the company has been attracting restaurant owners in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, with as many as 150 restaurants signing up for the iCHEF service each month.

When Benjamin Wu founded iCHEF, he was confident of its success. Wu was an experienced restaurateur, who’d found it impossible to find a tablet-based POS system that he could customize for his own business needs. Convinced he was not the only one in Taiwan with this problem, he launched iCHEF in 2012 to offer restaurants a fully customizable POS system that is available on the iPad and that they could access for a monthly fee.

A key part of the iCHEF business plan was the infrastructure to support the service. For example, restaurant customers would upload data about their menus and prices to the infrastructure, which in turn would enable order taking and customer invoicing. Restaurant staff would use an iPad app to interface with the backend data. Spencer Ho, chief technology officer at iCHEF, says, “We ruled out building an on-premises infrastructure from day one. Our business plan was developed around a cloud-based solution that enabled us to deliver our product for a fee of $70 per month per restaurant. For us, it was crucial to find a cloud service that would help us keep our IT overhead down, including administration costs.”

From Ho’s point of view, cost wasn’t the only factor to consider. “We had to be able to scale our infrastructure quickly as the POS service took off, and we had to guarantee customers high availability. Any downtime would seriously impact their businesses, especially if it occurred during traditional meal times.” On top of this, he says, the company wanted a platform on which it could integrate additional services easily. “Analytics is an exciting area for many companies. Our goal is to offer analytical services to customers for a greater insight into their operations.”

iCHEF engaged with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to build the backend infrastructure for its POS system on the AWS Cloud. Says Ho, “AWS had a broader range of cloud services than other cloud providers that we considered. The documentation on AWS solutions was also good, which gave us confidence to build our cloud solution internally.”

After iCHEF built a trial version of its cloud-based infrastructure, the company engaged with the local AWS team in Taiwan, who provided support around building it using AWS best practices. Today, the company’s AWS solution includes multiple Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) instances for restaurants using the iCHEF service. The company uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances to support all data processing and Elastic Load Balancing to distribute incoming traffic between the instances.

iCHEF started out using Amazon EC2 On-Demand instances before moving on to Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances (RI) and now Amazon EC2 Spot Instances. With On-Demand pricing, companies can pay for compute capacity by the hour, and with RI they can reduce their Amazon EC2 costs by up to 75 percent by reserving compute capacity. With Amazon EC2 Spot Instances, companies can reduce costs even further through bidding on available Amazon EC2 capacity.

iCHEF stores all transactional data on bookings, menus, and food orders in Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). The company uses AWS Lambda and Amazon API Gateway to enable customers with multiple restaurants to integrate data across their establishments. Once a day, for instance, an AWS Lambda serverless computing instance will make an API call via the Amazon API Gateway to multiple Amazon EC2 instances to gain an integrated view of the customer’s restaurants. Finally, iCHEF also uses Amazon EC2 Container Service (Amazon ECS) to make the AWS infrastructure easy to scale.

iCHEF has reduced its IT costs using AWS. Ho says that when iCHEF implemented the AWS solution, the cost of iCHEF’s AWS services was $7 per month per user. With its move to Amazon EC2 RI and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances, the company has been able to lower that cost. Says Ho, “We have reduced our IT costs to just $5 per month per user because of the flexibility around Amazon EC2 instances.”

Furthermore, iCHEF has cut administration costs associated with its IT because of the managed services element of key services such as Amazon RDS. “We’ve seen a 13 percent decrease in IT admin overhead due to the managed services available in AWS,” says Ho. “The saving enables us to dedicate more resources to development and to improving services for customers.”

In addition, with its AWS infrastructure, iCHEF can expand its business knowing it has the flexibility to scale its IT on demand. Most important to Ho is the fact that AWS is helping iCHEF drive innovation; the company has plans to develop its analytical services—correlating data on customers and their food choices—so restaurants can serve customers better.

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