Today, mobile devices generate more than half the world’s internet traffic, relegating the humble desktop—which was once the go-to device for web access—to second place. What’s more, the widespread use of smartphones—the most popular mobile device—has led to a meteoric rise in the number of people accessing the internet through apps. The switch from desktop to mobile to apps has challenged the online advertising industry to find new ways of reaching its target markets.
The need for change has led to the development of companies such as Intowow in Taiwan, whose technologies enable advertisers to run video ads within mobile apps. Intowow operates a supply-side platform (SSP) to meet the needs of mobile-app owners, known as publishers, who want to monetize their apps around the world. Intowow SSP provides a full stack of advertising services including direct ad serving, network mediation, and access to the Intowow marketplace.
At its simplest, publishers integrate the Intowow software development kit (SDK) into their apps. The SDK then utilizes machine learning to manage and optimize ad traffic and placements within each app. In addition to physically enabling the video ads to be displayed, Intowow also provides publishers and advertisers with web-based dashboards, so publishers get an up-to-the-second view of what inventory is being used. In addition, advertisers can see at any moment how much they are paying for the inventory and the level of consumer interaction they are getting from its in-app media buy.
The challenge for Intowow is scaling the platform to accommodate the number of requests from millions of devices and display video ads. At the same time, Intowow needs to provide real-time data to both publishers and advertisers so they can fine-tune their strategies to maximize the value of their ad inventory and the returns from their in-app video campaigns. “We are an ad-tech company at heart; therefore, our business will succeed or fail depending on our technology,” says Wesley Wen, director of engineering at Intowow.
The technology Wen refers to is Intowow’s decentralized AI-driven mobile ad solution. The solution serves in-app videos and gathers data for customer dashboards. “The question was, where were we going to run our services?” Wen recalls. “What infrastructure were we going to use?” According to Wen, there was never really any doubt because when Intowow launched in 2014, it had only startup funding. “Our platform was going to be cloud-based from the start. Indeed, our business plan was built around running IT in the cloud.”
From the outset, Intowow looked at several cloud-service providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS). “Of all the cloud-service providers we assessed, we thought AWS provided the most flexible and secure fundamental services for networking, storage, and computing,” says Wen. “As an ad-tech company, we also need to have a strong analytics framework at our disposal so that we can easily collect and analyze data. Again, AWS had this covered.”
Engineers at Intowow began building the back-end infrastructure for their platform on the AWS Cloud. The platform consists of several microservices running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances. Every microservice has its own purpose, such as advertising delivery pacing control, on-demand video transcoding, or processing of advertising beacons. The instances process huge quantities of data coming from the apps, and this data is stored in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). All data traffic coming up to the AWS-based Intowow infrastructure and going down to the mobile apps is controlled through Amazon CloudFront.
At first, Intowow used its own Hadoop framework for parallel processing across Amazon EC2 instances, but the company soon changed to Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Amazon EMR). Wen says, “By switching to the managed Amazon EMR service, we’ve moved to real-time data processing. Previously, it took about 5 to 10 minutes to process the data, but now it’s less than 5 minutes. This managed service frees up time for our software engineers to focus on application development, for example, our machine-learning project for deep understanding of user behavior.” Post Amazon EMR processing, the data is stored in Amazon Redshift, a peta-scale data warehouse. “Traditionally, we’ve used data in Amazon Redshift to generate reports for our sales and business analytics teams. However, we’ve found that for some types of reporting, we can simply execute Amazon Athena to analyze the data while it’s in Amazon S3 using standard SQL. It’s fast and very cost-effective without the need to increase the number of Amazon Redshift nodes, saving us about 20 percent on reporting costs.”
Today, more than 200 million devices are running Intowow’s SDK every month in more than 100 countries, all running on the AWS Cloud. “Our business is expanding,” says Wen, “because our platform is stable, and we’re delivering the precious information that publishers and advertisers need in real time, so that they can maximize returns on their inventory and advertising campaigns.”
He goes on, “We have what I call a solid infrastructure with AWS. We get the 99.999 percent availability that our customers need, but also the capability to instantly process data from multiple sources. This processing power means our SDK can intelligently manage our customers’ campaigns—ensuring publishers monetize all of their app inventory and advertisers can get the most bang for their buck.”
Wen provides an example of when the AWS infrastructure was put to the test. In February 2016, one of Intowow’s publisher customers rolled out a new app running the Intowow SDK. “The app was a big success, and, in a matter of weeks, the number of daily active users rose from 1 to 20 million. Within four months after the publisher released two more mobile apps, the number of daily active users had risen to 80 million. Suddenly, the Intowow platform saw a massive increase in the amount of video-ad inventory to manage through the Intowow SDK. Yet, thanks to the flexibility of our AWS services, we could scale our AWS infrastructure to support millions of apps that have our SDK installed, without any significant changes to our applications.”
In addition to being happy with the performance of the AWS infrastructure, Intowow is highly satisfied with the evolution of the AWS services. “AWS continues to help us reduce our costs in several ways,” Wen explains. “Reserved and Spot Instance pricing on Amazon EC2 instances has lowered our overhead, and the introduction of per-second billing has also been very helpful in terms of cost reduction. We also enjoy a close working relationship with AWS. Our discussions and workshops, plus the AWS summits, always provide us with new insights that we can use to improve our performance.”
To learn more, visit https://aws.amazon.com/mobile/