Luno (formerly known as BitX) provides customers with a platform they can use to store and trade in Bitcoin―the digital asset and payment system, or cryptocurrency―based on blockchain technology. The Luno product portfolio comprises the consumer-focused Bitcoin wallet, the Bitcoin exchange—which is used by professional traders and institutions—and the Bitcoin API, designed to help developers build applications that handle Bitcoin transactions. The startup has operations in South Africa, Singapore, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and is focused on expanding into other markets.
When it started operations in 2013, Luno had a clear vision of creating a trusted financial platform, which the company wanted to get to market quickly. “It’s difficult at the beginning for startups,” says Timothy Stranex, Luno chief technology officer, about the financial constraints Luno faced in the early days. “You’ve got a great idea but you don’t have funding, and you have to be very careful with what money you do have. Of the initial costs, hosting is probably the largest.”
Even more important than cost constraints were security concerns. To be viable, the firm had to ensure whatever IT platform it chose was secure. “A big challenge with cryptocurrencies is security. People are always trying to hack into your systems,” says Stranex. “Customers have to be confident their money is safe in your hands. Without security you don’t have trust, and without the trust of clients, you don’t have a business.”
The Luno platform also had to have seamless uptime, giving customers access to their accounts 24/7 without disruption. In addition, the company needed a cloud technology that was simple to use and enabled high levels of automation. Finally, it had to have a network that allowed for easy future expansion.
Stranex evaluated a number of cloud providers, but decided Amazon Web Services (AWS) offered the security it needed—with a pricing model the young company could afford. “We were part of the Digital Currency Group, which works with AWS to help startups develop Bitcoin products and services. This was how we got on to the AWS Activate program, which was integral in getting our business off the ground,” he says. AWS Activate provides startups with the low-cost, easy-to-use infrastructure needed to scale and grow any size business.
Luno got started quickly, using a multiple Availability Zone (AZ) configuration across the EU (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore) regions. “This provided us with redundancy from day one,” says Stranex. In addition, using Elastic Load Balancing across Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances “means that if an instance goes down, the balancer will switch the load to other instances and ensure a seamless service for customers,” says Stranex.
Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is used for backups, but most of the firm’s financially sensitive data is stored in Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). “We’ve found this very useful because it automatically handles a lot of the administrative tasks, like backups,” says Stranex. Tools such as Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) and AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) have allowed Luno to build a secure environment.
Of the company’s journey with AWS, Stranex says, “Three years ago, everything ran on one Amazon EC2 instance. But as we’ve expanded our customer base and the products we offer, we’ve found it really easy to scale our infrastructure and explore different services that add value.” For example, the CTO found the serverless computing service AWS Lambda useful for creating a pipeline that receives and processes emails, and is currently exploring other ways of building automation into the Luno infrastructure. Stranex is also looking at enabling business analytics with Amazon Redshift. “We want to create better reporting and gain insights into how our customers are using Luno products,” he says.
Luno now has a platform in place that will aid its expansion in the Bitcoin market. “The business is growing rapidly—our traffic is doubling every few months,” says Stranex. “With its extensive portfolio and regional data centers, AWS is supporting our ability to scale and grow into new geographies. And we’re able to do this successfully in emerging markets, even those where AWS doesn’t have local data centers.” The firm’s ability to provide a reliable service is key to its success. “Imagine what a customer would think if our website was down and they couldn’t access their money. I’d be pretty nervous,” says Stranex. “Our uptime with AWS is great. With Elastic Load Balancing and multiple AZs, we’ve survived failures that would have otherwise caused outages and disrupted services.”
With a lean team, IT admin needs to be simple. To that point, Stranex says, “The managed element of services such as Amazon RDS makes a huge difference to us. Without it, we’d need one full-time engineer to administer the database. Working in the AWS Cloud gives us a distinct competitive advantage too. Most of the organizations we’re competing against are traditional financial services firms that haven’t embraced the cloud. Using AWS, we can be more agile—and more secure—than our competitors.
“Security is critical to our customers and our business,” continues Stranex. “With services such as Amazon VPC and IAM, and features like audit logging and security groups, we feel confident we can provide a trusted service to our clients.” The other aspect of security with AWS is the time the team saves in auditing. “With AWS, security procedures are 10 times faster than if we had to do everything from scratch.”
Stranex concludes, “If a hack on our systems were successful, we could lose a huge amount of capital, but the damage to our reputation would be worse. Customers wouldn’t trust us anymore. We know AWS takes its own security as seriously as we do ours. This gives us peace of mind.”
Learn more about how AWS can help you run your financial solutions in the cloud.