Rachio, located in Colorado, is a software provider and creator of the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller, a WiFi-based irrigation controller that allows consumers to optimize irrigation schedules. The controller, available for sale through online retailers, consults local weather forecasts and adjusts watering time and volume to account for specific irrigation setups, plants, and soil types in up to 16 different irrigation zones. The controller allows users to conserve water while not under-watering lawns and landscaping.
When Rachio started in 2012, it needed to find technology that would help it bring its Smart Sprinkler Controller to market quickly. “Time-to-market is everything for us,” says Franz Garsombke, chief technology officer and cofounder of Rachio. “But we’re a startup, and we wanted to get our product out there rapidly without investing a lot in our own hardware resources to make that happen. We didn’t want to spend all our time maintaining the underlying technology, whether that be device connectivity or servers.”
The company also needed to find a way to easily build security into its product. “We were concerned with how to reissue security certificates, for example,” says Garsombke. “It looked like we were going to have to build a lot of firmware around certificates, which we didn’t have the resources to do.”
Rachio also wanted to ensure scalability for the product once it was launched. “At the height of the watering season, there’s a huge demand on the devices at the top of each hour in the early morning each day, and then it settles down,” says Garsombke. “We wanted a way to scale up and down to support that traffic.”
Although it considered different cloud solutions, Rachio was immediately drawn to Amazon Web Services (AWS). “Using AWS, we were able to get a multi-Availability Zone relational database, and it was very simple to just point and click to build out a database deployment,” says Garsombke. Once it selected AWS, Rachio began using it to power the back end of its Smart Sprinkler Controller, which is controlled by users through Android and iOS apps.
Rachio uses the AWS IoT managed cloud platform to enable the secure interaction of its connected devices with cloud applications and other devices. Initially, the company had built its own device management service using HiveMQ as the MQTT messaging protocol broker for its connected devices. “We still didn’t have the high availability and scalability we needed, and that’s what AWS IoT provided,” says Garsombke. Each day, millions of Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller messages are processed over MQTT to AWS IoT and then routed to Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS), a scalable, fully managed message-queuing service.
AWS IoT also gave Rachio a seamless onramp to additional AWS services. For example, the company uses an Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL database to store hundreds of millions of rows of event data from its smart devices. Rachio also uses AWS Elastic Beanstalk to deploy and manage its website, web apps, and API infrastructure. Additionally, the company is taking advantage of the Amazon Elasticsearch Service, a managed service that enables the deployment and operation of the Elasticsearch open-source search and analytics engine. Rachio uses the service for all event data logging and auditing.
Most recently, Rachio began using the Amazon Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of APIs and tools, to give voice commands to the second-generation version of the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller.
The AWS cloud platform, including AWS IoT, is designed for ease of use, which helped the Rachio team get started quickly. “Early on, our CEO was creating the website,” says Garsombke. “All I had to do was give him an AWS command-line interface, and he was able to deploy a full production website.” As a result, Rachio was able to quickly develop and launch its Smart Sprinkler Controller without making significant investments in hardware and other back-end resources. “Using AWS, we were able to get our product to market 40 percent faster than we could if we had to build our own highly available infrastructure with load balancing,” says Garsombke. “And with AWS Elastic Beanstalk, we set up APIs in a day and got our e-commerce site up and running very quickly.”
The company was also able to use AWS IoT to easily build security into its product. “AWS IoT offers leading-edge security capabilities. Messages are encrypted, and the broker adds another level of security,” says Garsombke. “And in general, the policy-based security is a huge advantage of AWS. If one of our devices goes rogue, we don’t have to reissue certificates. We can just shut off the policy to that device. It’s very simple and effective.”
By using the security capabilities in AWS IoT, Rachio saved a significant amount of money. “We reduced our development costs by 40 percent, because we would have had to build our own solution for firmware and reissuing certificates,” says Garsombke. “I don’t know how we would have done that on our own.”
By relying on AWS, Rachio does not have to worry about managing availability and scalability. “We didn’t have to hire a team of people to manage master-master instances of HiveMQ and everything that went along with that,” Garsombke says. “And in terms of scalability, we can automatically scale our service up or down using AWS Elastic Beanstalk to meet demand during peak watering seasons.”
Rachio quickly developed and launched its Smart Sprinkler Controller without needing to build a large team to manage infrastructure as the company grows. “For companies wanting to get into the IoT space, tools like AWS IoT enable a faster time to market and eliminate the need to spend months and months and hundreds of thousands of dollars building a solution yourself,” says Garsombke. “Using AWS, we were able to bootstrap and quickly build a company with limited engineering resources, and we will be able to keep growing without worrying about the heavy lifting behind the scenes. Using AWS has been a key driver of our success.”
To learn more about how AWS can help you manage your IoT environment, visit our Internet of Things details page.