Since we started using AWS we’ve only added two full-time equivalents, but we’ve quadrupled our revenue. This is thanks to the scalability of AWS. 
Ruud Schuijt Owner and Managing Director

Rednun specializes in creating personalized video messages. It takes customer data from its clients’ large customer relationship management (CRM) databases and then uses this information to create videos—sometimes millions at a time—that are personalized to a specific end user. It works with large companies such as telecommunications firms, banks, utility companies, and lottery operators to help them drive sales and explain concepts to customers. Rednun was formed in the Netherlands in 2011 as a spinoff from its parent company Automo. It has seven full-time staff serving clients in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

Ruud Schuijt, owner and managing director of Rednun, explains how the company came into being: “As Automo we had developed a system to automate the production of on-air continuity segments for Dutch TV stations. What would take half an hour to put together in an expensive edit suite, we could do in a few mouse clicks.” Schuijt’s background was in producing advertising, much of which was for stage musicals. “I noticed that the fans would queue up at the stage door to catch a glimpse of or speak to the stars,” he says. “I thought, what if instead of producing one commercial for everyone, we could produce a personalized commercial for each fan, with a message direct from the star.”

Schuijt asked his business partner Guido Eijrond if their system for automating TV promos—which at the time was running on an in-house data center—would scale up to produce thousands or even millions instead of tens of videos a day. Eijrond’s answer was a simple yes. “But,” he said, “we need to go into the cloud.” Rednun was established with that business model in mind.

To produce thousands of customized videos, Rednun needed to massively increase its compute power at a reasonable cost. It found the solution in the form of Amazon EC2 Spot instances running Windows Server, which make use of otherwise unused compute power at off-peak times within Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centers. The prices fluctuate according to demand, and users submit fixed bids on instances. Once the spot market price of an instance drops below the bid, the user gets their instance for as long as its price stays below their bid. The server instances use Auto Scaling based on metrics from the Amazon CloudWatch monitoring service.

Rednun uses APIs running in Amazon Virtual Private Clouds (Amazon VPCs) to interface directly with clients’ databases. Eijrond says, “All systems are auto-launched for each campaign as needed. Data is directly ingested into the VPC to keep it protected. We give customers a secure FTP login and at scheduled times the data is pulled as a CSV file.” As soon as the data is processed, it’s wiped and the instances are terminated. The rendered videos then remain on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for as long as the client specifies, with automatic deletion dates applied when the videos are created.

“We looked at other cloud providers and even considered buying around 300 servers ourselves in conjunction with a customer, but in the end we chose AWS. It was simply the most user-friendly cloud service with by far the most features,” says Schuijt.

Rednun had a large Dutch lottery operator waiting to use the new systems, so time was of the essence. “Guido worked around the clock for two weeks to get our video automation systems in place,” says Schuijt. The bulk of this work was in changing Rednun’s code base to run on Windows rather than Apple machines. “Once that was completed we had a truly scalable platform to make 1.4 million videos for a campaign.”  

Schuijt says the greatest benefit of using AWS is the ability to grow its infrastructure very easily. “Since we started using AWS we’ve only added two full-time equivalents, but we’ve quadrupled our revenue. This is thanks to the scalability of AWS,” he says. “Whether we run a campaign with 10,000 or 10 million videos, the amount of work we have to do is more or less the same. If each video has a margin of one cent, then it makes financial sense for us to produce as many videos as possible, which is an automated process.”

Amazon EC2 Spot instances are key to the firm’s success. By finding the best-value compute power, Rednun can keep costs down. “Spot instances are essential for us,” says Eijrond. “If we can save a few cents on each video, this adds up across millions of videos. A lot of our optimization and research and development goes into using Spot instances as efficiently as possible. We can scale to three or four thousand instances at a moment’s notice, then turn them off after 20 hours. We’re the kings of scaling up and down!”

Since it moved into the cloud, Rednun has been able to diversify as well as expand. Schuijt says, “Initially, we saw these personalized videos as a brilliant sales tool, and we worked with some big lottery operators in the Netherlands to produce videos with customers’ names on a “winning” check. Sales went through the roof. After a couple of years, we realized we could operate on a retainer basis instead of on one-off campaigns by working with big utility companies that bring new customers on board every day. We can provide them with personal videos explaining their tariffs and payment plans, for example. This shift away from sales toward “personalized explaining” has allowed us to produce videos effectively 24/7.”

And Rednun doesn’t plan to stop there. “Language for us is just a variable,” says Schuijt, “so we can work with international companies and serve customers in all their markets, in whatever language they like. AWS gives us the scale to work like that. If we put in two days’ work to make videos for all languages, we can run a program for two years.”

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