Pacific Magazines Moves to AWS for Stability and Scalability


In the span of a few minutes, web traffic shot through the roof at New Idea, Australia’s entertainment and lifestyle digital publication. The site’s traffic is often spiky, but this wasn’t the usual rush of readers eager for, say, just-dropped pictures of a royal newborn.

"This Mount Everest–sized spike was 500 percent of our average load," says Will Everitt, the director of digital products and technology at Pacific Magazines, which publishes New Idea, InStyle, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, and other popular Australian lifestyle brands.

The unprecedented spike—later determined to have been a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack with SQL injection—could have been catastrophic just a few weeks earlier. Fortunately, Pacific had just moved onto Amazon Web Services (AWS) and was using AWS Auto Scaling to monitor and respond to changing capacity needs.

"That attack was more than double the spike that had triggered the most recent downtime event on our previous cloud infrastructure, but on AWS it was barely a blip," says Everitt. "Auto Scaling automatically scaled up until we mitigated the attack with a simple rule change in AWS Web Application Firewall (AWS WAF). With zero downtime and no effect on user experience, we avoided revenue losses and damage to our reputation with readers and advertisers."

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Everyone at Pacific Magazines—whether on the technical or business side—agrees that by moving to AWS we are effectively platformed for the future."

Will Everitt,
Director of Digital Products and Technology, Pacific Magazines


Moving to AWS

In 2006, Pacific Magazines split its print and digital assets and assigned the latter to Yahoo. After regaining those assets in 2016, the company decided to launch them in the cloud and initially selected a non-AWS provider. Soon, the company expanded its readership by more than 70 percent, but the resulting heavy web traffic strained infrastructure limits. “We were focused on building audience and product,” says Everitt. “This effort was hugely more successful than projected. That’s a great problem to have, but we also started to see platform instability.”

Frequent outages and slow load times increased page abandonment, reduced engagement, and decreased SEO authority—problems that could undermine the company’s reputation, chip away at audience numbers, and reduce value for advertisers. Also, engineers were forced to work on platform stabilization (often after hours) instead of focusing on innovation. Based on previous experience, Pacific Magazines was interested in switching to AWS.

“We had several product review sites with separate code bases running on AWS,” says Everitt. “We knew moving to AWS would not only solve our immediate pain points around scalability and stability but also enable the serverless architectures we had in mind for the planned evolution of the platform.”

The company worked with Kablamo, an AWS Partner Network (APN) Advanced Consulting Partner, to migrate to an AWS infrastructure that includes Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), a highly scalable, high-performance container orchestration service, and Amazon CloudFront, a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs worldwide. Kablamo helped Pacific Magazines move several of its largest brands and then provided knowledge transfer through training, documentation, and defined processes so that the company could shift the rest.

“We wanted a partner that was strong in AWS and could help us take an iterative, collaborative approach,” says Everitt. “Kablamo was just as focused on training our engineers as on accomplishing the migration, and that set us up for success going forward.”

Stronger SEO Authority Attracts More Readers

In addition to transforming what could have been a crippling DDoS attack into what Everitt now calls "a successful performance test," the shift to AWS resulted in numerous technical and business benefits for Pacific Magazines. "Since the move, there have been zero after-hours support calls for engineers, and we’ve seen average availability across all our digital products rise from 99.75 to 99.99 percent," says Everitt. "Because we no longer have to oversize our resources in advance to guard against large spikes, we've cut our overall hosting costs by 16 percent, even as we're able to do much more with our new platform."

One of the most important improvements Pacific Magazines is seeing on AWS is faster page loads—a technical benefit with business ramifications. "Before the move, we set benchmark page-load times across our brands," says Everitt. "We're finding that on AWS we’re beating our benchmarks by 21 percent."

Faster page speed is important because it helps Pacific Magazines attract more of the organic search-engine traffic that is vital to further expanding its readership. "Search engines use page speed in their ranking algorithms," says Everitt. "The faster load times we are seeing on AWS gives us stronger SEO authority and—in the last three months—we’ve seen a 24 percent increase in traffic to our brands."

Once that new traffic arrives, faster page speed helps Pacific Magazines retain and better engage those readers, too. "Running our sites on AWS helps us deliver payloads in optimal time, which is especially important on mobile devices," says Everitt. “Since migrating to AWS, we've seen page abandonments decrease by 5 percent and clicks on recommended content increase by 8 percent."

“Positioned for the Future” on AWS

By eliminating the problems that used to eat up engineers' time, the move is enabling increased innovation by Everitt's team. "With our previous cloud provider, we had to postpone introducing new products and features because we had to focus on simply stabilizing the system," he says. "Now that we're on AWS, our engineers are free to research and evaluate new technology and pursue their own projects instead of firefighting and answering after-hours calls.”

All these improvements have returned Everitt’s team to a leadership role in the business. "How seriously could the business side take us as digital strategy setters when we spent so much time just keeping the infrastructure platform up and running?" Everitt asks. "Now that we're on AWS, we're much better positioned to play a central role in setting strategy once again. Everyone at Pacific Magazines—whether on the technical or business side—agrees that by moving to AWS we are effectively positioned for the future."

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About Pacific Magazines

Pacific Magazines is an Australian magazine publisher owned by Seven West Media. The company publishes New Idea, InStyle, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, and other popular Australian lifestyle brands.

Benefits of AWS

  • Withstood a 500% spike during a DDoS attack
  • Increased availability to 99.99%
  • Reduced hosting costs by 16%
  • Exceeded benchmarks by 21%
  • Expanded audience traffic by 24%

AWS Services Used

AWS Auto Scaling

AWS Auto Scaling monitors your applications and automatically adjusts capacity to maintain steady, predictable performance at the lowest possible cost. Using AWS Auto Scaling, it’s easy to setup application scaling for multiple resources across multiple services in minutes.

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AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF)

AWS WAF is a web application firewall that helps protect your web applications or APIs against common web exploits that may affect availability, compromise security, or consume excessive resources. AWS WAF gives you control over how traffic reaches your applications by enabling you to create security rules that block common attack patterns, such as SQL injection or cross-site scripting, and rules that filter out specific traffic patterns you define.

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Amazon Elastic Container Service

Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) is a fully managed container orchestration service. Customers such as Duolingo, Samsung, GE, and Cook Pad use ECS to run their most sensitive and mission critical applications because of its security, reliability, and scalability.

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Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront is a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally with low latency, high transfer speeds, all within a developer-friendly environment. CloudFront is integrated with AWS – both physical locations that are directly connected to the AWS global infrastructure, as well as other AWS services.

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