On a normal day, we would experience 300 to 400 user sessions. However, when A Current Affair broadcast its segment, this climbed to more than 4,000 sessions. Auto Scaling scaled our infrastructure up and the application didn’t miss a beat.
Richard Glew Chief Technology Officer

Founded in 2007 and endorsed by Australian researchers, LiteracyPlanet is an Australian-developed online literacy resource for children of ages 4-15. Available for use at school and home, it offers a gamified learning platform with more than 15,000 interactive exercises, including pre-reading, phonics, sight words, reading, spelling, comprehension, and punctuation aligned to the Australian curriculum. These exercises are suitable for different paces of learning and adaptable for differentiated learning. The business, which has 24 employees, is based in Sydney and the Gold Coast in Australia.

LiteracyPlanet started operating a monolithic Ruby on Rails digital learning platform with a small U.S.-based cloud company. Eventually, though, the business needed a more fully featured and faster-growing cloud provider that could deliver services such as  database , storage, and a content delivery network on demand.

“Our main drivers for moving were to obtain access to richer feature sets while simplifying our supplier relationships,” says Richard Glew, chief technology officer at LiteracyPlanet. “For example, if you have an issue that spans various components of your infrastructure, and up to five companies are involved in its resolution, then it can be arduous and time-consuming to fix the problem. If you have a single partner, the resolution is much easier.”

LiteracyPlanet also wanted an infrastructure that could provide better controls over costs, that could scale to support fluctuating demand, that could run with minimal administrative staff resources, and could expedite the deployment of new applications and services. Ideally, it would also support expansion into new countries and territories.

LiteracyPlanet evaluated the available cloud service providers and determined that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was best able to meet its needs. The business initially moved its digital learning platform into an AWS infrastructure in the AWS U.S. East Region that comprised a single large Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for compute resources, Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for a MySQL database, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store web assets.

LiteracyPlanet then expanded its use of AWS. It now uses the Amazon CloudFront content delivery network to improve application performance for international users, and has started using a microservices architecture to improve flexibility and manageability. The business also has moved nearly all its infrastructure to the AWS Asia Pacific (Sydney) Region to be closer to its primary market.

The applications and services comprising the platform now run in multiple Amazon EC2 instances with Auto Scaling to scale the number of instances up and down according to demand. LiteracyPlanet is using AWS Lambda to run some services without having to provision or manage servers, and Amazon API Gateway to create and run APIs so its applications can access data or functionality from code running on AWS Lambda or workloads running on Amazon EC2. Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) and Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) were also used to facilitate the service architecture model. LiteracyPlanet also runs Amazon Route 53 to provide domain name services, and operates its infrastructure in multiple Amazon Virtual Private Clouds (Amazon VPCs) to provide isolated environments that protect its sensitive assets and data from external access.

Amazon DynamoDB provides NoSQL support for some of LiteracyPlanet’s consumer services, while Ansible—a tool provided by AWS Consulting Partner ITOC Australia—automates AWS uniform provisioning and deployment. AWS CloudFormation creates and collects resources for security groups and database provisioning, while AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) enables LiteracyPlanet to control internal access to information and resources.

The LiteracyPlanet system now comprises the front-end games that teachers assign to help students improve their literacy, and back-end systems that manage functions such as score management and exercise assignment. Another component provides guided learning to students in cases where teachers prefer to use LiteracyPlanet as support rather than a primary teaching tool, while another analytics service enables the business to understand how its customers are using the service for product development purposes. A word building application called Word Mania and the LiteracyPlanet website, plus its supporting content management system, also operate in the AWS infrastructure.

The figure below illustrates LiteracyPlanet’s environment in AWS:

literacyplanet-arch-diag

LiteracyPlanet has achieved several benefits from its use of AWS, including the ability to evolve its metrics for measuring success beyond traditional perspectives on performance and uptime. “We don’t want to only build a data center in the cloud, we want to take advantage of what the platform can really do. We are looking at more mature metrics that address how we can make the platform more efficient and speed up deployment. AWS provides a lot of good tools and techniques that will allow us to achieve our upgraded objectives,” says Glew.

By using AWS, the business only needs to deal with one provider on infrastructure issues, while costs are now well under control. This cost-effectiveness and the ability of the AWS infrastructure to support demand spikes was critical when a recent Word Mania literacy competition received coverage on a popular current affairs television show, A Current Affair, in Australia. “On a normal day, we would experience 300 or 400 user sessions. When A Current Affair broadcast its segment, this climbed to more than 4,000 sessions,” says Glew. “Auto Scaling scaled our infrastructure up for us and the application didn’t miss a beat. In addition, on a normal day, we would consider 100 signups a day as a good result. That day we experienced 5,500 signups, mostly over a 20-minute window.

“I have worked at other places where you would expect to see problems when traffic increases by that magnitude,” Glew adds. “With AWS, we didn’t notice the change and the fact we didn’t have to worry about it was lifesaving.” He estimates that to manage the same demand spike in a physical infrastructure, LiteracyPlanet would have had to purchase up to 10 times the capacity needed for normal traffic loads. This extra capacity would be sitting unused most of the time.

LiteracyPlanet can now reduce the time required to bring new products to market from months to a week with the flexibility and agility provided by AWS. “The provisioning and deploying of our applications takes minutes or hours with AWS. Now it is just a case of how quickly we can decide on and build them. This has given us a massive competitive edge,” says Glew.

LiteracyPlanet’s technology team spends less than five percent of its time on operations, with the remaining 95 percent devoted to development. The team has no dedicated infrastructure administrator, and allocates just a few hundred dollars a month to keep a partner on standby just in case technical issues occur. The business has yet to experience any significant problems, with availability levels at around 99.999 percent. “In a physical data center, I would need at least three administrators to maintain the infrastructure and ensure similar levels of availability,” says Glew.

With its applications and services well established in AWS, LiteracyPlanet is planning to expand into new AWS regions, particularly in Europe, to reduce network latency for customers in the United Kingdom. “There’s nothing we haven’t been able to do with AWS, and AWS has always been on hand to help us figure out responses to questions about our infrastructure, applications, or services," says Glew. "In addition, the performance of the AWS infrastructure has been pretty flawless."

To learn more about how AWS can help your content delivery needs, visit our Amazon CloudFront details page.